Joelene Pynnonen

Joelene Pynnonen embraces the life of an avid book lover in every way. Her household is ruled cruelly by a wrathful cat; and should a fire ever start it is doubtful that she would make it past the elegant stacks of novels to her room door. At least once a year she coerces her mother into watching the BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice with her, and will often follow up by re-reading the book.v

CLOH-cover-smallAs the title suggests, Cranky Ladies of History is an anthology of short stories revisiting some of the great women of history. Those facing adversity and refusing to be bowed by it. Some of these women – Elizabeth the first, Elizabeth Bathory, Mary Wollstonecraft – are easily recognizable. Others are less well known but no less noteworthy. Penned by an array of brilliant authors, including multiple award-winning authors Garth Nix and Juliette Marillier, this is a collection to be savoured.

For several months I’ve been following the blog, Rejected Princesses. Devoted to telling the stories of girls and women who don’t fit the mould Disney would require for its princesses, it has some amazing tales of women from myth and history. These women are violent, brave, stubborn and demanding, but never dull. Therefore I was delighted to find that many of the stories I’d read on the blog have also been included in the pages of Cranky Ladies of History. Many other stories are new to me, and some are tales that most people know set in a perspective not often used.

While all of the stories in the anthology are fascinating, two in particular stand out. Sylvia Kelso’s Due Care and Attention, and Joyce Chng’s Charmed Life. Both of these stories are remarkable in that they portray women being women. Rather than trying to toughen up to fit into a man’s world, the central characters in these stories focus on improving the daily lives of those around them. Their stories are of creation rather than destruction.

In Due Care, Dr. Lilian Cooper uses her medical knowledge to serve the people in her community – particularly those who cannot afford medical attention. Like all the women in this collection, she has a temper – but her ire rises when local laws seek to keep her from offering timely medical aide.

In Charmed Life, Empress Leizu laments the idleness of her life until she realizes that she might be able to make a difference in the lives of her people and, in the process, lighten the workload of the women around her.

Both tales focus on relationships between women, reinforcing the point that women have always fought the restrictions placed on them.

The supernatural element in Cranky Ladies is the only thing that weakened an otherwise wonderful anthology. It didn’t occur in more than one or two stories, but putting in events that were so obviously mythology rather than history fuels doubt of the veracity of all of the stories. And there have been enough amazing women doing fantastic things that adding magic isn’t necessary for a good story about them.

Most of these stories are gems, some featuring well-known historical women, though many not. It was the lesser known figures that sent me on searches of the bits that the story left out. Having been introduced to so many amazing historical figures in this anthology, I only wish it had been longer.

 

Cranky Ladies of History – ed. Tehani Wessely

 FableCroft Publishing (March 2015)

 ISBN: 9780992553456

A. V. Mather

A. V. Mather is a Brisbane-based speculative fiction writer. You can follow her on Twitter @AVMather

Cranky Ladies of History

CLOH-cover-smallThis anthology shines a spotlight on some of the famous, infamous and, more often, overlooked women of history and legend. According to editors, Tansy Raynor Roberts and Tehani Wessely, inclusion has been reserved for ‘women who bucked the trends of their time and took on cultural norms to challenge society’s rules and ideas about how women should behave.’

With that in mind, prepare yourself for a dazzling array of pirate queens, virgin-sacrificers and rabble-rousers, God-fearers and Fear-of-God-ers. This book fair takes you by the throat with 23 stories starring women of the Sword, of God and of Mysticism but – first and foremost – of themselves. The players are rich and varied, with many a dark horse featuring alongside well-knowns such as Ann Boleyn and Elizabeth I. Each of these stories is highly emotive: many laced through with dark symbolism, traces of magic, witchcraft and ‘women’s business.’

Some of the leading ladies are captured at a moment of self-discovery, which will turn them into the characters we have come to know. Others knew who they were from the very first breath. ‘Knowledge was power. And I wanted to be knowledgeable’, says Neferure, young daughter of the assassinated Pharoah in Amanda Pillar’s ‘Neter Nefer’. It could well be the credo of the whole anthology.

We don’t often credit the people of Ancient Egypt, Victorian England or colonial America with the political and social sensibilities that we employ and engage in today. I admire the ability of the authors to reach into the dry and dusty recordings of history and tease out the personal quirks and motivations that make identifiable human beings. Whether petty or grand, it’s these qualities that bring legendary figures to life. ‘Hallowed Ground’ by Juliet Marillier, ‘The Lioness’ by Laura Lam, and ‘Due Care and Attention’ by Sylvia Kelso stand as wonderful examples. The result is a collection of stories that are engaging, fascinating and, often, all too brief.

In the foreword, the editors also make mention of how these women are often buried in historical accounts, which certainly rings true. After reading the book, I realised that I felt instantly oriented in a story when an iconic male character was mentioned. A prime example is Henry the VIII himself. His wives and daughters are still often presented as possessions, picked up and discarded, despite each one’s role in influencing the shaping of a nation. They are celebrated here, in ‘Queenside’ by Liz Barr and ‘Glorious’ by Faith Mudge, with some beautiful insights into their perspectives of events.

It could be said that this is a book of outlaws, in the true sense of the word. These are complicated women, as vicious in battle as men, often more so, and with memories that run long. They are also caring and compassionate, stubborn, headstrong, brilliant, violent and spiteful. These stories raise questions that have been applied through history whenever women have acted outside social perception of ‘what is proper’.

Some give a definite sense of time and place, while others focus instead on the events at hand. They are not arranged in any particular order other than the book title itself. What you have here is a treasure chest in which you will find a very eclectic collection of sharp and glittering delights.

While some stories could be considered gentle and reflective, others deal with tales of betrayal, vengeance, insanity and greed. For these reasons, I suggest that this is not a book to be read in one sitting. They should be taken out, one by one, and admired under the light. Readers who prefer to engage with characters in short, sharp bursts should enjoy this aspect.

The contributing authors are as talented and diverse a group as you could expect to find in Speculative Fiction today. They are award winners and nominees, contributors to and editors of anthologies, and writers of poetry, blogs, podcasts, social and political commentary. The diversity and quality of thought is reflected in this timely education on a few of the remarkable women of history and legend. It makes you wonder why they have been ‘buried beneath the weight of years’, when countless male figures are borne up by it.

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

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