Heroines who are rescuers.
I’m well aware that every person, however strong, occasionally needs to be rescued. Getting in trouble and needing a bit of help to get out of it does not necessarily make a character weak, and may go with the territory because said character is willing to take risks. Nonetheless, when I’m browsing Goodreads in search of titles I might find worth reading (despite my To-Read pile already being higher than Mt. Everest), I tend to shy away from books with female leads in which some variation of “…is kidnapped by…” and “…is rescued by…” appears in the plot blurb, and I’m particularly leery when the blurb indicates the kidnapped heroine will at some point fall in love with the hunky vampire/werewolf/bandit/pirate who has captured her. I find it distressing to see so many books with plot blurbs like this, especially in YA fantasy.
This may seem a tad hypocritical of me considering my first novel, Atterwald. I’ve been fond of calling it, “‘Beauty and the Beast’ meets The Secret Garden, with shape-shifters,” and people seem to like that description. But “Beauty and the Beast” has been decried, not groundlessly, as a “Stockholm Syndrome” story, and the main thrust of my plot does involve my heroine, Nichtel, falling into the hands of a villain who demands she complete a task in order to free herself. Yet I can say, without giving too much away, that while Nichtel might seem a distressed damsel at first glance, she proves in the fullness of time to be something I feel the genre could use: a rescuer heroine. On occasion she may need saving, but she is also a savior. This is the kind of character I want to read about, as well as showcase in my own fiction.
I have to be sparing with the detail in order to avoid too-serious Spoilers, but I can recommend some good books in which the heroine is savior rather than saved (or at least, as well as saved):
Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names and Ben S. Dobson’s Scriber both showcase female soldiers who preserve and protect those under their command. When danger rears its head, they are quick to face it down.
Barbara Hambly’s Stranger at the Wedding features an outcast older daughter who has scandalized her family by becoming a wizard, but who risks her life and health to save her imperiled younger sister.
Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest is a retelling of the fairy tale “The Six Swans.” In the novel, as in the tale, the heroine endures great pain in order to save her brothers from an evil enchantment. Physically weak but incredibly brave, she proves a heroine need not be a warrior or even a powerful wizard in order to be a savior. (A YA retelling of the same tale, Zoe Marriott’s The Swan Kingdom, is also good.)
Vonda McIntyre’s Dreamsnake features one of the most impressive rescuer heroines I’ve read about in the past five years, a healer who may not be able to save everyone she tries to help, but nonetheless never stops trying. Also impressive is the heroine of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, who starts out by saving a friend and eventually saves her whole world.
To learn just how all these rescues are accomplished, read these books and get to know the heroines in them. It will be time well spent.