A Life of Adventure
March 24, 2012 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend books about unique story lines with minimal romance featuring female protagonists.


I'm looking for books, where the main character does not have a definite love interest, and focuses more on the overall character's goals. I prefer a female protagonist, I think a example would be "Alanna" by Tamora Pierce in the earlier books where she mostly goes off and planned to have adventures.

I've read a ton of YA and I always felt that for female protagonists they tend to have a designated love interest and slowly it begins to overtake the plot. I think it would be interesting to have a different kind of female character. Related blog post that explains it better than I do.

Where there is option of the traditional idea of marriage/family, but instead she completely decides to go on her own path.

Some books I read and liked with similar themes:

Foundling Trilogy: D M Cornish (Europa of Naimes)
Mira, Mirror: Mette Harrison (merchant's daughter)
A Scandal in Bohemia: A.C. Doyle (Irene Adler)
Protector of the Small: Tamora Pierce (Keladry of Mindelan)
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold: C.S. Lewis (Orual)
Count of Monte Cristo: Alexandre Dumas (Eugenie Danglars)
Honey, Baby, Sweetheart: Deb Caletti

I have read the Hunger games trilogy, but I felt IMHO that it started to drag on between Katniss vs Gale/Peeta. I also read "Graceling" but I found that were some character issues that took away from the book.

It doesn't have to be fiction or young adult, I'm mainly searching for interesting stories.

Thank you in advance.
posted by chrono_rabbit to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
I would check out some of Octavia Butler's work. Sometimes love interests occur, but her stories are feminist/race/gender science fiction critiques that I love.
posted by anya32 at 11:58 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier, is based on the life of English fossil-hunter Mary Anning.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:58 AM on March 24, 2012

The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein is a really interesting science fiction/fantasy novel about a woman who is a knowledge seeker by trade. It's difficult to describe, but fascinating and very much not romantic.

This is hard to find for YA, especially recent YA!

The Shattering by Karen Healey is a really good paranormal YA about three teens investigating the suicides (or are they?) of their older brothers, in a small tourist town in New Zealand. One of the three main characters gets a full-fledged romance plotline, but it doesn't overtake the story or anything.

Oh! Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is not out yet (unless you live in the UK) but it's out in May in the US. It's the story of the friendship between a spy and a pilot (both young women) in WWII Britain, and it's marvelous.
posted by Jeanne at 12:27 PM on March 24, 2012

The Mists of Avalon? The Morte d'Artur told from the perspective of his half sister Morgaine.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:43 PM on March 24, 2012

Marge Piercy's Vida?
posted by Abiezer at 12:53 PM on March 24, 2012

The Golden Compass and the two others in the His Dark Materials series, by Philip Pullman.
posted by anadem at 12:55 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett. Slight amount of romantic interest in the later books, but very minor and generally frowned on by Tiffany (the protagonist).

The His Dark Materials trilogy. A close friendship develops between Lyra (the protagonist) and a boy, but it is never romantic.
posted by beautifulstuff at 12:57 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Try Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:00 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Was there a love interest in the Golden Compass books? Ah, on preview, no.

Z for Zachariah is about a girl surviving after a nuclear catastrophe. Her life is a bit more dire than "goes off and has adventures," but it might fit.
posted by salvia at 1:00 PM on March 24, 2012

If you don't mind a little magic realism The House of Discarded Dreams by Ekaterina Sedia has beautiful use of language, a very unique story, female protagonist, and if there is romantic interest it's so minimal I'm not sure it actually is there.

It's a not traditional fantasy where protagonist goes questing though. It's much more surreal than that.
posted by Gygesringtone at 1:08 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
posted by lindseyg at 1:25 PM on March 24, 2012

Oops, I forgot to mention I already read His Dark Materials trilogy, I did like Lyra though, and I'm waiting for some kind of continuation of the books someday.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 1:33 PM on March 24, 2012

Windhaven by Lisa Tuttle and George RR Martin

The Kim Oh: Real Dangerous Girl series

Pretty much anything by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Twelve Kingdoms anime
posted by spunweb at 2:00 PM on March 24, 2012

Ugh, I know what you mean! I have become inured to the romances these days but when I was a teenager and younger, romance just RUINED every book. Even Anne of Green Gables ends up hooked up with some dude, let alone Little House on the Prairie and Little Women. So frustrating!

The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Caddie Woodlawn, and its age range is about Little House on the Prairie's, so too young, probably.

Ursula LeGuin has a couple, too, but their names are escaping me.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:01 PM on March 24, 2012

Oh, you know what? The Holdfast Chronicles is great feminist SF/F -- Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines are wild.
posted by spunweb at 2:01 PM on March 24, 2012

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress might do the trick. The protagonist through maybe two-thirds of the book is one of the first Sleepless, Leisha Camden.
posted by pianoblack at 2:10 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Half-Made World

Rune of Unmaking by Teresa Edgerton

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland

Kung Fu High School (there's sex but not romance, per se. It's an AMAZING book)
posted by spunweb at 2:19 PM on March 24, 2012

Very young YA, but Catherine, Called Birdy fits (I think--it's been a long time since I've read it; she spends most of the book trying to *avoid* marriage). Also Wise Child & Juniper by Monica Furlong
posted by smirkette at 2:20 PM on March 24, 2012

I book blog at the link in my profile -- it's a feminist collective blogging site, so if you look around there you can probably find more recs.

I also really liked A Glass of Shadows, which is a short story collection by Liz Williams.
posted by spunweb at 2:20 PM on March 24, 2012

Any Marge Piercy would be good.
posted by latkes at 2:38 PM on March 24, 2012

Nthing Marge Piercy. She writes great female protagonists. Also, I bet you will love Margaret Atwood.
posted by lunasol at 2:51 PM on March 24, 2012

You might like The Naming by Alison Croggon, and its sequels. The main character, Maerad, goes on adventures and learns to use her unique talents. There's next to no talk of a romantic interest. The books start off pretty slowly - there's a lot of scenery exposition and history - but once you get into the main plot involving Maerad and Cadvan, they're pretty good.
posted by meggan at 3:30 PM on March 24, 2012

Any of Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books, really, but specifically The Tombs of Atuan, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind. She also wrote a trilogy, Power; Gifts, and Voices. Lavinia is another she wrote from a woman's perspective.

The Blanche White Mysteries by Barbara Neely. "In Blanche White, Neely has...a unique literary creation: an independent black woman who doesn't feel incomplete without a man; a maid unapologetic about her profession; and a deeply spiritual woman who finds solace speaking to the Ancestors."

The Mary Russell Mysteries by Laurie R. King. "In 1915, young Mary Russell meets Sherlock Holmes on the Sussex Downs, and becomes his apprentice-in-crime."
posted by elle.jeezy at 3:40 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

How about Remnant Population, by Elizabeth Moon? It's a science fiction novel in which an old woman finds herself in a first-contact situation. It's not quite a fit for your requirements - rather than turning her back on romance and marriage, the protagonist is simply at a different stage of life - but she certainly decides to follow her own path. I enjoyed it very much.

Connie Willis's Doomsday Book steers clear of romance for its protagonist, Kivrin, if memory serves - but, again, it's not quite what you're looking for; she's not choosing a different path, she's just on a field trip (to the past, and it is a wonderful book that I am not doing justice to with this description, but even so).

However, on the fantasy side, Moon's Deed of Paksenarrion and Jo Walton's The King's Peace and The King's Name fit your criteria very well, I think; both feature strong female protagonists with zero interest in romance.

Perhaps someone else can remember whether Mary Gentle's Ash ever falls in love; I'm inclined to think not, but it's been more than ten years since I read it, and I might be wrong.

I'll second The Steerswoman, one of my favourite books - but I should warn you that volume 2, The Outskirter's Secret, has a strong romance thread, and that the most recent reprint is an omnibus edition, The Steerswoman's Road, combining both volumes.

Finally, if crime novels are of any interest, try Carol O'Connell's Mallory series, starting with Mallory's Oracle. Kathy Mallory is brilliant, engaging, memorable, and the antithesis of a romantic heroine. (And hey look, there's a new one out! Hooray!)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:54 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Second Connie Willis's Doomsday Book, and add to that list her recent two-volume novel, "Blackout"/"All Clear." This one more of an ensemble than a single protagonist, but the women get, I believe, more weight than the one male among the group, and all of them are time-travelers who are studying the London Blitz. There's no romance to speak of, and it's more a manners comedy than SF-- even if you aren't into SF in the least, you can enjoy this book. Connie Willis has loads of female protagonists who aren't looking for love, and maybe just find a meet-cute by the end of the story, but it's never the core of the story. "Remake" and "Bellwhether" come to mind. And her hilarious and award-winning short-story "Even the Queen" might not have any male characters, and what the ladies do talk about isn't a romantic thing.

Also, I haven't gotten past half of the book (loan expired-- I look forward to re-reading and finishing it soon), and while she does, for a while, have a relationship, it's actually not that romantic (as even the protagonist would tell you), but the protagonist in Embasseytown by China Mieville is a strong, thoughtful woman.

Also, don't count out Agatha Christie's books featuring Miss Marple. And Christie had a third detective later in her books who was a non-romantic counterpart to Hercule Poirot.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:06 PM on March 24, 2012

Housekeeping: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:42 PM on March 24, 2012

There's David Drake's series about Adele Mundy and Daniel Leary. Adele is completely uninterested in love. The first book is With the Lightnings and is online, or Amazon.

Have you seen these rather similar questions? Working girls; Mildred Lathbury (some of the answers to this one do involve romance).
posted by paduasoy at 5:53 PM on March 24, 2012

Patricia Wrede, Dealing With Dragons. Cimorene, the princess, decides to avoid being married off in order to go be princess to a dragon and have adventures. Eventually a man makes an appearance, but she's way more "here, be useful" than mooning around after him, and he is shown as totally incidental to the plot.
posted by corb at 6:14 PM on March 24, 2012

Seconding Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books, and adding all his Discworld books about the witches (one of them does have a love interest, but it's seen by the others as Extremely Unfortunate).

Not YA but still appropriate, Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go

I loved McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series

The Narnia books also deserve a mention for this (sorry if that's too obvious, or if you need the female protagonist not to have any male cohort).
posted by Mchelly at 8:49 PM on March 24, 2012

Neesha Meminger also has a new book out which is called Into the Wise Dark. V. good as well.
posted by spunweb at 1:31 AM on March 25, 2012

Nthing all the Pratchett recs, and adding Monstrous Regiment which is a favorite of mine, romance-free, and all about the female protagonists.
posted by nonasuch at 6:11 AM on March 25, 2012

Barbara Hambly, especially the Raven Sisters (Sisters of the Raven, Circle of the Moon).
posted by thatdawnperson at 6:44 AM on March 25, 2012

I'll second Octavia Butler, as well as the Deed of Paksenarion. I'll add The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.
posted by Margalo Epps at 2:37 PM on March 25, 2012

Re above recommendation, I adore the Earthsea books but the 1st and 3rd do not feature any female characters as far as I remember, and the second, while well written, was not my favorite and does actually end in a sort of romance - even if it's never exactly consummated.
posted by latkes at 7:41 PM on March 25, 2012

This page on the Feminist SF wiki might reward your time. (The Feminist SF wiki is in general a cultural treasure. Cheers for it!)
posted by rdc at 8:08 PM on March 25, 2012

I was going to recommend Sharon Shinn but she's listed on Wikipedia as combining fantasy and romance--not what you're looking for! I'd still say check out Mystic and Rider and see what you think.

I will highly recommend Tanya Huff, though you'll want to pick and choose among her series as not all have female protagonists. I suggest looking at her Valor series; it has a female protagonist whose love life is very much not the point (even when she does eventually get one, several books in) and who is tough as nails and totally interesting. A Confederation of Valor is the omnibus for the first two books in the series; I'd say try those two out and if you like them keep going.

You might like (if you haven't already read them) Mercedes Lackey's Vows and Honors series. That's the one with Tarma and Kethry (Tarma is oath-bound to be celibate; Kethry does eventually marry but I would argue it's not a major plot point; read the Amazon warnings first as this story is very hard YA in one aspect). The Vows and Honor series starts with Oathbound.

My final suggestion is the Godstalker Chronicles/Kencyrath series, from PC Hodgell. You may be familiar with them, as the first books date to the 80s, but they're finally back in print and she's updating the series. Jame is definitely a protagonist to take a different path! There's an omnibus edition of the first two books that's now available under the title The God Stalker Chronicles and that's where I'd recommend you start with the series.

Details: I only read books with female protagonists, love Tamora Pierce (but hated the Kel series), prefer a little romance with my sf/f but chose books above that do not highlight it and indeed the protagonists I mention above are huge on making their own paths.
posted by librarylis at 9:56 PM on March 25, 2012

What about the Thursday Next novels? They're a lot of fun if you enjoy either terrible puns or books about books.

Thursday does have a love interest, but the focus of the books is her career fighting literary crime.
posted by the latin mouse at 1:41 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Twelve Kingdoms novels have an excellent protagonist; the story focuses on personal growth and politics, with no romance that I remember. Here is a fan translation of the first one.
posted by Tobu at 8:38 AM on June 2, 2012

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