There are a great many YA fantasy tropes I love: dangerous games, unexpected magical powers, portals from one world to the next. The list goes on. But one I never tire of returning to is the princess who’s gone a-questing. Is there anything as fun as feisty—and often flawed—princesses? You know the ones: the girls who don’t fit the tiara-and-gown mold; the heroines who buck their own privilege and who strike out to define their own role.
If you’re someone who similarly enjoys rowdy royalty, there’s no shortage of books to give you what you need. But for starters, here’s a quick TBR stack with a variety of feisty princesses, each with their own distinct strengths and weaknesses, their blessedly individual gifts and flaws.
The newest princess on this list is Amarande, who’s just lost her father and is now faced with an unpleasant choice: marry a suitor from another kingdom or forfeit the crown. But Amarande’s convinced her father’s death may have come at the hands of one of those suitors, and the nefariousness doesn’t end there. Her real love, the stable boy Luca, has been kidnapped. (Yes, that setup is a bit of a gender-swapped homage to The Princess Bride.)
Within the Feisty Princess Fantasy sub-genre, I also love this sub-sub-genre: the Battle Royal. Eva has long known she’d have to battle her sister Isa to the death if she wanted to take the throne. Inside her is a deep and fearsome magick, but Eva doesn’t have a good handle on it. Can she master her powers in time to save her own life? For more dueling royal heirs, see also: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake.
Can I interest you in a feisty detective princess? Hesina isn’t ready to be queen, but her father’s death thrusts her into the center of court intrigue and messy politics. Her first priority, however, is sleuthing. Hesina is so determined to find her father’s killer that she does the unthinkable: she consults with a soothsayer, something that’s been illegal for centuries. This princess isn’t a punch-your-lights-out type, but she is dogged, determined, and fierce in her own way.
Shahrzad wasn’t born a princess, and she doesn’t plan to die as one either. Admittedly, this is a little bit of a cheat: Shazi isn’t exactly a princess, but she is the wife of the Caliph in this retelling of One Thousand and One Nights. And when it comes to royals who know how to work their wiles, I’d be remiss to leave her off any list. The Caliph of Khorasan is known to kill each of his brides on their first night together. But Shazi weaves incredible stories that keep her alive dawn after dawn.
Feisty doesn’t always mean loud or boisterous, and I hope this list has given you a few different definitions for princesses who break the mold. Princess Kelsea is introspective, often quiet, and even more frequently unsure of herself. But she has an unshakeable sense of justice and fairness, and she won’t back down in a fight for what she thinks is right. Now, after a childhood in exile, she’s returning to take her rightful throne—and she’ll need all the backbone she has.
Want more recs for royal YA fantasies? How about some more girls who refuse to back down? Check out our lists of awesome royals in YA fantasy and the 10 feminist YA fantasies.