Last summer at Book Expo America, I picked up a few historical fiction titles that I’ve only recently gotten around to finishing. Each one stars a female historical figure who held a position of great power or importance but who tends to get left out of history books in favor of her male counterparts. So, if you are interested in a fresh perspective on some of world history’s most significant events and leaders, including the reigns of Cleopatra and Catherine the Great and the Lincoln assassination, I highly recommend each of the books below.
- Cleopatra’s Shadows by Emily Holleman — Of course you’ve heard of Cleopatra (though primarily in the context of her relationships with Julius Ceasar and Mark Antony, I’ll warrant), but did you know she had two sisters, both of whom held the throne of Egypt for a time? Berenice, harboring a grudge against her father Ptolemy for casting out her mother in favor of a concubine determines to prover her own worth by overthrowing his regime and ruling Egypt for herself. But how long can she maintain control? And will marriage help or hinder her? Young Arsinoe deals with similar feelings of abandonment as she finds herself alone unsaved after Berenice’s coup, while her father had fled with his heir Cleopatra and her mother whisked her young brothers to safety. She must feign loyalty to Berenice in order to survive. But as she loses hope of her father and sister’s return, she also loses faith in her loyalty to them for all the good it did her.
- Queen of Someday by Sherry D. Ficklin — Okay so you may have heard of Catherine the Great, the longest-ruling female in Russian history, under whose reign Russia experienced its golden age. But did you know her name was Sophie before she took on the royal name Catherine? Do you know how exactly this minor Prussian princess whose family was declining in power and wealth ended up on the throne of the great Russian empire? Ficklin shows us just that as she depicts young Sophie’s childhood and entrance into the Russian court under the guidance of a conniving and power-hungry mother. It is the first in the Stolen Empire series, so while the novel ends with Sophie still far from the impressive and commanding empress we know she will become, I look forward to reading about her transformation and maturation as the series progresses. You can read the ebook for free on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes bookstore.
- Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham — We all know John Wilkes Booth was the one who actually pulled the trigger. But who took the fall for plotting with him? Who is the woman who was hung beside his compatriots and what exactly was her involvement? This novel tells the tale of Mary Surratt, the first woman to be hanged by the U.S. government, for her alleged participation in the Lincoln assassination. Look for my full review coming out next month on February 25th! The novel will be released on March 1st.
These three works each take place in a different country and era, but they all emphasize the importance and complexity of the lives of women whom history seems to have forgotten.
If you’re interested in similar works that came out a little less recently, I also recommend The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, The Last Empress by Anchee Min, and anything by Philippa Gregory (author of The Other Boleyn Girl).
Have you read any of these? Got any other female-centered historical fiction you’d like to recommend? Let us know in the comments below.