20 Historical Heroines Worth Rooting For

Gender-bent Sherlock Holmes."From the publisher: "An NPR Best Book of 2016. With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society's expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind."
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This mystery boasts a dynamic heroine duo and a clever premise. After WWII, Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge open “The Right Sort Marriage Bureau” in order to bring some light and life to London’s citizens, as well as achieve independence for themselves. When their new client is found murdered by the man they paired her with, Iris and Gwendolyn face losing their business before it even gets off the ground. In order to save the Bureau’s reputation, the pair must use their skills and life experience to investigate the murder themselves. This proves to be much riskier than a new business venture.
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I'm excited to see this fun historical novel on sale for the first time! The "girl" in question is the first female Pinkerton detective, and her important mission is to thwart the Lincoln assassination. If you enjoy reading about the Kopp sisters, give this "spunky spy saga" (NPR) a try.
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This Regency mystery series is inspired by our patron saint of feisty protagonists, Jane Austen. Avoiding ruination after a family scandal, Rosalind Thorne makes herself indispensable to London’s most popular ladies as a personal secretary. Her insider connections and discretion prove useful when an aristocrat is found dead in Almack’s ballroom, and the list of suspects includes powerful lords and ladies. When her former suitor falls under suspicion, Rosalind must guard her heart.
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A MINIMALIST SUMMER PICK. Perveen Mistry is Bombay’s first female solicitor, employed by her father’s respected firm. When her father’s Muslim client dies, he is tasked with executing the will, but the three devout widows “stay behind the veil,” and must not be seen by men. When the duo discover irregularities in the estate documents, Perveen resolves to speak with the widows, because—as a woman—she’s the only one who can. Perveen is determined to protect their interests, not just because of her legal obligations but because of a disastrous past marriage, where she experienced firsthand the cruelty women can endure under the law. Toss in a murder investigation, and you get a tightly-crafted mystery, a vividly-drawn multicultural setting, and a plucky heroine fiercely taking on the challenges of her time.
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Emily didn’t love her husband; theirs was a marriage of convenience, or so she thought. Upon his death, Emily reads his journals and discovers a new, scholarly side to him--and a deep, abiding love for her. Intrigued, she decides to study all things Greco-Roman as a way to connect with the man she lost. After countless trips to the British Museum and hours of studying, Emily discovers a dark secret involving stolen artifacts. She trades her intellectual pursuits for sleuthing, and learns more about herself along the way.
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The publisher calls this "Buffy meets Jane Austen." This steampunk suspense is first in the Parasol Protectorate series, which combines mystery, romance, and the supernatural in a vivid Victorian setting. Alexia Tarabotti is a soulless (literally) spinster with supernatural abilities. When society blames her for disappearing vampires, she sets out to find the real culprit (and drinks plenty of tea whilst doing so). Alexia’s quick wit and wicked parasol-wielding will have you laughing as you speed through the pages.
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This cozy small-town mystery is perfect for fans of Louise Penny. After serving as a British intelligence officer in WWII, Lane Winslow craves a fresh start. She settles down in British Columbia, in a cozy small town filled with characters who make her feel safe. Of course, her comfort won’t last long. When a body is discovered, and murder suspected, Lane uses her background to help local investigators find the killer. However, she unwittingly casts herself as a suspect and must unravel the mystery without revealing her own secrets.
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In her author’s note, Alyssa Cole shares that while she always wanted to write historical romance, she’d “never want to write about THAT. The Civil War, that is.” But after reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog post on the Civil War in The Atlantic, Cole was deeply influenced to bring that time period and its remarkable Black historical figures to life. The heroine, Elle Burns, is based on Mary Bowser, a former slave with an eidetic memory, who spied for the Union. Elle joins forces with another undercover agent—Pinkerton detective Malcolm McCall. Sparks fly as they take on the Confederate Army and risk their lives, and love, for justice. (Note: this one includes open-door romance).
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Widowed and estranged from her wealthy family, Sarah Brandt serves as a midwife in Gilded Age New York. After delivering a baby at a boarding house, she learns that another boarder was found murdered. Sarah agrees to search the young woman’s room for the police and finds an unwelcome connection to her own past. The victim belongs to one of New York’s wealthiest families, whom Sarah knows from her past life. Fearing scandal, they refuse an investigation, but Sarah is unable to rest until the killer is found.
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From the author of In Farleigh Field...Murphy's Law is the captivating first entry of Rhys Bowen's New York Times bestselling Molly Murphy seriesMolly Murphy always knew she'd end up in trouble, just as her mother predicted. So, when she commits murder in self-defense, she flees her cherished Irelan...
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1830’s Scotland lends a deliciously moody setting for this mystery. After a scandal involving her anatomist husband comes to light, Lady Keira Darby seeks refuge at her sister’s country estate. With her artistic talents and knowledge of human anatomy, Keira becomes both detective and suspect when a fellow houseguest is murdered. Despite rumors and threats, Keira presses on in order to protect her family and find the murderer.
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If you need a completely bingeable mystery series right now, I highly recommend this one. With 15 books and counting, Maisie Dobbs remains a compelling heroine. The first book introduces Maisie as she trades wartime nursing for her own private investigation practice at the end of WWI. Her first case appears to be run-of-the-mill infidelity, but something tells her to look deeper. When she finds disturbing secrets connected to the Great War, she is forced to confront her own trauma in order to solve the case. Maisie’s strong empathy and nurse’s training make her uniquely suited to detective work, and learning more about her is just as delightful as following the mystery. The narration on this series is stellar. I highly recommend it on audio.
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First in a dazzling new historical mystery series featuring Ruby Proulx, a psychic with a questionable past who suddenly finds her future most uncertain...Canada, 1898. The only life Ruby Proulx has ever known is that of a nomad, traveling across the country with her snake-oil salesman father. She d...
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Raybourn writes historical fiction with a twist; she's best known for her Lady Julia Grey mysteries. This is her first novel in a new Victorian series featuring the badass but well-bred Veronica Speedwell. I heard the author speak about her source material for this new series in Raleigh, and I was intrigued: her heroine travels the world hunting beautiful butterfly specimens and the occasional romantic dalliance. When her guardian dies, the orphaned Veronica expects to embark on a grand scientific adventure. But Veronica quickly realizes that with her guardian's death, she is no longer safe—and she begins to unravel the mystery of why she poses a threat to dangerous men. An easy, enjoyable read.
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Capability “Kitty” Weeks dreams of reporting on 1915 global politics but resigns herself to write fluff pieces for the Ladies’ Page. Her luck changes when a man is murdered at a high society party, and she’s there to get the scoop. Kitty follows her journalistic instincts to find the killer and winds up uncovering a much bigger conspiracy. Radha Vatsal based Kitty Weeks on early 1910s action film heroines, and Vatsal’s knowledge of the time period will impress even the most avid historical fiction readers.
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Stewart is best known for her science writing: she's written six nonfiction books with unusual takes on the natural world. (See: The Drunken Botanist.) This book is a departure for her, and a successful one: readers buzzed about it all fall and it hit many best-of-2015 round-ups. This novel is based on the true story of Constance Kopp, one of the first female sheriffs in America. I tend to shy away from biographical fiction because the narrators often ring false to me, but I loved the way Stewart brought her leading lady's story to life.
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When you’ve had your fill of Victorian London, visit 1907 Los Angeles, its corrupt police department, and a young woman determined to serve justice. Socialite Anna Blanc wants to be the next Sherlock Holmes. While she has the skill set, her social position prevents her from achieving her dream, so she pays off her chaperone, adopts an alias, and becomes a police matron for the LAPD. When she discovers that the police are covering up several brothel murders, she takes on the investigation and plunges into danger. Add in a dash of romance, and you have a perfectly page-turning mystery.
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This YA novel features a top-secret, all-female investigative unit in Victorian London. After being saved from the gallows, Mary Quinn is sent to Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, where she learns high society manners and how to spy. When Mary turns 17, she is ready to test her mettle. Disguised as a lady’s maid in a rich merchant’s home, she uses her skills to trace the merchant’s missing cargo ships. Danger follows her around every corner as she finds herself in a house filled with secrets. Add some witty dialogue, a little bit of romance, and you have a fast-paced spy novel that appeals to adult readers, too.
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The Alaskan Territory is no place for a woman on her own, but suffragette and intrepid journalist Charlotte Brody pays no heed to such warnings. She needs a fresh start and travels to Cordova, the frontier town where her brother practices medicine. When a local prostitute is found murdered, Charlotte is the only one willing to investigate. As she digs into the case, Charlotte learns that the woman’s past is not unlike her own. Dangers posed by the Alaskan wilderness are nothing compared to a killer on the loose.
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