There's a lot of talk about Strong Female Characters in the media. But what exactly is a Strong Female Character? The word usually brings to mind a butt-kicking warrior girl. But there are all sorts of ways to be powerful. I re-read Kristin Cashore's series over the summer, and thinking about that very topic. The books are loosely linked, but can be read in any order (although Bitterblue is probably best saved for last, since it has spoilers for the other two books).
Katsa is the prototypical butt-kicking warrior girl. She's a Graceling, a person with a special gift, or Grace, that sets them apart from others. Hers is the ability to kill. Gracelings become the property of their king, and her king is using her as an assassin and hired bully to oppress his subjects. Katsa doesn't think she's able to be anything else, until she meets Po, a prince from another kingdom, who believes that there is more to her than killing.
Fire is a monster. No, really. She is preternaturally beautiful and has power over others' minds, gifts she inherited from her brutal, psychopathic father, Cansrel. But Fire is nothing like her father, and struggles to ignore her gifts and hide her beauty. When war comes, she is forced to use these gifts to save her kingdom, and to accept their effects for good and for ill.
Bitterblue has been a queen since the age of ten. Her father, Leck, had a Grace that allowed him to alter other's minds. As a result, the kingdom of Monsea became a terrible place. Eight years later, Bitterblue is still battling the effects. Feeling stifled and coddled by her advisers, she takes to sneaking out into the city in disguise. What started as an attempt to get a little breathing space becomes a path toward healing her broken people.