Literary Trend Spotting: Female Assassins


Strong female characters are central figures in literature. Just like women today, they have jobs and pastimes of a wide variety. Fantasy, which descends from Gothic literature, has taken a genre marked with weak female characters and turned them into warriors and figures who are anything but damsels in distress.

Lately, I’ve noted another trend in the fantasy genre. And please note that in these posts, I use the term “literary trend” rather loosely. I call something a trend when it appears in several books I’ve read within recent memory. The trend I’m intrigued by today is the female assassin.

female assassins

The female assassin is often dark and angry. She has her own motivation for why she has chosen such a path. I came across the female assassin in Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra, a paperback book I won in a drawing done by HarperCollins on Instagram a number of months ago, and in Jay Kristoff’s bloody Nevernight Chronicles, of which the third volume is due out this fall.

Why are female assassins fascinating? It could be the warring duality of such a woman. In one instance she is a nurturing being who bears children, bringing life into the world from her own body, at least that is how society perceives her based on her gender. But in the other, she takes life away without a thought, and usually with relish. This juxtaposition is fascinating in the same way that male scientists who mess with creation (Dr. Frankenstein and others) are in the Gothic genre. The female assassin, however, is typically out for vengeance.

Both authors create worlds where the assassin is part of a group of assassins and their work is buried in religion, though their main characters, Mia Corvere of Nevernight and Kyra of Markswoman couldn’t be more different themselves. Both are out for revenge and of a similar age, but conduct themselves in very different ways. While Kyra is more subdued, Mia is loud and killing people left and right. Kyra lives by the strict code of conduct of the Order of Kali while Mia commits herself to Our Lady of Bloody Murder, though rarely does she follow their rules and customs and also strikes out on her own.

As I mention above, both of these main characters are young. While teenage characters are of particular interest and focus in current literature, I am also intrigued by what all of these stories (both assassin and not) are saying about choice and education. In the majority of literature nowadays featuring younger characters, they end up in an environment where they are brought into the fold of a group or organization and knowledge and skills are bestowed upon them. Typically, there is something inherently wrong with the leadership or those in power and it is left up to the heroine to solve the issue.  So, while the assassin has been made part of a collective, he or she also learns that maintaining one’s identity is important. You cannot trust those in power blindly.

Other books featuring female assassins on my to read list thanks to Goodreads includes: the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, and for kicks, JB. Lynn’s Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman because it sounds like a good time.

The story of the female assassin is fraught with danger, intrigue and misconceptions. People are rarely who they seem and it’s up to the heroine (or main character) to sort it all out.

Have you been reading any stories featuring female assassins lately? What do they bring to the table as part of this literary trend? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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