The Folk of the Air’s badass, strong female main character, Jude Duarte, does not try to do the right thing. For most of the series, she doesn't even know what the right thing is. Instead, she does what she can to attain the power and status she has been denied because she is a human in the world of faerie. And she does it "go big or go home" style by making herself the power behind the throne, the one pulling all the strings for an entire race.
She’s a fictional inspiration to girls everywhere and breaks stereotypes through her ruthlessness, strength, and an unapologetic lust for power.
What’s incredibly unique about Jude as compared to characters like Hermione Granger or Annabeth Chase is that there’s none of that "brain over brawn" that shows up a lot with female characters. The same goes for Clary Fray who never aspired to be a fighter in a traditional sense, or Tris Prior who often ended up strung along in a greater power’s plots. While valuing knowledge and ideas is an important lesson, seeing it too much gets dull and something dangerously close to constraining for the girls reading these books — something that says, "this is what a strong woman does."
The constant change in YA, a lot of it due to recent ideas of what readers need, shows itself in the "strong female character archetype" where post-2015 heroines such as Inej Ghafa and Jude Duarte seem to take on a warrior role with more fervor and more skill. Jude trains relentlessly through the course of her life in both battle and tact, and it shows. Not only is she unapologetically ambitious, but she also wins herself the road to her ambitions.
It can be argued the same with Annabeth, but Riordan still lays the importance of wisdom thick with her, while Black is unwaveringly confident with Jude’s skill, her fight, her bouncing back from every issue twice the fighter she was before. This gives the female character a different role, a stronger role, and much of YA fantasy lacks that.
Jude is unique in her independence as well. Even Inej runs with a crew, Katniss has her allies, but Jude can trust no one, so she does exactly that. She scorns her father, turns away from the boy she loves, leaves her twin in the dark and in the dust.
When she chooses to protect her step-brother, who’s a toddler at the beginning of the series, she does it more because she will need him in the future, and less because he may be hurt. She’s ruthless when she needs to be, and she’s goal-oriented throughout the series. Jude has been denied any status, so she takes it upon herself to have the highest position and most power in fairie society. In a cutthroat world, she is twice as cruel and does not hold herself back.
Despite all this, we remain rooting for her and understand her profoundly. We see her improve and show concern for her loved ones when she can, but she seldom lets her feelings get in the way, and the few times she does, she pays a price. My takeaway from her was this rich understanding of independence and her stubborn defiance against what everyone thinks she should be.
While the world we live in is arguably kinder than Black’s, it’s still important for people — especially marginalized folks — to really take agency wherever they can.
Something else Jude doesn’t have is a special element, a predetermined destiny. She wasn’t born different in a good way or destined to rule. She was born a burden, a mockery, an underdog in a world of immortals more powerful than her. Yes, she’s different, but there’s nothing except her own desire that drives her to the throne. Many fantasy novels rely on something akin to the chosen one trope, without explicitly stating it — for example Alina being born the Sun Summoner or even Nikolai being important because he was born royal.
The Folk of the Air series is so powerful because it’s less a character having to face circumstances and more a character creating them. She doesn’t just go with challenges set for her by external forces; she goes for what she wants — vaguely similar to Kaz Brekker in Six of Crows.
She is allowed to want things, allowed to demand them from a cruel world, and claw for power tooth-and-nail, whether or not she is entitled to it because she can. She’s allowed to be tired of belonging to someone else, tired of being her father’s daughter, a human belonging to faerie.
A lot of protagonists don’t get that choice, but she does. She seizes it on her own and for herself, and that makes her something special in a genre full of people who take what they are given.
Standing up for herself from the start
This bit is a bit self-indulgent, but personally, as a former bullied kid, I found it so amazing to see how Jude dealt with her tormentors for a good chunk of book one. I could probably write a whole article on this itself, but she spoke to me there. I was not silent in dealing with the bullying. I told off my bullies, I fought back, and I lost over and over again, but I did that. And it sucks sometimes — when it’s been two years, and all I’m thinking is maybe I could’ve made it easier for myself.
But y’all know who did the same, all defiant and powerless? Jude Duarte. While her twin (who’s also human) ignored the bullying and occasionally life-threatening harassment, Jude didn’t just take it. Every time she went down in that first book, she did so on her own terms, and that meant the world to me.
While Jude isn’t exactly a role model, she gives YA women a new depth, and her ambition and her putting herself above others is so important for girls who are often taught to value loyalty above themselves, to value family, or stay in a working role somewhere they could be CEO. Girls are constantly told to settle for less, to be empowered, but only a certain amount, to bear some precarious line between ‘good career’ and ‘too much,’ but Jude? Jude cares nothing for that.
And, if you’re of a marginalized group reading this? Neither should you.
is a high school student in New Jersey. She likes (in no particular order) books, music, science, history, running, and (of course) writing and is always up to learn something new! Find her on Instagram at @writing_stoot.