There is another list I have been pointed to kindly by Matthew about science fiction by women and people of colour, which has added a whole bunch of new books to the “to read” list. Check it out for yourself here. Its focus is authors rather than characters, so my character list continues below.
Nell The Diamond Age Neal Stephenson
Nell is a little girl who starts her life with poverty and abuse, unprotected save for the love of her big brother Harv who wants something better for her and her trusty companions Dinosaur, Duck, Peter and Purple. Her entire life changes when Harv brings her home a copy of a book, which is in fact a massively powerful learning computer, which educates her and leads her into another life (the moment she meets the book can be found here). Nell learns to think and fight and lead others through her interaction with the book, and her natural compassion is nurtured. But the Primer would not have helped Nell without her innate curiousity, intelligence and willingness to learn, as we see when she is compared to the others who use the Primer. Nell is special, and her story is one of growing up and learning and the value and importance of education. But most importantly, Nell ends as she begins, a brave girl and then woman, who takes on and accepts the challenges of life.
...though Princess Nell had become so beautiful over the years and had developed such a fine bearing that few people would mistake her for a commoner now, even is she were dressed in rags and walking barefoot.
Lying in her bunkbed in Madame Ping’s dormitory, reading these words from a softly glowing page in the middle of the night, Nell wondered softly at that. Princesses were not genetically different from commoners.