What character archetype is more iconic than the assassin? A staple of thrillers, spy movies, and fantasy novels, these hired killers deliver death and mayhem, woe to anyone who stands against them. While assassins often play the role of villain, sometimes they take center stage as the protagonist. And why not? If we can have books where the main character is a serial killer, why can’t we have stories about people who are paid to commit murder? And you know what’s even more intriguing? When that assassin protagonist is a woman. Come on, we all know that female characters don’t often enjoy the same range of personalities, occupations, and flaws as their male counterparts. It’s refreshing when women get to work unsavory occupations and make choices of dubious morality. So for those of us who love our murderous women, here are ten of the best female assassin books.
Female Assassin YA Books
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
When I think of books about female assassins, this novel immediately pops to mind. Set in a world where some people are born with one spectacular skill, Katsa is born with the gift of killing. In fact, her ability to fight and kill remains unmatched in the entire kingdom. In multiple kingdoms. Some people might think that’s awesome. Too bad Katsa’s uncle is a manipulative king who has forced her becoming his own personal assassin.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A young woman is thrown into prison. She’s given a chance for freedom but only in exchange for some life-risking venture. For Celaena, winning freedom means competing with other hardened killers and warriors to become the new royal assassin. And if that weren’t enough to contend with, her fellow rivals start turning up dead and she might be next.
The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala
Esha is a rebel whose skills at assassination have earned her the name “The Viper.” Kushal is a general’s nephew who yearns for a life beyond that of a soldier. Their worlds collide when Kushal’s uncle is assassinated. The twist? Esha didn’t kill him.
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
You know what’s better than one female assassin? A sisterhood of female assassins! The first book in LaFevers’s His Fair Assassin trilogy introduces us to a convent of assassin-nuns. What’s not to love? Grave Mercy follows Ismae, who escaped an arranged marriage to an abusive husband, and her first assignment, which sends her to protect the Duchess of Brittany.
Interested in more YA books about assassins? We have a list for that.
Books With Assassins and Romance
Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong
Readers probably know Kelley Armstrong through her Women of the Otherworld urban fantasy series. What they may not know is that she also wrote a trilogy about an assassin. No witches. No werewolves. No demons. Just an ex-cop who became a hired killer for the Mafia. Yes, you read that correctly. People who like their assassins to be pragmatic and matter-of-fact, and to treat murder like a day job, definitely need to check this novel out.
I Am Justice by Diana Muñoz Stewart
Want more sisterhoods of assassins but maybe not on the young adult or fantasy side of things? Here’s the series for you. As a child, Justice Parish was adopted by a rich family and joined the ranks of their vigilante assassins. Sound problematic? You bet, but there are few female assassin books that don’t have questionable morals. Our heroines kill people for a living, after all. In this book, Justice’s next target is a sex-trafficking ring, and it brings her into direct contact with an ex-Special Forces veteran who now runs a humanitarian organization. Which is all well and good, until her true identity is revealed.
Female Assassin Fantasy Books
Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep
The first installment of Estep’s long-running Elemental Assassin series introduces us to Gin Blanco. Gin’s family was murdered when she was a child, landing her on the streets. Many people do all sorts of things to survive when in that situation. Gin chose to become an assassin. But when her latest job ends up being a trap, she must use her lethal skills to uncover the people responsible—and more importantly, why they chose to target her.
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
This alternate history novel takes place in 1940s New York City. Catch your attention? What if I told you it followed three characters, one of whom is the assassin Phyllis LeBlanc? Phyllis has a supernatural ability to handle knives with alarming skill, which has landed her the position of being a mob boss’s angel of justice. Trouble the Saints doesn’t have the clearest plot compared to some of the other female assassin books on this list, but if you’d like something a little different and that explores America’s deeply racist history, this one is worth checking out.
Assassin’s Gambit by Amy Raby
Set in a world loosely inspired by ancient Rome, this novel features the most classic of female assassin plots: a woman who falls in love with her target and the trouble that ensues when the heart doesn’t cooperate with the mind. Vitala works for the resistance as an assassin and her latest plan involves seducing her way into the emperor’s bed where she, of course, will kill him. Unfortunately for the plan, he isn’t what she expected.
Female Assassin Manga
Lady Snowblood by Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura
The title of this manga may ring some bells, especially if you love cult movies. Yes, the film that stars the iconic Meiko Kaji first started its life as a manga. Lady Snowblood tells the story of Yuki, a woman who was born for the sole purpose of finding and killing the people responsible for murdering her father and older brother. Due to time constraints, the film limits Yuki’s assassinations to solely the main culprits, but the manga explores the other jobs she takes on the path of vengeance. It also reveals more of the relationships that made her into the woman, and killer, she is. Keep in mind, however, that this manga comes from the era of 1970s exploitation manga so there’s a lot of gratuitous nudity, random sex, and more than one evil lesbian.
Hope you enjoyed this list of female assassin books. Did you find something new to pick up? If you have another specific reading niche and need recommendations, why not give Book Riot’s TBR service a try? You never know. You might discover your next favorite read!