March is almost over, so this will be our final Women’s History Month book list. This set of books all feature women in history…but with a little extra. Whether it’s ghosts, steampunk, a death god, or something else, these books add elements of speculative fiction without sacrificing research and historical accuracy. As always, descriptions are from Goodreads.com unless otherwise specified, and librarian notes are in italics.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.
She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.
Hannah’s Note: This book won’t be out until May 2015, but don’t worry, we’ll have it! With the combination of historical fiction and mythological re-telling, I already think it’s going to be an irresistible read. For drama lovers, there’s murder and revenge and love. For history lovers, there’s an ancient setting. And for mythology lovers like me, there’s a whole story built around the tale of A Thousand and One Nights. What’s not to love?
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers – Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?
Hannah’s Note: This is a long book, but it doesn’t feel like it when you’re reading it, because the action and intrigue are non-stop. Ismae is a strong, tough, and determined character. She’s devoted to her work, and to her country – a country I didn’t know much about until I read this book. Although St. Mortain, the god of Death, haunts the book, it is really a story of politics, assassination, faith, and love, with a fierce and powerful character at its center. And if you like it, there are two more in the series!
The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope – In 1558, while exiled by Queen Mary Tudor to a remote castle known as Perilous Gard, young Kate Sutton becomes involved in a series of mysterious events that lead her to an underground world peopled by Fairy Folk—whose customs are even older than the Druids’ and include human sacrifice. (Description from Goodreads.com)
In 1558 while imprisoned in a remote castle, a young girl becomes involved in a series of events that leads to an underground labyrinth peopled by the last practitioners of druidic magic. (Description from Worldcat.org)
Hannah’s Note: This book has been a favorite of mine for years. While the fantastical elements are light, they add depth and tension to an incredibly well-researched and well-depicted historical setting. Although the setting is historical, the story itself is timeless in its own way, because it is about the old vs. the new and innovation vs. tradition. But none of this – the research, the plot, even the Fair Folk themselves – would be as compelling if it weren’t for Kate, one of my all-time favorite main characters. Give The Perilous Gard a try and see if you agree!
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger – Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners–and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, young ladies learn to finish…everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage–in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year’s education.
Hannah’s Note: Is it possible for a book to be witty, fun, old-fashioned, modern, exciting, and dramatic all at once? Yes. Oh yes. Etiquette & Espionage is all this and more. There are werewolves, robots, petticoats, evil plots, catty arguments, strong friendships, boarding schools, dirigibles, and a mechanical dog named Bumbersnoot. Beyond that, I just want to say that this book is one of the most enormously entertaining books I’ve read in a long time, and it beautifully combines Victorian culture with Steampunk fun and Carriger’s own unique brand of humor. It’s wonderful.
In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters – In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?
Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.
Hannah’s Note: There’s a reason Cat Winters’ books have appeared on two of these lists. She writes fantastic, and fantastically well-researched, historical fiction featuring strong women characters. This book juxtaposes the frightening realities of World War I and the influenza epidemic against the frightening specters of ghosts and spirits. Equally as fascinating are Mary Shelley’s relationships – with her first love, told in flashbacks, with her aunt she barely knows and sometimes disagrees with, and with a world trying to tell her what women can and can’t do.