Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Historical Fiction Books With Strong Female Leads

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week we will post a new Top Ten list  that one of our bloggers here at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join.

This week’s theme is top ten genre books of our choice.  This was another challenging prompt since I haven’t really read any particular genre in-depth.  I read a lot of historical fiction, but I tend to focus on two periods: WWII and the Tudor era.  I’ve read a scattering of Southeast Asian literature, but not enough for a full list of ten books; same with dystopian lit.  I read lots of what could be called science fiction, but, well, I already talk about those a lot.

So today’s list is of strong female protagonists in historical fiction.

1. “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society” by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer.  This book is stuffed with strong, original female characters, including Juliet, the protagonist, a strong-willed, clever writer; Elizabeth, the passionate founder of the Society; and Isola, a crazy-old-cat-lady island resident who has a parrot instead of a cat and who collects bizarre hobbies like deduction and phrenology.

2. “Daughter of Fortune” by Isabel Allende.  Eliza finds herself pregnant at sixteen, so she disguises herself as a boy and follows her lover from Chile to California during the gold rush.  During the years she spends searching for him, she learns survival skills and makes friends with a variety of odd characters.  Finding the man becomes secondary to the much more important task of finding herself – a courageous, clever, awesomely self-reliant girl.

3. “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte.  Jane is a beautifully proto-feminist character, one who refuses to compromise her faith, her values, or her personal interests, no matter how desperate her situation is.  Her collapse to social pressures in the third act of the book is hard to read, but her triumphant return to herself (and eventually to Mr. Rochester) is all the more glorious because of what she’s been through and how her character has strengthened.

4. “Pride & Prejudice” by Jane Austen.  No list of great female protagonists would be complete without Elizabeth Bennet.  She’s clever, fiercely protective of her family, and capable of forgiveness and humility.

5. “My Name Is Mary Sutter” by Robin Oliveira.  Mary has been on my lists before, but she’s worthy of another mention because of her iron will and determination to become a surgeon, no matter how many obstacles she faces.

6. “The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Despite this being the Arthurian story told through its female characters, I’m not overly fond of many of them, especially Guinevere.  However, Morgaine and the Lady of the Lake are both excellent, powerful, conflicted characters, and their storylines make this a worthwhile read.

7. “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden. Like many of the women on this list, Sayuri is held back by strict social constraints.  Even though she ultimately becomes a reknowned geisha, which gives her certain freedoms, she still has to fight to achieve the kind of life she really wants.

8. “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston.  Janie knows what she wants from a romantic relationship from an early age, and it’s got nothin’ to do with Disney princes coming to rescue her.  She follows a path similar to a hero’s quest as she tries to find her perfect match, and along the way she develops an immunity to social criticisms and a firmer grasp on what matters most in her life.

9. “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read this, but I remember being impressed by the characters and their divine-femininity take on Christianity, in a warm-&-fuzzy book-club way.

10. “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. I’m not sure if they still write ’em like this, but I hope they do.  How many books place a six-year-old girl in a pivotal role in a story about social justice, classism, and racism?  I don’t own a copy of this and I need to get one.

(Hey, Flavorwire just did a list like this!  And you can read the other TTT entries here.)


5 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Historical Fiction Books With Strong Female Leads

  1. Great list! I love reading well-written, strong female characters, and fittingly I’ve read a lot of these. 🙂 I also like the diversity of time periods you’ve chosen books from. It’s great to see that strong female characters have been included in fiction as early as the 1800s, and are still being written about today! Thanks for sharing your choices.

    • Thanks! I admit the older books are kind of a stretch since they’re only set a few years before their publication, but they’re historical to us. 😉

  2. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Freebie! | Ruby Bastille

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