Women’s History Month is still in full swing, so we’re here with another list of great historical fiction about women! We’re going way back for this list, into Pre-Renaissance world history. These books don’t even begin to cover all the amazing history that happened in ancient and medieval times, but they’re all great peeks into some fascinating cultures and eras! All descriptions are from Goodreads.com unless otherwise noted, with librarian notes in italics.
Forbidden by Kimberly Griffiths Little – In the unforgiving Mesopotamian desert where Jayden’s tribe lives, betrothal celebrations abound, and tonight it is Jayden’s turn to be honored. But while this union with Horeb, the son of her tribe’s leader, will bring a life of riches and restore her family’s position within the tribe, it will come at the price of Jayden’s heart.
Then a shadowy boy from the Southern Lands appears. Handsome and mysterious, Kadesh fills Jayden’s heart with a passion she never knew possible. But with Horeb’s increasingly violent threats haunting Jayden’s every move, she knows she must find a way to escape—or die trying.
With a forbidden romance blossoming in her heart and her family’s survival on the line, Jayden must embark on a deadly journey to save the ones she loves—and find a true love for herself.
Set against the brilliant backdrop of the sprawling desert, the story of Jayden and Kadesh will leave readers absolutely breathless as they defy the odds and risk it all to be together.
Hannah’s Note: This might be the only YA book I’ve ever heard of set in a Mesopotamian culture! Combine that with the kind of star-crossed love story anyone can relate to, and there’s something for everyone. Check it out for a fascinating look at a seldom-written about (in fiction, at least!) world.
Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett – Ariadne is destined to become a goddess of the moon. She leads a lonely life, filled with hours of rigorous training by stern priestesses. Her former friends no longer dare to look at her, much less speak to her. All that she has left are her mother and her beloved, misshapen brother Asterion, who must be held captive below the palace for his own safety.
So when a ship arrives one spring day, bearing a tribute of slaves from Athens, Ariadne sneaks out to meet it. These newcomers don’t know the ways of Krete; perhaps they won’t be afraid of a girl who will someday be a powerful goddess. And indeed she meets Theseus, the son of the king of Athens. Ariadne finds herself drawn to the newcomer, and soon they form a friendship—one that could perhaps become something more.
Yet Theseus is doomed to die as an offering to the Minotaur, that monster beneath the palace—unless he can kill the beast first. And that “monster” is Ariadne’s brother . . .
Hannah’s Note: This re-telling of an ancient myth blends mythology with the real history of Crete. And for my money, Ariadne is one of the most interesting characters from ancient Greek mythology, one who certainly deserves her own book!
Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter – The only daughter of the last queen of Egypt watches her beloved father–Mark Antony–fall on his sword in front of her. Then she hears the haunting wails of the priestesses of Isis on the island of Pharos and knows her mother died. It is the end of Cleopatra’s rule and the start of Selene’s nightmare. Her parent’s vicious enemy, the snake-like Octavianus, forces Cleopatra Selene to march through the streets of Rome in golden chains and then sentences her, along with her brothers, to live as political prisoners in his own home.
There she fights desperately to keep her brothers safe from poisonings and secret assassination attempts. Selene plots furiously to do what she knows her mother Cleopatra would want her to do–reclaim her destiny as the queen of Egypt. While plotting with her mother’s agents in Rome, Selene knows her best shot at retaking Egypt’s throne is to beguile her despised captor’s nephew, Marcellus, the beautiful, golden-haired heir to Octavanius. But Selene unexpectedly falls in love with a fellow political prisoner setting off a deeply personal crisis: Does Selene choose the man she loves over the man who could help her rule Egypt? (Description from Amazon.com)
Hannah’s Note: Everybody’s heard of Cleopatra, and probably a little something about her affairs with two of the most powerful men in the ancient Roman world. But what is often forgotten are her children – children torn from their native country and brought to the center of one of the most powerful civilizations in history.
Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang – Athletic and strong willed, Princess Emmajin’s determined to do what no woman has done before: become a warrior in the army of her grandfather, the Great Khan Khubilai. In the Mongol world the only way to achieve respect is to show bravery and win glory on the battlefield. The last thing she wants is the distraction of the foreigner Marco Polo, who challenges her beliefs in the gardens of Xanadu. Marco has no skills in the “manly arts” of the Mongols: horse racing, archery, and wrestling. Still, he charms the Khan with his wit and story-telling. Emmajin sees a different Marco as they travel across 13th-century China, hunting ‘dragons’ and fighting elephant-back warriors. Now she faces a different battle as she struggles with her attraction towards Marco and her incredible goal of winning fame as a soldier.
Hannah’s Note: It’s always fun to look at famous historical figures from the fictional point of view of those around them. This is especially fun, since we do have Marco Polo’s own writings to tell us about him. But what about the people he was writing about, in the distant (for him) worlds he was visiting?
Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman – “Corpus Bones! I utterly loathe my life.”
Catherine feels trapped. Her father is determined to marry her off to a rich man–any rich man, no matter how awful.
But by wit, trickery, and luck, Catherine manages to send several would-be husbands packing. Then a shaggy-bearded suitor from the north comes to call–by far the oldest, ugliest, most revolting suitor of them all.
Unfortunately, he is also the richest.
Can a sharp-tongued, high-spirited, clever young maiden with a mind of her own actually lose the battle against an ill-mannered, piglike lord and an unimaginative, greedy toad of a father?
Deus! Not if Catherine has anything to say about it!
Hannah’s Note: Okay, I know this is aimed a bit younger than high school students, BUT! This is, hands-down, one of my favorite historical fiction books I’ve ever read. Catherine is sassy, relatable, funny, and someone it’s easy to care deeply about. The research into the historical details is amazing – and it’s fun to read historical fiction that doesn’t shy away from the dirty, yucky aspects of the medieval world! If you haven’t read Catherine, Called Birdy before, give it a try. And if you have, it makes a quick and delightful re-read!