Historical fiction recs that go easier on the rape, torture, and misery
February 15, 2018 10:47 AM   Subscribe

I'd like some recommendations for recent historical fiction with a female protagonist. Preferably, they would be set within the last 100 years or so that is gripping and dramatic, but not so heavy on the rape, murder, torture, and misery.

I recently enjoyed The Alice Network by Kate Quinn and The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck. I'm a huge fan of the Outlander series. But all of them were so frequently grim. People were always getting raped or tortured. I need a break from that.

I have read and enjoyed several books about women during WWII and enjoyed those, so that may be a thing I gravitate towards. However, I also found First They Killed My Father to be pretty amazing and I think I might also be keen to read historical fiction that was similarly less Euro-centric.

The only other note I have is that while I don't mind a tiny bit of the fantastic if it gets the ball rolling (as in Outlander) I'm not a fan of when the book leans too hard into the mystic or the sci-fi angles. I tried the Daughters of La Lune series recently and it was fine but the witchy stuff wore on me and I didn't bother to finish the series.
posted by Comrade Doll to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
I bet you'd like Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series. The first is A Study in Scarlet Women. (There are 2 books + a short bonus available for free online, and the 3rd book will be published later this year.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:01 AM on February 15, 2018


I quite enjoyed The Jane Austen Project recently (doesn't at all require you to be diehard Austen fan; I'm not).
posted by anderjen at 11:05 AM on February 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


I liked the Beekeeper's Apprentice Series for this reason.
posted by French Fry at 11:07 AM on February 15, 2018 [8 favorites]


Sigrid Undstet's Kristin Lavransdatter was amazing. It takes place in medieval Norway (maybe you'd like to still consider it) and got the nobel prize in 1924 or so... I loved it and read the original translation.
posted by catspajammies at 11:21 AM on February 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


If you lean towards romance, Lauren Willig may be up your alley.
posted by praemunire at 11:50 AM on February 15, 2018


Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach is set during WWII and features a great female protagonist.
posted by statsgirl at 12:04 PM on February 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


There's no rape or torture in The Bright Edge of the World, but there is some physical and emotional misery, as one lead character struggles through a desperate expedition into the Alaskan interior in 1880, and his pregnant wife handles being left behind in the relative isolation of Vancouver Barracks, Washington Territory. It's beautifully written, with a bit of magic realism, and a vivid representation of life in Alaska in the years before the Yukon gold rush.
posted by suelac at 12:29 PM on February 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
posted by moonmilk at 12:29 PM on February 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


There are quite a few fairly recent historical mystery series that are light on angst.

Frances Brody's Kate Shackleton series.
Catriona McPherson's Dandy Gilver series.
Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series.

These three are all 1920s/30s. Not sure if they will be dramatic enough for you though. They are all Euro-centric I'm afraid.
posted by paduasoy at 12:30 PM on February 15, 2018


If you're ok with not recent, I looooooved A Town Like Alice (published 1950) when I read it years ago. It takes place during/after WWII in Australia and Malaya.
posted by jabes at 12:58 PM on February 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


Is historical fantasy up your alley? You may enjoy Sorcery & Cecilia.
posted by pxe2000 at 1:28 PM on February 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


I quite liked The Roselynde Chronicles by Roberta Gellis. A six-book family saga, told from the POV of the women, set in 11th-12th centry England. There's solid history, interesting characters, humor, crusades, wars, politics, evil King John, Richard Lionheart, and so forth. Gellis has other series, too, set in slightly different places and times, but generally medieval Europe.
posted by MovableBookLady at 1:30 PM on February 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


In YA, I think Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart books might be a good fit. To me they were gripping without being gratuitous, and Pullman's female characters are well above par for a male author.
posted by howfar at 2:59 PM on February 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


Is historical accuracy important for you? I feel like most of the people for whom it is do tend to include a lot of grimness because the times have been grim and they want to accurately reflect it, but this kind of...history-adjacent fiction I guess? does not have those constraints, and there's an incredible lot of it. What specifically are you looking for out of your historical fiction?
posted by corb at 3:44 PM on February 15, 2018


Side note: if you read the above-mentioned Lauren Willig Punk Carnation books and the Sorcery and Cecilia books you will find it either illuminating or confusing, as they are set around the same time and have similar plots.

Have you read Courtney Milan? The Brothers Sinister series is detailed, fascinating, loaded with strong female characters and is in no way grimdark. They are filed under romance but don't let this keep you away - if you liked Outlander you are likely to like these.
posted by rednikki at 4:21 PM on February 15, 2018


Side note: if you read the above-mentioned Lauren Willig Punk Carnation books and the Sorcery and Cecilia books you will find it either illuminating or confusing, as they are set around the same time and have similar plots.

...there's no magic in Willig? Pink Carnation is about spies?
posted by praemunire at 4:47 PM on February 15, 2018


And another 1920s-set mystery series - Barbara Cleverly's Laetitia Talbot series.
posted by paduasoy at 9:50 AM on February 16, 2018


So it turns out Maisie Dobbs is the best thing EVAR.
posted by Comrade Doll at 7:24 PM on June 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Just saw through recent activity that you had updated this. I think you might like The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders, set slightly before the period you mentioned, in 1850. Eurocentric again though.
posted by paduasoy at 2:53 PM on July 17, 2018


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