Buy, Borrow, Bypass: Badass Ladies of Historical Fiction

I read a lot of historical fiction. Not as much as I used to, but writing about these books made me realize I’ve got to remedy my situation.

The+Crimson+Petal+and+the+WhiteThe Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
It took me far too long to read this, considering it might as well have been written FOR me, or to put it another way: my wheelhouse was built around books like this. Massive tome, check; Victorian-era England, check; prostitutes, check; women outsmarting men, check. I remember picking it up several times around when it came out, but being intimidated (as a college student, a slow reader, and a damn fool) by its size…and yes, it took me ten days to finish, but it was so worth it.

Verdict: Buy

Cover of The Agency feminist genre fictionA Spy in the House (The Agency #1) by Y. S. Lee
As you deduced from my choice of theme, badass ladies are kind of my jam. Here we have a smart lady spy sent by the Agency, a secret organization (what’s that—more kryptonite?) to figure out some things about stuff that I’m scared to say too much about because I don’t want to give anything away. Still: ladies who aren’t who they seem, dudes who don’t suck as characters, and dudes who kind of do. Also, feminism. Also also, Lee is a scholar of the Victorian age so she knows her stuff, as well as how to manipulate that world to her purpose.

Verdict: Borrow (I read it on Oyster.)

the fair fight anna freemanThe Fair Fight by Anna Freeman
This one is just barely pre-Victorian (I think I’m remembering that right), and it’s about society and gender roles and marriageability (a word I haven’t used since grad school, with good reason). But the selling point: it’s about a female bare-knuckle boxer, a girl raised in a brothel and whose mouth is a sight smarter than her brain, as my dear grandmother used to say. But not really; she, of course, just doesn’t have a lot of educational opportunities, and then she’s discovered as a fighter. I LOVED THIS BOOK WITH ALL THE LOVES.

Verdict: Buy

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (Leviathan series)
We’re totally counting historical fantasy here. Deryn Sharp poses as a boy so that she can join the Royal Air Service. Shenanigans ensue. There’s an alternate World War which involves living airships engineered by Darwinists and huge machines built by “Clankers,” who use more traditional technology. There’s a prince. There’s gender-bending. There’s a badass lady scientist at some point, but I can’t actually remember which book she’s in. Anyway, there’s pretty much everything to love about this series. I really, really like Uglies, but this is Westerfeld as his my-favorite.

Verdict: Borrow (or Buy, but I was burned by my desire for all of my copies to match in hardcover—my much more attractive copy of Leviathan doesn’t have a person on the cover, but books two and three do.)

So who’s missing from the list, readers? Bust my TBR. Did that sound kind of dirty?


Book Riot Live is coming! Join us for a two-day event full of books, authors, and an all around good time. It’s the convention for book lovers that we’ve always wanted to attend. So we are doing it ourselves.


Book Riot has Avada Kedavra-ed the comments section, so please come chat with us on Twitter or Instagram!