Friday, 22 May 2015

Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely

Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely is an anthology of stories about historical women who were not content to leave the status quo be. The stories cover pirates, queens, nuns and warriors and come from a variety of authors, many of whom I've reviewed here before.

Warriors, pirates, murderers and queens...

Throughout history, women from all walks of life have had good reason to be cranky. Some of our most memorable historical figures were outspoken, dramatic, brave, feisty, rebellious and downright ornery.

Cranky Ladies of History is a celebration of 22 women who challenged conventional wisdom about appropriate female behaviour, from the ancient world all the way through to the twentieth century. Some of our protagonists are infamous and iconic, while others have been all but forgotten under the heavy weight of history.

Sometimes you have to break the rules before the rules break you.

This was a fascinating collection of women, many of whom I hadn't heard of before, or didn't know much about before reading. The collection is framed by two stories of the women and children of Henry VIII, about whom I probably knew most before reading, which give a pleasant effect of tying the collection together.

My favourite stories were "Bright Moon" by Foz Meadows,  "Neter Nefer" by Amanda Pillar and "Due Care And Attention" by Sylvia Kelso, all very different tales — especially the latter — which are a good example of the breadth of the collection.

The only thing negative from which the collection suffered was a tendency for some of the stories to fall into a pattern of recounting their subject's life events. Sometimes this was done to fill in gaps, sometimes not, but it resulted in more telling rather than showing and came across as a bit dry at times. On the other hand, this was made up for by the stories which threw us into key events in a more active way.

Overall, interesting and fascinating are the two words that best describe this collection. I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to dip into the lives of a variety of historical women. Although it's not technically a speculative fiction anthology, I strongly feel it will appeal to readers of spec fic as well as readers of main stream and historical fiction. As always, some notes on individual stories follow.

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Queenside by Liz Barr — A scene among Henry VIII's women.

The Company Of Women by Garth Nix — Bees and Lady Godiva and unpleasant magic.

Mary, Mary by Kirstyn McDermott — A tale about Mary Wollstonecraft's life, especially her darker moments. While interesting, I found it a bit too depressing to really enjoy.

A Song For Sacagawea by Jane Yolen
— a poem or, I suppose as the title says, a song.

Look How Cold My Hands Are by Deborah Biancotti — An account of the end of Countess Erzébet of Báthory, the most prolific known female serial killer. Interesting and dark.

Bright Moon by Foz Meadows — My favourite story so far. About the Mongolian princess who refused to marry any man who couldn't beat her in wrestling.

Charmed Life by Joyce Chng
— About the empress who discovered silk to make women's lives easier.

A Beautiful Stream by Nisi Shawl — I think this story could've been tighter. Although I got the drift — a wartime spy fearing those around her might be used as leverage — I found it difficult to follow.

Neter Nefer by Amanda Pillar — the story of Hatshepsut taking the throne, told front eh pint of view of her daughter. An enjoyable story and one of my favourites.

The Dragon, The Terror, The Sea by Stephanie Lai — Chinese pirate lady who commands a large fleet. She tries to stop opium taking over China but fails obviously. I liked this one.

Due Care And Attention by Sylvia Kelso — A lady doctor and much angst about speeding at the turn of the century. A very fun story. (Alarming how recently the benefit of putting cold water on a burn was discovered.)

Theodora by Barbara Robson — The story of a Roman empress, framed by a historian's scathing commentary of how she was bringing down the Roman Empire (by, y'know, being nice to women and stuff). An enjoyable read.

For So Great A Misdeed by Lisa L. Hannett — a rather long story about an island of woman who had several husbands, all of whom died. Although the length was necessary to cover all the key events in her life, it felt a little drawn out.

The Pasha, The Girl And The Dagger by Havva Murat — A girl is abandoned by her father for being born a girl but secretly rescued by her aunt. She grows up to be a kick-arse knight.

Granuaile by Dirk Flinthart — Irish pirate queen who has a run in with Poseidon.

Little Battles by L.M. Myles — A story about Queen Eleanor at age 70, who was still kicking are. A nice tale about a lady who knew what was what.

Another Week In The Future, An Excerpt by Kaaron Warren — Written in the style of Catherine Helen Spence who wrote a book about time travel into the future (1988), this considers the same character going another 100 years forward. The foreword explains that it is written as though the author wrote it in the final years of her life when she was feeling less hopeful about the world. It’s a very engaging and interesting read. I liked it more than I expected to from the description.

The Lioness by Laura Lam — story about a French pirate queen and a young man that crosses her path.

Cora Crane And The Trouble With Me by Sandra McDonald — told from the point of view of Cora's diary, languishing forgotten in some archive. Quite a clever way of telling. I enjoyed it.

Vintana by Thoraiya Dyer — A queen of Madagascar who olives both her husband the king and her lover. Set at a time when French Christians were insinuating their way into the king's graces and the traditional ways were under threat. A good read.

Hallowed Ground by Juliet Marillier — A having reached old age reflects upon her life and upon new hardships she and her sisters face. A very enjoyable story.

Glorious by Faith Mudge — A story about princess Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn, and her life in the confusing English court (and out of it) of the time. An enjoyable read. 

4 / 5 stars

First published: March 2015, FableCroft Publishing
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: I received an eARC but I ended up reading the nicer-formatted backer epub edition which I received for backing the Pozible campaign of this project last year
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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