The girl-disguised-as-boy trope is one that I enjoy reading and writing about. For me, it’s part breaking down gender roles and exploring those roles, and part living a secret, dangerous life whilst fighting back against those roles assigned to them. Many of the stories featuring these tropes have a history or culture steeped in sexism and the main character is forced to disguise themselves either to obtain something they want, or to hide from the dangers present in their society. And these girls don’t let traditional gender roles or danger get in their way. By the end of their journey they learn something about themselves and help their respective societies take a good hard look at themselves.
Growing up, I was a bit of a tomboy; a girl who enjoyed masculine activities and who wasn’t particularly feminine or interested in girly things. I liked rolling around in the dirt, playing video games, and wearing boys clothes. I didn’t like the idea of being the girl that society wanted me to be. I wanted to be a knight! And so I related to characters like Alanna who disguised herself as a boy so she could become a knight and prove girls were just as capable as boys. This is something I wanted to explore within my own story, Sand Dancer, as my main character Mina also wants to prove that girls can be warriors and achieve great things. Of course, nowadays gender identity is a lot more fluid and you can be whoever you want to be, though society still has a long way to go.
Here I’m going to share three of my favourite YA fantasy stories which invoke this trope, and two more which are being released this year!
Alanna from The Song of the Lioness Quartet
The Alanna series created by Tamora Pierce were my biggest influences growing up. Alanna starts her adventure as a young girl who wants to become a knight. Destined for a life of being a lady whilst her twin-brother gets all the fun, they swap places so he can learn magic and she can travel to the capital city and become a page. She soon makes friends with a bunch of rowdy boys including the crown Prince himself. The first book in the series focusses on Alanna’s lessons as she struggles to overcome her own insecurities whilst dealing with a bully. The second book continues with her disguise as she grows up and begins to develop feelings for the boys in her life.
Alanna’s accomplishments go on to have far-reaching consequences, not just for her own life and journey, but for characters in subsequent series. Tamora Pierce has written other stories within the same world and, with the Protector of the Small series, the story begins anew with Kel; the first girl to become a page without needing to hide her gender. Find Tamora Pierce’s books on Goodreads!
Eona from the Eon/Eona Duology
An Asian-inspired adventure featuring spirit dragons, Eona is a young girl saved from a life in the salt mines because she has the uncanny ability to see more than one spirit dragon, a trait that could name her as the next Rat Dragoneye. The only problem is, girls can’t train to become the Dragoneye! Encouraged by her master to disguise herself as a boy, Eona becomes Eon and enters a very dangerous world of politics and magic where one slip-up could end her life.
I love how Eona has to confront the men standing in her way whilst also confronting her own gender and disguise. One of my favourite aspects of these books is the character of Lady Dela; a trans woman who helps Eona along the way, and a mirror to Eona. This world is quite a dark, oppressibe one, but neither Eona or Lady Dela let that get in their way. Find the Dragoneye books by Alison Goodman on Goodreads.
Amani from the Rebel of the Sands Trilogy
In a desert town down on its fortunes and with no easy way out, Amani disguises herself as a boy so she can enter a shooting competition and earn gold to leave her dusty life behind. She’s one heck of a sharp-shooter and decides to use her skills to change her fortunes and get outta town before she’s forced into an arranged marriage by her uncle. Things don’t go quite to plan, as you’d expect, and Amani ends up running away in the desert and joining a band of rebels, earning her the nickname of Blue-Eyed Bandit.
Whilst the male disguise isn’t a massive part of the story as a whole, Amani makes a fierce bandit and doesn’t let the men in her life dictate her destiny or what she can do. Find out more about Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton on Goodreads.
Here are two books coming out THIS YEAR featuring girls who disguise themselves as boys:
Crown of Feathers
Released on February 12th 2019, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming the rider of giant battle phoenixes – yes, actual phoenixes – but this means she needs to disguise herself as a boy to join the Riders. Veronyka has a lot to contend with, including a sister out to betray her, and a burning need to prove herself capable of being a Rider as good as any boy.
I’m excited to delve into a world with battle phoenixes! Who isn’t?? Check Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto on Goodreads.
We Hunt the Flame
Coming in May 2019, We Hunt the Flame is an Arabian-inspired tale of Zafira, a huntress who disguises herself as a man, the Hunter, in order to brave the cursed forests to feed her people. Her legend earns the attention of an evil king and his Prince who is sent to stop her obtaining a magical artefact. If her disguise were to be revealed, then all her achievements would be ignored.
I honestly can’t wait for this debut by Hafsah Faizal as it ticks all my fantasy boxes – the girl-disguised-as-boy trope, a kick-ass girl on a mission, and a enemies-to-lovers to romance. Find out more on Goodreads!
Have you read any YA fantasy with this trope? Recommend me some books!