I was a backer of the Pozible project that made this book a reality. Now whether that predisposes me to like Cranky Ladies of History, I’m not sure. I am both fan and friends of the editors and some of the contributors. Still I shelled out $50 upfront and no amount of friendship or fanboishness would assuage the pain if the book turned out to be a stinker.
Thankfully, perhaps even a little surprisingly, Cranky Ladies of History, turned out to be a great collection. I was expecting the collection to be good, a belief firmly founded in Tehani Wessely’s and Tansy Rayner Roberts’ eye for good story and good project. I wasn’t expecting to be quite as fulfilled and engaged.
Touted as a celebration of 22 historical women, some of whom we might be familiar with but many of whom have been relegated to history or specialist courses of study, Cranky Ladies of History demonstrates that there is ample interesting and underutilised historical material for writers to work with if they want to go with female protagonists.
Many of us are used to reworkings of King Arthur, Richard III, and William Wallace. What I found delight in here, was not only original takes on some of the women that I did know about but exciting unearthings of those I hadn’t read about before.
The works run the gamut of straight historical to historical fantasy. Deborah Biancotti manages to give us a rather straight historical retelling of Elisabeth Bathory or Erzsébet Báthory. It was a pleasantly free of vampires, the history being sometimes far more gruesome than the fantasy. Dirk Flinthart on the other hand manages to give us Irish myth with a tint of Cthulu mythos, in his piece on Grace O'Malley.
While all the stories were self contained, many of them left me hungering for more, for longer tales. Thanks to Foz Meadows and Bright Moon, I want to read more of Khutulun, cousin of Kublai Khan and not the pacified version that informs the western version in Turandot. Likewise, Haava Murat’s, The Pasha, the Girl and the Dagger would easily sate those looking for that historical milieu of European Christianity versus the Ottoman empire without having to resort to endless retellings of the life of Vlad the Impaler.
I am sure that it would be possible to fill a book with stories from European history alone, so it’s also encouraging to see the diversity in this collection from Amanda Pillar’s tale of Hatshepsut and her daughter, to Thoraiya Dyer’s story of Queen Ranavalona Manjak of Madagascar.
For me Cranky Ladies of History is a unique project in that it delivers entertainment while spotlighting 22 women of history that we should all know more about, even if it’s for the simple reason that their stories are different to those we are used to hearing.
The review was conducted on an advanced reading copy.
This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015. Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.