If you read my original piece on prickly heroines in contemporary romance, you might have thought to yourself, “But wait! Contemporary is fine, but where are my historical romances with righteously ticked-off heroines?”
Friend, I have your back. I haven’t found quite as many prickly heroines in the historical category, but I’ll keep reading (such a chore). I love a good historical as well, especially if it’s set in a country or time period that isn’t the British Regency. In fact, only one of the books I’m recommending is set in the British Regency. Cranky and subversive!
Female anger isn’t, at its heart, different just because a woman lived in a different place and time period. And, just as in contemporary, its expression might be modulated depending on the social codes of the place and time or that person’s role. And the exploration of that is one of the reasons I find the following books particularly interesting.
An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
When I say that a heroine’s anger might be modulated because of her situation? Oh. Em. Gee. Elle Burns is Black and she’s a spy in the home of a Confederate politician during the Civil War (based on a real person from history, too!). She’s so concerned her sharp tongue is going to get her in trouble on this assignment, she passes herself off as unable to speak. Underneath it all, her justifiable rage burns hot and pure. Malcolm McCall, a white Union spy, is posing as a Confederate soldier when they meet. The twists and turns, the incredibly high stakes and danger, and the blistering romance between the two makes this book one of my absolute favorites. And also one I practically had to read between my fingers, I was so afraid for these two.
A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian
Printer/bookseller Verity Plum’s reasons for being righteously ticked off are many: she has a brother engaged in sedition that could get him killed. Her lover has just broken things off. Her motto might as well be, “Eat the Rich.” And she’s crankily realizing she’s getting attached to her engraver friend Ash. Little does she know it, but he’s been pining for her forever. For his part, he woos her with naughty drawings and cheese (as you do) before he finds out he’s actually a duke—something he never knew due to some fairly horrific childhood events. And he knows that prickly, anti-nobility Verity won’t want to have anything to do with him once she finds out… (This is our British Regency.)
Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas
Gigi, Lady Tremaine, wants a divorce from her husband, Camden, Lord Tremaine. After all, they have barely been on the same continent with each other since the day after their wedding. Now he’s back and demanding an heir from her before he’ll set her free. Enraging. It’s evident from the first chapter that something dreadful happened between these two, but what? Thomas’ incredibly slow reveal of all that went down starting eleven years before is both frustrating and delicious and when you find out I wouldn’t blame you if you wonder how on Earth these two are ever going to come around and fall in love again? I know I did.
Fair, Bright and Terrible by Elizabeth Kingston
The heroine of this is not only angry, she’s also over 40, a grandmother, and enmeshed in the highly dangerous political world of Welsh/English politics in the aftermath of Wales’ conquest in the 1200’s. Eluned (mother of Gwenllian, the warrior woman of the previous title, The King’s Man) is a veritable wall: she endured a long marriage to an abusive man with religious mania who died on Crusade and she now would prefer to be left to her own devices, thank you very much. But the king knows she’s far too dangerous to be left alone. He gives her a choice: marriage to Robert de Lascaux or the nunnery. The nunnery would give her no scope for the revenge she’s plotting, but she and Robert had had a torrid affair in her youth… Watching cinnamon roll Robert (he’s a complete romantic underneath the capable warrior exterior, and utterly devoted to Eluned) patiently win her over is sometimes frustrating, sometimes elating. Bonus: if you like audiobooks, it’s narrated by the scorching baritone of Nicholas Boulton.
My Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin
Yan Ling is an orphaned tea girl in a Tang Dynasty country shop. Fei Long is a lord from the city looking for his sister who has run off with her lover: the sister who was supposed to be married off to a foreign prince in order to secure peace between kingdoms. Her going missing means political problems are looming on Fei Long’s horizon. When Fei Long is rude to Yan Ling and she throws tea all over him, it could quite possibly be the end of our tea girl. Instead, he offers her the chance to take his vanished sister’s place: train up in writing, etiquette, and other subjects and become a princess. Of course, this becomes a problem as they slowly fall in love… A delightful take on Pygmalion with a terrific twist ending.