I recently contributed an article to Artistic Licence Renewed arguing that Tiffany Case is Fleming's best female character. I won't reprint the whole thing here, but I will summarize my reasons.
First, she's funny and tough. There's more humor in Tiffany's wisecracks than there is in the first three Bond books put together. She's happy to talk back to Bond and she brings out his latent humor too, as in their long discussion about marriage on the Queen Elizabeth. "So you're one of those old-fashioned men who like sleeping with women. Why haven't you ever married?" Tiffany asks. Bond says his ideal wife would be "Somebody who can make Sauce Béarnaise as well as love," and she replies "Holy mackerel! Just any old dumb hag who can cook and lie on her back?" Later on she sends to Bond's cabin a bowl of sauce and a note from the chef saying: "This Sauce Béarnaise has been created by Miss T. Case without my assistance."
Second, Tiffany has a complex character, shaped by inner conflict. She is a tough, independent operator but also has a suppressed vulnerability. In her first meeting with Bond, she's mostly cold and scornful ("Do you mind if I smoke?" Bond asks. "If that's the way you want to die" she responds), but after he leaves she wonders "about the man who had suddenly, out of the blue, found his way into her life. God, she thought to herself with sudden angry despair, another damn crook. Couldn't she ever get away from them?" Because of a traumatic past, she is distrustful of men and afraid of being hurt. There is a poignance in seeing her inner struggle when she begins falling for Bond--we know Bond is not the type who would hurt her, but she can't be sure. This is demonstrated after their dinner in New York, when he takes her back to her hotel:
Then she turned in the entrance and faced him.
"Listen, you Bond person..."
It had started as the beginning of an angry speech, but then she paused and looked straight into his eyes, and Bond saw that her eyelashes were wet. And suddenly she had flung an arm round his neck and her face was against his and she was saying "Look after yourself, James. I don't want to lose you." And then she pulled his face against hers and kissed him once, hard and long on the lips, with a fierce tenderness that was almost without sex.
But, as Bond's arms went round her and he started to return her kiss, she suddenly stiffened and fought her way free, and the moment was over.
With her hand on the knob of the open door, she turned and looked at him, and the sultry glow was back in her eyes.
"Now get away from me," she said fiercely, and slammed the door and locked it.
Bond has to prove himself to Tiffany, something he's never been called upon to do before. He realizes he must be more than a lover; his presence must also be be therapeutic. Occasionally he makes mistakes and upsets her by bringing up her relations with the mob, but he perseveres until they end the book on a note of happiness.
By contrast, Fleming's other female characters are less vivid:
* Vesper is one-dimensional, and only comes alive in the last quarter of the novel, when her desperation makes itself known.
* Solitaire is perhaps the most cardboard of Fleming's heroines. She begins as a damsel in distress and doesn't progress much beyond that.
* Gala Brand is more interesting--she's not impressed with Bond, being a true professional--but we don't see much of her character beyond her patriotism.
* Tatiana Romanova is a better character--we spend a couple of chapters looking at the world through her eyes and get a sense of her ordinariness and sense of vulnerability--but her personality isn't unique.
* Honeychile Ryder is a very good heroine, a child of nature whose innocence and determination come across vividly. She does however go through a "sex kitten" phase during captivity in the mink-lined prison.
* Pussy Galore inherits Tiffany's gift for wisecracks, but doesn't appear long enough to become anything more than a lesbian caricature of Mae West. Tilly Masterton is better drawn, but Fleming's contempt limits her development.
* Domino is one of Fleming's very best heroines--fiery, wilful and vengeful (as we see in her destruction of Largo and "to hell with you" attitude) but also with a contemplative, wistful side (as we see in her long story about the Players cigarettes sailor).
* Vivienne Michel might possibly outrank Tiffany as Fleming's best heroine, but she has unfair advantage--she gets to narrate an entire book about herself! No wonder we get to know her character--fanciful, plucky, and a bit similar to Ian Fleming's, to be honest--so well.
* Tracy di Vicenzo is basically a rewrite of Tiffany--a sensitive, depressive soul with a sad backstory and a hot-and-cold temperament--but she becomes less interesting after being cured by the psychiatrists.
* Kissy Suzuki is another of Fleming's best heroines: proud (witness her disgust with Hollywood racism), independent, and willing to take what she wants. Her keeping the amnesiac Bond might seem selfish, but can anyone deny that she gave him a good life?
* Mary Goodnight is sadly almost bereft of character--she's resourceful and a little bashful, and that's about all one can say about her.
But enough of my gabbing--who do you think Fleming's best female character is? Do my assessments do justice to your favorites? Do tell! And should you wish to comment on the article, feel welcome.