Historical fiction has many pleasures—lushly conceived settings, perfectly realized detail, and the chance to delve beneath the sometimes dry facts of history and mine its story-rich possibilities. Often, the genre’s pages are full of imagined characters in historical settings, but sometimes they are filled with true-life characters; individuals who created or witnessed history long ago. These five books capture such characters, women who navigated terror, intrigue, and wonder and whose re-imagined lives make for fascinating reading.
- Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (Anchor). Speculate on the guilt or innocence of a convicted murderesses and the treatment of women in the late 1800s.
- The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields (Pamela Dorman). Witness Edith Wharton falling in love.
- The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory (Touchstone/Fireside). Spend time in the company of the queen consort to Richard III.
- The Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer (S & S). Travel with Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert down the longest river in the world.
- Curiosity by Joan Thomas (Emblem). Meet Mary Anning, a fossil hunter who helped shape modern scientific theory.