Mutant Crabs, Body Horror and Lots of Questions: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Like a few of the other books I’ve read in recent months, Wilder Girls is another example of a novel with a great premise which manages to get a few things right but ultimately isn’t as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be. Being classified as feminist horror by a lot of people, the story is a little bit Lord of the Flies in an Annihilation like setting with some added lesbianism, gore, friendship and a military cover up.

Who, What, Where?

Our story takes place at Raxter School for Girls, a boarding school located on an island off the coast of Maine. The school has been quarantined for the past 18 months following the outbreak of a mysterious disease referred to as the Tox. Over time, the Tox has killed most of the teachers and some of the students. The infected that remain suffer as the disease continues to mutate their bodies in gruesome and painful ways. The creatures in the surrounding woods have been similarly affected, leaving them aggressive and a constant threat. Facing difficult weather conditions and minimal food supplies, all the students can do is wait and hope for the speedy arrival of the promised cure.

Creepy & Mysterious Vibes

The atmosphere and setting for Wilder Girls are spot on. It’s bleak but works perfectly for the story being told. A decaying boarding school, population constantly dwindling, buildings gradually being torn apart for whatever resources the girls need to stay alive, and surrounded by expansive forest areas inhabited by mutated, vicious animals. Power provides us with just enough detail about her world to visualise it and still be intrigued to find out more. There are some serious Annihilation-like vibes here – it’s fascinating, mysterious, ominous and, at times, downright horrifying.

Aside from setting, Power’s novel also excels where it comes to the body horror elements – something she shows a clear talent for. The book doesn’t shy away from the pain and suffering the girls experience at the hands of the Tox which affects them in a variety of terrifying and sometimes awfully gruesome ways. Scaled hands, second spines, gills, sealed eyes, extra organs, blistered skin, mouth sores that spontaneously burst, the outlook is bleak. It’s bloody and bound to make those with weaker stomachs’ skin crawl. However, I do have to say that I feel as though Power could have made better use of the Tox as an allegory for women’s struggles in society and done more with the Tox mutations as a take on puberty (or at least, that’s how I interpreted it).

Just Answer My Questions

By and large, Wilder Girls is not something I’d describe as fast paced or action packed. The story spends a fair amount of time establishing the current state of things – the disease, the student’s systems for survival, the world itself, etc. before eventually moving on to something more plot oriented and even then, these plot points aren’t exactly numerous. It took me a while to engage with the story and mostly out of an intense desire to get my questions about the disease answered. However, the answers themselves ended up being either unsatisfying, vague or non-existent. If you’re looking for something with a clear sense of closure like me, this won’t be a good pick for you. The ending itself feels rushed, incomplete and confusing, and I’m left with a frustrating amount of questions.

The Trio

There are three main characters in Wilder Girls – Hetty, Byatt & Reese, the first two of which serve as the story’s narrators. The girls are close friends and have learnt to have each other’s backs to ensure their survival. These relationships are important as it’s Byatt’s disappearance which causes Hetty and Reese to go out looking for her, setting off a chain of events. Each of the girls are what I’d consider capable and strong. Power has given them different personalities and I have no problems with their characters from what I saw of them. Yet, at the same time, I still don’t feel as though I really know them and would have appreciated some more depth, development and backstory, especially with Byatt who was the least clear to me.

Poetic & Artsy?

One of the things I found myself thinking about a lot while reading was Power’s writing style. The reason being that it’s a little odd at times and frequently adopts the kind of sentence structure that would send any grammar check program into panic mode. For example, ‘Over my shoulder, the gloom thickening, and every sound an animal prowling through the trees’ or ‘Here the beginning of a path, there an open patch of grass, rubble scattered like gravestones’.  When you consider that the book is written in first person from the POV of 16-year old girls, it does make you wonder. While I wasn’t as keen on the use of this approach during quieter moments, it works well in dramatic scenes, helping to emphasise the tension and get across the tendency of the brain to process things very quickly.

Power plays around with style a lot more during Byatt’s segments of the novel – fragmented sentences, run-ons, etc. This in combination with choppy memory flashbacks can make these sections confusing at times but, for the most part, it effectively reflects Byatt’s current state of mind.  

Romance Light

As a book featuring almost an entirely female cast of characters, it’s the perfect set up for a sapphic romance. Wilder Girls starts out well on this front and lays the building blocks for a lovely and complex relationship between Hetty and Reese. Following Byatt’s disappearance, the two start to understand each other and communicate better, they have some sweet and intimate moments, and then…poof. It’s gone. Okay, not gone, but any further development does seem to halt. While I’m not someone who needs massively dramatic romance storylines to be happy, as far as side plots go, for me, this one was underdeveloped.

While Wilder Girls may not have given me the answers I wanted and could have benefited from greater depth to some of its story elements, it was certainly an interesting read and its world building and mysteries kept me engaged until the end. If you’re after something quick, slightly darker in tone, with strong female characters and a more open ending, this should be right up your alley. Added bonus: An absolutely stunning cover to add to the bookshelf.

3.5 Stars

Prophecies, Strong Female Protagonists, and Evil Angels: Furyborn by Claire Legrand

3.5 stars

Furyborn

I wasn’t one of the lucky people who managed to score an ARC of this one but I was lucky enough to live in Australia where I stumbled across Furyborn about two weeks earlier than its May 22nd release date. I’d been looking forward to this one for a while so once I finished my current read, I quickly got stuck in.

Summary

Furyborn follows two female protagonists whose stories take place a thousand years apart. In the past, Rielle Dardenne is the first person in many years with the ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. When she exposes her abilities to defend her friend, the crown prince, people claim she is one of two prophesied queens, one who will be their salvation and another who will destroy everything. To prove she’s the former, she is forced to undertakes a series of trials based on each magical element where failure means execution. Meanwhile, Eliana Ferracora, famed hunter for hire known as the ‘Dread of Orline’, lives in a world long almost conquered by an evil empire. When her mother is kidnapped, she makes a deal with mysterious rebel captain, The Wolf – assist in rescuing someone vital to the rebellion and he will help Eliana find her mother. As you can imagine, both stories tie into one another eventually.

Why You Should Read this Book

Now that’s a Prologue!

Legrand starts Furyborn off with a strong prologue which introduces four of her major characters and mentions a fifth. It’s the beginning of a story but also the end of one and dangles quite a few plot threads – there’s an evil angel after a baby, a hated queen who supposedly murdered the king, a half-angel kid that can time travel…like, man.

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From the moment it’s over you’re extremely keen to not only find out how Rielle and her kingdom have reached this point (because of course there’s more to the story) but also where things can possibly go from here.

You Go Girls!

I didn’t love the central characters here but I can’t deny that they (a) have their own very clear and distinct personalities, and (b) are just generally strong women. From a plot standpoint, they also contrast and balance one another. Rielle has spent most of her life among royalty and nobility, she’s never known a romantic relationship, and is extremely magically powerful. Comparatively, Eliana’s skills lie in her physical prowess. She’s sexually experienced, grown up in a loving family but has had to kill, lie and steal to support them and herself since she was young. However, what’s refreshing is that both women are confident in their bodies and aware of their strengths. There isn’t really any of that annoying ‘But, what if I can’t do this?’ back and forth. Instead, these girls are like, why yes, I am freaking awesome, I am an absolute babe. Come at me boys and assassins!

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Let’s Talk about Sex, Baby

One of the things I loved about this book was that it didn’t shy away from sex. Yes, some of the dialogue is cringy as hell, yes, some of it’s majorly theatrical, and yes, I could have done without a character once again “shattering” at the same time as the male lead, but overall I was impressed.

  • There’s a female masturbation scene, one that includes the associated emotions
  • Eliana is known to have had multiple casual sexual relationships with both men and women and unashamedly says she enjoys them.
  • There’s only one actual sex scene in the book but during it consent is made verbally clear, contraception is discussed, both parties communicate with the other as to what they want, and there’s foreplay in regards to pleasuring the female partner.

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Why You Might Want to Skip It:

But it JUST got Good!

One of the things that always bugs me about stories in this style is that I often get super into what’s happening in one storyline before all of a sudden I’m forced back into the other one. Then I get into that POV before it happens all over again! Unfortunately, it tends to happen just as something big is about to go down. It’s like experiencing a million tiny cliff hangers. For example:

Dude swung his sword at Eliana’s face…

*turns page* Chapter 30 Rielle

Me: NOOOOOOOOO

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Go Faster & Not Again

As can be expected with this style of narrative, there are variances in pace. With all the rushing around, Eliana’s storyline often feels like there’s stuff happening, which is why for ages you’ll be asking yourself, why am I so bored? Once you actually look at the bigger picture, you see that there isn’t much of value happening until later on in the book. Worse, the things that do happen until that point are due to Eliana acting selfishly or stupidly.

With Rielle’s story, the focus is on her completing trials for each type of elemental magic – it’s a tried and true trope which I’m fine with. The problem is, that there’s seven different elements and after a while, although the challenges are different, things start to blur together. It also doesn’t help that the writing in some of them feels slightly rushed.

Could go Either Way

So Many Questions

There are moments in Furyborn where Legrand’s world building does shine but they’re few and far between, and we’re left with so many questions. Honestly guys, I don’t even have any clue at this point of the scale of what I don’t know.

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Going into this I didn’t realise that one of the major components of the trilogy was going to be angels. When the term first popped up I went, wait, what? Then had to flip back to the blurb. Turns out, zilch. No mention. You’d think there would be for something this important to the plot. There’s all this history involving an epic war with angels, angel-human children, and a gate, but it turns out that I DIDN’T GET TO READ ABOUT ANY OF IT.

Angels aside, there’s also the political situation,  history and loss of magic, disappearance of all magical creatures, and a bunch of other things. In other words, there’s just SO MUCH POTENTIAL and yet, we didn’t get much of anything about it all. So points for where I think the world could go in future books but deducted for lack of development.

Antagonists

Corien, the antagonist in Rielle’s storyline is clearly established very early on. An angel, he’s seductive, powerful, and compelling. There’s a backstory to explore further down the track and some mystery as to why he so clearly needs Rielle. Unfortunately this element is missing in Eliana’s storyline. Yes, there’s a big, evil empire at work with a big, evil emperor but we don’t know much about them aside from the underdeveloped assassin character chasing after Eliana. Until a couple of pieces fall into place at the end of the book (in a good way), the antagonizing elements of her storyline are an ambiguous mess –  unkillable empire supporters, a rebel group Eliana isn’t sure about, another group abducting young women, just what am I supposed to focus on here? The silver lining is that this won’t be a problem in book two if the ending is anything to go by.

Overall, I’ll probably read the next book when it comes out but here’s hoping that some of the issues from this book are resolved and a couple of my million questions are answered.

3.5 Stars

Let’s Go Save the World: Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

3.5 stars
WW

If you’re looking for a badass female character, it’s hard to go past the amazingness that is Diana Prince, aka. WONDER WOMAN. She’s strong, brave, looks fantastic in red boots, can use a whip like it’s nobody’s business, and has the kindest heart. What more can you ask for? I mean, look at her:
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Ultimate girl crush.

For this reason I was so excited to get my hands on Wonder Woman: Warbringer. I mean Diana and Leigh Bardugo? Now that’s match up! Which is why I eagerly bought the book and then tore into it like 30 seconds later.

Kidding.

I put it on my shelf and didn’t pick it up again for about six months.

Yep, sounds completely logical to me too.

Moving along, I have read it now! *Dances* So here’s the gist physicist:

WW:W, much like the 2017 film, is a Diana origin story. In this book Diana is seventeen, living her life on Thermiskyra, and is constantly reminded that she is not in fact a true Amazon. In typical hero fashion, she’s keen to get out into the world, quest it up and prove her bad-ass ness (okay, fine, it might be her heroic-ness).

Enter Alia, a teen from New York City on holiday with some friends when her boat explodes right near the Amazonians’ border. Just like in the movie, except replace Steve with Alia, Diana dives into the sea and rescues her. Except, major problem: Alia is a Warbringer, a descendant of Helen of Troy and part of a blood line that causes immense conflict to break out in the world whenever one of them comes of age. Guess who’ll be having the right numbered birthday soon?

In other words, it’s QUEST TIME. Diana sets out with Alia, and several others, in search of a mystical spring in Greece in the hopes of curing Alia of her warbringerness before the next moon cycle. As you can imagine, hijinks ensue.

Why You Should Read This Book:

Shield Sisters

“Sister in battle,” murmured Diana, “I am shield and blade to you.”
“And friend.”
“And always your friend.”

The friendship in this book, guys. The FRIENDSHIP. It’s lovely to see and so empowering! The central women in the novel are all well developed and very different from one another. They have each other’s backs whilst still recognising the ability of the others to take care of themselves. They encourage each other to believe in themselves and to go outside their comfort zones, but most importantly, they trust in each other’s decisions.

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As with any book of this kind, we get the big moments, the physical displays of friendship, but the best moments are the quieter ones – the conversations between Diana, Alia and Nim which showcase their hopes, fears and sadness.

Boredom? Nah.

Something Leigh really gets right with this book is that it’s constantly moving. It might not always be in a way you’d like or be guns blazing and car chases (okay, maybe in the second half it is) but there’s a sense of direction and progress right from the beginning. The action picks up in the second half – army dudes, epic plane escapes, god possessions and big fight sequences – but still allows for some nice character development and sweet moments between our heroes.

All Shapes and Sizes…And Ethnicities, and Sexualities, and everything really!

This book is a diversity dream. There’s a little bit of everything thrown in with this cast of characters and it creates a wonderful dynamic. Plus, Leigh doesn’t shy away from commentary on important topics like racism, body image, and growing up LBQTI. For example, there’s a scene in which Alia and Diana are in Target, Alia with missing shoes. She explains to Diana the necessity of getting in and out quickly because she’s bound to be targeted for a theft check based on her colour. Like, man, what can I even say to that?

Leigh, I ❤️ You

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Something that rarely ever ceases to shine is Leigh’s writing. Her descriptions aren’t overdone, and character internalisation is balanced well against occurring events. Her dialogue is smooth and always seems to achieve the right tone, whether that be dramatic or amusing, without feeling forced. Also important in a book like this, Leigh’s conflict scenes are well written and very easy to follow. It’s not hard to see why she’s so popular amongst YA readers (myself included!).

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Why you Might Want to Skip It

The Darkling, This Villain Ain’t

For most of WW:W there isn’t really an antagonist we can point to as being a major bad guy. Sure, there are elements that pose challenges for our heroes but overall there’s no clear cut individual or body (which is something I think the book could have benefited from).

That is, until the climax of the novel.

And let’s just say, I wasn’t mighty impressed with the antagonist or their motivations.

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To be blunt, they felt a bit ridiculous. I actually didn’t predict the twist but despite the impact it should have had, I couldn’t muster the energy to care, likely because I wasn’t too interested in this particular character. I kind of just sat there going, really mate? Really? However, points for a satisfying defeat of said individual using both Diana’s smarts and strength.

Modern Setting

This is more a personal preference. In the comics, Diana’s story begins in a WWII setting and in the film, it’s WWI. WW:W is set in the modern world and for some reason I’m a little sad at the loss of a historical setting. I know, the contemporary setting was crucial to a lot of Leigh’s story and the issues she addressed, but somehow Diana riding the subway just doesn’t have the same appeal as us joining her in the wonder of discovering wartime London.

Silly Story Elements

While Leigh is good, she isn’t infallible. There were a few small elements of WW:W that came up on occasion which broke the flow of the book slightly by coming off cartoonish. The villain aside, the prime example was Leigh’s use of the war based gods, with their random appearances often feeling pointless and silly. I mean, possessions followed by some cackling and taunting? Um…nope.

Diana, is that You?

As I mentioned earlier, Diana is a great character. So, one of my main issues with this book is that for large chunks of it, Diana’s character felt a little…flat, as though it could have been any unmemorable YA protagonist filling her shoes. Yes, it’s an origin story and I know Diana isn’t Wonder Woman yet, but I still expected more of a spark in her character. There were moments where I felt as if she simply faded into the background or I forgot completely who she was supposed to be. However, in Leigh’s defence, this improved in the second half and, thank goodness, righted completely by the time the climax kicked into gear.

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I enjoyed Leigh’s take on Diana and whilst I think there could have been a few improvements, I’d recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of Wonder Woman or looking for a fun read with some great, diverse characters.

My only problem: the end has left me with a craving for Bardugo’s take on actual Wonder Woman. Damn, that ending is such a teaser!

3.5 Stars

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What did you guys think of Wonder Woman: Warbringer?

Love Ashley

 

Top 10 Tuesday: Kick-Ass Female Characters

Today marks the beginning of June, a new season, and the second half of the year. Woo! However, today is also the day that the DC comics’ movie, Wonder Woman, opens in cinemas. This is the first big comic book movie ever to focus on a female protagonist. In other words, it’s a pretty big deal! I’m super excited to see the film and it’s got me thinking about the many other wonderfully strong, brave, determined, and just generally kick-ass women who have their origins on the page. There are so many amazing women that come to mind that limiting my list to 10 is a crime, so for now, here’s fourteen:

Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter Series)

It’s impossible to leave Hermione off any list of this nature. She’s kind, courageous, and incredibly smart. While Harry may have been the chosen one, without Hermione both he and Ron would most certainly have died (many times) over the years, and failed a heap of school assignments along the way. Whether she’s solving riddles, crafting massively complicated potions well beyond her years, or erasing someone’s memory, Hermione is most certainly the best person to have in any magical situation.

Celaena Sardothien (Throne of Glass)

If there’s one thing you can say about Sarah J. Maas, she knows how to write strong, bad-ass women. As a trained assassin, Celaena knows just about every which way to make a person hurt and yet, still takes a great deal of pride in her femininity. When someone can kick your ass wearing a dress and high heels, you know they’re definitely not someone you want to piss off.  Having lost her family and spent several years as a slave, Celaena hasn’t let her suffering slow her down. This is a girl who knows how to best serve revenge: ice cold.

Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)

Katniss goes through quite a bit over the course of her life – the death of her father, extreme poverty and almost starvation, risking a lifetime of slavery to hunt for game, and that’s all before the books even begin! She’s agile, strong, and a wiz with a bow and arrow, but more importantly, she’s not afraid to throw herself into danger to help the people she cares about or fight back against those who prey on the weak. Even through all of her suffering, Katniss never loses her exceptionally kind heart and it’s from this that she draws her enduring strength of character.

Delilah ‘Lila’ Bard (A Darker Shade of Magic)

A thief, a pirate, a magician, is there anything Lila can’t do? Having been on her own for most of her life, Lila has had to keep herself alive on the rough streets of London. An adventurer at heart, Lila is willing to throw herself into new languages, skills, lands, and experiences without so much as batting an eyelash. Where she finds herself at a physical disadvantage, she relies on quick and creative thinking to get out of tough situations. In doing so, she proves that size and strength are no indication of the trials one may overcome and the enemies they can defeat.

Feyre Archeron (A Court of Thorns and Roses)

My most recently discovered kick-ass protagonist. With her varied and powerful magical abilities, strong will, and determination to protect the human race, she most certainly belongs on this list. Feyre isn’t afraid to speak her mind and call someone out when they’re being a prick. She’s also constantly working to better herself and improve her usefulness to others. Most importantly, she can kill a giant worm utilising only some mud and a couple of old broken bones. If that isn’t kick-ass, I don’t know what is.

Lisbeth Salander (The Millennium Series)

Having grown up with an abusive father, been admitted to a psychiatric facility as a teenager, and survived a sexual assault as an adult, Lisbeth’s life is not a happy one and it’s sometimes difficult to understand how she remains as strong as she does. An exceptional hacker with a photographic memory, Lisbeth is intelligent, calculating, and unafraid of personal expression, even where it makes others uncomfortable. No matter how bad the situation, she never stops fighting. As someone who ties up and tattoos her rapist, sets a man on fire, and even survives being buried alive, Lisbeth is most certainly a kick-ass heroine.

Inej Ghafa (Six of Crows)

Inej, or The Wraith, is the right hand woman to thief extraordinaire, Kaz Brekker. Reserved, spiritual, and honest, Inej has the balance and flexibility of an acrobat, and the strength and knife skills of a warrior. Often filling the role of spy, Inej spends much of her time traversing the roof tops of Ketterdam. Kidnapped and sold into prostitution at fourteen, Inej somehow manages to retain an underlying belief in the goodness of others. As someone who is able to move through the night without making a noise, defeat trained assassins, and scale heated metal chutes with only a pair of rubber soled shoes to assist her, Inej is in good company on this list.

Paige Mahoney (The Bone Season)

Paige, also known as the Pale Dreamer, is a member of one of the rarer clairvoyant categories in Scion. She’s powerful enough to enter dreamscapes and push people’s souls out of their bodies. This would be badass on its own but on top of her magical abilities, Paige is also a part of the Seven Seals, one of the more powerful gangs in Scion’s criminal underworld. Her time with such a group has made her very capable of protecting herself, skilled in picking up on small details, and unwilling to give up when the going gets tough.

Clarice Starling (Silence of the Lambs)

Clarice is a student at the FBI academy and determined to prove herself in a field largely dominated by men. Despite her inexperience and extreme discomfort, Clarice constantly throws herself into each stage of the Buffalo Bill investigation. While others doubt her investigative efforts and hunches, it is through careful questioning, reviewing of the evidence, and persistence that Clarice digs up the necessary clues to identify Bill. With no back up and only her side arm to protect her, Clarice takes on Bill in a final showdown, her success resting on quick thinking and smart use of FBI training.

Rose Hathaway (Vampire Academy)

A trained dhampir guardian, Rose is direct, witty, protective, and kicks a lot of ass. Over the course of six books, she decapitates strigoi, overcomes death (repeatedly), fights back against bullies, discovers a way to retrieve her boyfriend’s soul, and travels half way across the world to fulfil a promise. At first a little arrogant, Rose grows and develops, and eventually comes to realise that protecting Moroi isn’t as simple as she’d once thought. She’ll make you laugh, make you cry, and in the end you’ll believe, with a little help from her friends, there’s almost nothing she can’t do.

Kady Grant (The Illuminae Files)

The second hacker on this list, Kady is stubborn, extremely tech savvy, and not afraid to bend the rules from time to time. She’s a bit of a flirt, a little snappy, and likes to go in guns blazing. But when your planet gets attacked, your AI goes psycho, and a zombie outbreak hits your ship, this is the girl you want on your team. She reboots entire computer systems, tracks down even the most secure information, can survive a ship full of murderous infected people, and somehow stays on the good side of the crazy AI. Definite kick-ass protagonist material there.

Irene (The Invisible Library)

Irene is a librarian. An awesome librarian. One who jumps between different universes, fights fey, makes deals with dragons, and solves mysteries with Sherlock Holmes like detectives. She’s level headed, articulate, and yet still able to deliver a beat down to pesky werewolves if need be. Irene is the kind of heroine who will bravely rush in to save a friend but she’ll damn well do her best to plan it out beforehand. If that’s not possible, she’s an expert in improvisation. Plus, you can’t help but love a character with the same appreciation for books as the reader.

Daenerys Targaryen & Arya Stark (A Song of Ice and Fire)

It seemed unfair to pick between these two wonderful female characters. Martin’s women are all well-developed, complicated, and just as strong as the men (in many cases even stronger). Both Dany and Arya have suffered great personal losses and been forced to leave their homes because of them. However, both have also worked extremely hard to reshape themselves into people who can claim what they are due, by force if necessary, and will get revenge for those they have lost. Dany and Arya are determined and resilient characters, and although one may show strength through dragons, and the other a “needle”, each is set to accomplish big things in books to come.


Who are some of your favourite kick-ass heroines?