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Dive Back In Time With These Women-Centred Historical Novels

It’s no secret that mainstream history books have often left women out or relegated them to the footnotes. It is called history, after all. As a young girl, I knew I loved stories from the past—magical princesses that lived once upon a time were the first to get me hooked—but I couldn’t see myself in the majority of what we learned in history classes. So instead, I turned to the world of historical fiction: a genre that allows writers to creatively fill the gaps from missing historical records and reimagine the experiences of women from the past who have traditionally been neglected. I have these novels to thank for bringing me where I am now: a recent women’s history MA grad launching into full-time doctoral studies in the fall.

This month marks Women’s History Month in the US, so consider picking up one of these 10 must-read historical novels set in past eras that feature either real-life or imagined female characters, covering a range of periods all the way back from the classical era to postwar modernity.

The Huntress
by Kate Quinn

This is one of the season’s most anticipated reads, and for good reason. It tells the fictional story of a former member of the Night Witches (the real-life all-female squad of Russian bomber pilots that fought off the Germans in WWII) and a war correspondent who join forces to hunt down a Nazi war criminal previously known as the Huntress. Add to the mix a 17-year-old American girl who starts to suspect her new German stepmother might have a shady past, and you’ve got yourself one compelling read.
Buy it here: Amazon / Indigo

The Silence of the Girls
by Pat Barker

We all know Achilles: the celebrated godlike war hero of the Greeks. But what about Briseis, who went from queen to captive concubine to the man who took her city? And the thousands of other female slaves in the soldiers’ camp? This new novel gives Homer’s The Iliad a much-needed feminist makeover, and tells the ancient myth of the Trojan War from the perspective of the women whose lives changed as a result of the battles fought between men.
Buy it here: Amazon / Indigo

That Churchill Woman
by Stephanie Barron

As the old saying goes, behind every great man there is a great woman. Stephanie Barron takes readers back to Victorian England and gives a fictionalized account of Jennie Jerome: the beautiful and scandalous 19-year-old American woman who married Lord Randoph Churchill and later gave birth to—you guessed it—the legendary Winston Churchill.
Buy it here: Amazon / Indigo

American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt
by Stephanie Thornton

Following in the same tradition, American Princessbrings to light another woman who played a part in the life of a legendary man: Alice, President Teddy Roosevelt’s rebellious, cigarette-smoking, poker-playing daughter. Set amidst the political intrigue of turn-of-the-century Washington DC, this novel promises to have all the drama, betrayal, and heartache you could ask for.
Buy it here: Amazon / Indigo

The Bird King
by G. Willow Wilson

This new novel from award-winning author G. Willow Wilson is set in the late 15thcentury in the last remaining holdout of Muslim-ruled Spain: the kingdom of Grenada. Fatima is a concubine in the sultan’s haram and her friend Hassan is the palace mapmaker. When delegates of the newly solidified Christian Spain of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima accidentally betrays Hassan to the Inquisition, who see his mystical abilities as dangerous sorcery, and they must escape the court and find refuge on the run.
Buy it here: Amazon/ Indigo

The Quintland Sisters
by Shelley Wood

If you’re looking for something closer to home, this novel brings readers back to Northern Ontario during the Great Depression, where a French farming couple give birth to the world’s first identical quintuplets to survive birth. Told from the perspective of 17-year-old Emma Trimpany, the hesitant midwife who helps bring them into the world and acts as their nurse after government claims the babies as wards of the British king, this book brings a strange-but-true Canadian legend to life in a fascinating fictional reimagining.
Buy it here: Amazon / Indigo

Into That Fire
by MJ Cates

This novel, written by a mysterious author under the pseudonym of MJ Cates, tells the story of Imogen Lang, a fictional character loosely inspired on Phyllis Greenacre, the real-life female pioneer of psychiatry of the early 20thcentury. Despite the option of a comfortable future with her dearest friend and confidant Quentin, Imogen breaks with convention and chooses to accept a medical residency rather than marriage. She faces off workplace sexism and finds success in her career, but when she hears Quentin has been killed in the war she has to face the sacrifice she made to pursue her dream of being one of the first female physiatrists.
Buy it here: Amazon / Indigo

After the Party
by Cressida Connolly

This novel opens in 1979, where Phyllis Forrester is rotting away in prison, buried in shame for what she has done. Readers are then taken back to the summer leading up to the outbreak of WWII, where it all began, when Phyllis and her husband return to England after living abroad for several years to stay with her sister in her grand country house. Sinister beliefs and anti-Semitism penetrate this seemingly idealistic world of privilege and sisterhood, and over the course of the novel, the author gradually illuminates why Phyllis ended up interned by the British government.
Buy it here: Amazon/ Indigo

The Night Tiger
by Yangsze Choo

This new novel transports readers back to 1930s colonial Malaysia, and follows the coming-of-age of a spunky and ambitious dressmaking apprentice named Ji Lin and the dangerous adventures she finds herself swept into. This fictional story brings to life a time and place not often learned about in history classes, and I would highly recommend it.
Buy it here: Amazon / Indigo

The Age of Light
by Whitney Scharer

When American Vogue cover girl Lee Miller moved to Paris in 1929, she wanted to pursue a career creating art. Instead, she found herself once again the subject of another man’s art when she becomes the muse of surrealist Man Ray. This novel tells the fictionalized story of her years as a model and muse, her determination to forge a new path, and how she successfully transformed herself into a war correspondent producing important work such as photos documenting the liberation of the concentration camps.
Buy it here: Amazon / Indigo

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