When people ask what the most feminist science fiction universe is, I always answer Warhammer 40,000. Full stop. End of sentence. It’s an odd thing to say given the most famous WH40k denizens are big, burly space soldiers. But the universe is home to so many badass women that it’s about time we recognize the best and brightest. Before we dive in though, let me make it clear how this list was formed:
- The character must be a major player in her book. M’shen is a badass. You would never read any of the Night Lords books to read about M’shen. So she doesn’t make the list.
- How well do we know the character? There are some badass women throughout Warhammer that we never really get to know as people.
- How defined is the character? We see a lot of female characters who show up, punch something, and that’s their sole defining characteristic. This list is about characters who are more than their ability to fight. These are characters who fight, feel, and with whom we form a real, deep emotional attachment.
Now that that’s clear, let’s dive in, shall we? Note that these characters are not presented in any type of order. That would be impossible.
The Women of Warhammer
Books/stories: Watchers of the Throne
Easily the angriest person on this list (which is saying something given we have a World Eater on here), Tanau Aleya gets %$#@ done. Despite sharing a book as protagonist, Aleya’s personality demands your attention. As a pariah, she sees the worst in people, and she doesn’t let that distract her. The woman is on a mission from the God Emperor. There’s demons, psykers, a magic map, and a new BFF. She’s mad as hell, and she’s not going to take it anymore.
Celestine, The Living Saint
Full disclosure: had Andy Clark not written Celestine: The Living Saint, she might not have made this list. She’s an inspiring figure throughout WH40k, but never before had we really gotten to know who she was as a person. Celestine isn’t just a warrior chosen by the Emperor. She’s the strongest-willed character on this list, secure in her faith in the Emperor, and herself. When you finish her novel I ask which aspect sticks with you more: her unflappable character, or the fact that this woman knows, without question, who she is and what her purpose is. We could all stand to believe in ourselves even half as much as Celestine does.
Books/stories: Honourbound, more codices/campaign supplements than you can shake a stick at
The saying goes that the only thing scarier than Chaos at your front is the Commissar at your back. Severina Raine is another character who knows, without question, who she is and what she fights for. It’s not easy being the most hated person in a guard regiment (even if your regiment includes an unstable drug addict and a sanctioned psyker), and Severina doesn’t give a single, solitary $#@%. What makes her stand out from Celestine and Tanau is that she doesn’t have any special powers aside from her faith in the Commissariate, the Guard, and the God Emperor. Plus she stars in the first and only romance novel in the WH40k catalog and dammit, that’s awesome.
Books/stories: Double Eagle, The Guns of Tanith
The Sabbat Worlds are chock full of amazing female characters who are all badass in their own right, making it hard to pick just one. Bree manages to win for a couple reasons. For one, she’s the main character of her story, meaning we not only get to know her very well, we’re truly invested in her story start to finish. Second, the woman’s adversary is Khrel Kas Obarkon, the WH40k answer to the the Red Baron. Bree’s a leader and a fighter and every time she climbed into her plane I said “YASS KWEEN.” (OK, I didn’t say that because it wasn’t a “thing” back in 2007 when I read the book, but I was feeling it in my heart and that’s all that matters, here.)
Anurhada (aka Helot Secundus)
Books/stories: Spear of the Emperor
Relative new-comer on this list, Anurhada quickly secured her place by being the most loyal slave servant Helot either side of the rift. The woman not only survives torture at the hands of a Chaos legion, she saves her master’s life through dogged loyalty and determination. She knows her way around a gun, but it’s her sense of duty, loyalty, and honor that make her such a strong character. This woman knows who she is, and she is completely comfortable in her skin.
Books/stories: Betrayer, A Rose Watered with Blood, The Lost and the Damned
This woman is the baddest bitch in the room through the entire Horus Heresy. Not only is she BFFs with Kharn, she back talks Angron and lives. She kills Space Marines who dare turn their back on the World Eaters for the Emperor, after playing them for fools. She proves to be a vital part of the invasion of Terra by expertly managing her out-of-control Primarch. Holy hell. This woman is forever and a day the image of badassery in the WH universe. #FiretheUrsusClaw
What about the other women of Warhammer?
“But Jen,” you might be saying, “Where is M’shen? Where is Sabbat?! WHERE IS <INSERT CHARACTER HERE>?!?!1111” We’ve been through this already! The glorious truth of the matter is that WH40k is full of so many awesome female characters, it’s really difficult to point to specific people. I firmly believe that no matter the book, there’s probably a female character that spoke to you and stood out. Who are your favorites?