Fencing Females

You can look at most of my posts and deduce that I'm a big fan of historical novels and unconventional heroines. Some of the books I review are easier reads than others. In the spirit of the holidays, here are three books that are propulsive, fairly quick reads that ask, what if a woman acted more like a man?

Based (and not embellished terribly much) on a true story, Kelly Gardiner's Goddess follows the career of Julie de Maupin, duelist, opera singer, and sexual outlaw. Openly bisexual in Louis XIV's France, she both delights and scandalizes society with her escapades to live her own life, free. She uses a sword better than most men, and sings like the goddesses she often portrays. So how does she end up on her deathbed in a convent in her thirties? For that, you will have to spend an evening or two with Gardiner's lush, unapologetic, and compulsively readable novel.

Madeleine Robins writes a delightful series about another female fencer in the Sarah Tolerance books. In the first, Point of Honour, Sarah returns to Regency England in disgrace, but refusing to become either a prostitute or milliner, she becomes instead an "agent of inquiry." Good with a sword (she did run off with her brother's fencing master, after all) and often dressed in men's clothing, Sarah pursues an antique fan that is getting people killed. it's hard not to like this unconventional heroine and her atmospheric and compelling adventures.

For a more fantastical take on women bearing arms there's The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner. Young Katherine is shipped off to her uncle, the "Mad Duke of Riverside" to make an advantageous marriage. Much to her shock, he trains her to be a swordswoman instead. As she gains mastery of her weapon, Katherine also gains awareness of the schemes of the nobility around her and champions her best friend. This romantic fantasy and coming-of-age novel may also appeal to young adults.

Got a favorite story of women treated like men? Tell us about it!

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