31 Kick-Ass Women In Historical Fiction

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If you are a feminist or history lover, travel across the world with these inspiring and powerful women in historical fiction.

Do you love reading books about women in history? Below, find some pretty badass female heroines inspired by real-life women or events.

However, not all of these women existed in person, although we might wish that they did.

Explore fantastical, biographical, and time-traveling books filled with inspiring women in historical fiction set around the globe.

Some of these titles will take you back centuries in time while others will offer up more contemporary histories.

We’ve got a little something for everyone, too: romance, indie, mysteries, WW2 books, books about racism and slavery, and political fiction. Let’s get started!

Afterward, don’t miss our favorite WWII historical fiction novels.

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Get inspired by our reading list featuring stellar women in historical fiction. Find some of our favorite badass women based on true events, people, or characters we *wish* existed.

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Looking for inspiration? Head to the past with these historical fiction books featuring strong women. If you find a new book to love, save this post for later.

Courageous Women In Historical Fiction

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Nella In The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

TUL Rating: 5-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

Let’s start off this list with a bang: how about a woman apothecary that poisons men who cheat on or abuse their wives? Nella will enchant you. Just don’t drink anything from her.

Based loosely on the truthful accusations of women poisoning men in the 18th and 19th centuries, Penner weaves a story of modern-day London versus the scorned women of the 18th century.

Don’t get me wrong, serial killers are not inspiring — but Caroline’s story of living her truest life is uplifting.

Caroline is caught in a suffocating and manipulative marriage. When her husband cheats on her, she heads off to their London honeymoon alone where she stumbles upon a glass vial.

Following her love for research and daring women from the past, that little vial scoops up Caroline into an age-old mystery, changing her future.

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Juliette Cai In These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

TUL Rating: 3.5-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

For YA lovers, don’t miss beautiful but dangerous upcoming gang leader, Juliette Cai. These Violent Delights is a multicultural Romeo and Juliet retelling set in Shanghai, China in the mid-1920s.

Since returning from America, Juliette Cai is trying to avoid her family enemy and true love, Roma Montagov.

They have quite a few issues to work out since Roma betrayed her, leading to the death of her beloved nurse.

With a mysterious and deadly monster plaguing the streets of Shanghai, the Communist Party moving in, and racist European foreigners trying to carve out their piece in the country, Juliette and Roma decide to team up to go up against them all.

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January & Jane In The Ten Thousand Doors Of January by Alix E. Harrow

TUL Rating: 3.5 to 4-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

For one of our quarterly group reads in Uncorked Readers — P.S. Feel free to join us any time for book discussions and to share Uncorked Reading Challenge book suggestions — we voted on The Ten Thousand Doors Of January.

I won’t lie: this book has sloggy parts, but it is truly unlike anything you will ever read.

Plus, everything comes together in the most satisfying way, and you’ll champion January and her love for stories.

Mixed with fantasy, this unique multicultural, travel-across-realms tale will transport you to the 1900s as January Scaller uncovers secret doors while attempting to find and save her family.

For strong women in historical fiction, travelers will love January’s stamina and Jane’s warrior vibes.

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Noemí In Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

TUL Rating: 4-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

For diverse literature, strong female leads, a vibrant Mexican novel, and one spooky haunted house, don’t miss Noemí Taboada in the gothic horror novel, Mexican Gothic.

Set in the 1950s in the Mexican countryside, Noemí travels to High Place to save her mysteriously ill cousin, Catalina.

This mansion is oozing with cursed death and is determined to take Noemí out.

Find dazzling gore paired with brilliant golden darkness and ghosts perfect for seriously creepy book lovers.

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Sarah And Hetty In The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

TUL Rating: 4-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

Inspired by historical figure Sarah Moore Grimké, an American abolitionist, uncover a moving story about women’s liberation and empowerment.

Hetty, a slave, is gifted to Sarah as a birthday present. Told through both women’s perspectives and over the course of decades, readers fall into the Deep South against the backdrop of slavery and women’s rights.

More Women’s Historical Fiction From Sue Monk Kidd

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Henrietta In A Girl Like You by Michelle Cox

TUL Rating: 4-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

If you are looking to read more indie press books or love women historical fiction detective series, Henrietta Von Harmon will speak to you.

Head to Chicago in the 1930s in A Girl Like You by Michelle Cox — the first in The Henrietta and Inspector Howard series.

After her father’s suicide, Henrietta must support her family. Lying to her mother, Henrietta takes on odd jobs at bars and dance halls.

With the death of the floor matron, Henrietta finds herself working closely with a handsome detective to solve this murder mystery.

Escape to seedy Chicago in the 1930s amidst the backdrop of the Great Depression. Uncover what it means to be a woman, and cheer along for Henrietta with her eccentric gaggle of lovable friends.

Henrietta is by no means a damsel in distress.

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Dana In Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

TUL Rating: 4-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

If you are looking for strong women in historical fiction as well as time travel books, don’t miss Octavia Butler’s Kindred – a book about slavery and racism.

It’s 1976 and Dana is celebrating her 26th birthday in California when she suddenly finds herself in the Antebellum South.

Dana stumbles upon the plantation owner’s son, who she must save from drowning. The next thing Dana knows, though, there is a gun in her face.

Dana jumps back and forth between the times, finding herself in slave quarters with her life always in peril.

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Tita In Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

TUL Review: 4-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

In the translated novel, Like Water For Chocolate, meet Tita De La Garza. She is the youngest daughter in her Mexican family, which means that she is forbidden to marry.

Her true love, Pedro Muzquiz, marries her older sister to stay closer to her.

A story filled with forbidden love, magical recipes, and heartbreak during the Mexican Revolution, Tita and Pedro must find each other over the course of a lifetime through marriages, children, and death.

This historical fiction book recommendation is a treat if you covet foodie fiction novels. Like Water For Chocolate is also a fabulous Mexican movie to watch.

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Mirta, Elizabeth, and Helen in The Last Train To Key West by Chanel Cleeton

TUL Review: 5-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

The Last Train To Key West is a must-read historical fiction novel featuring powerful, take-charge women. This is also one of our favorite books set in Florida.

Pregnant Helen must escape her abusive marriage. Mirta has a new mafia-tied husband through an arranged marriage for the good of her family. Elizabeth wants to find her veteran war brother to escape being married to a criminal.

Their lives collide during Florida’s deadliest hurricane in the mid-1930s on Labor Day weekend.  

Uncover multiple romances and an unputdownable narrative. You do not have to read the first two in the series.

A few more inspiring women in historical fiction books include:

Courageous Women In Historical Fiction Pinterest pin with book covers for These Violent Delights, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, The Lost Apothecary, Code Name Helene, Mexican Gothic, The  Book of Lost Names, Like Water For Chocolate, and The Rose CodePin
Did you find your next great book to read but your TBR is already overflowing? Save this inspiring women in historical fiction reading list for later.

Women In WWII Historical Fiction That Kick Serious Butt

Code Name Helene by Ariel LawhonPin

Nancy In Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon

TUL Rating: 4-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

A newer biographical and WWII historical fiction release, meet Nancy Wake, a civilian transformed into a war hero and spy. You might know her as White Mouse, Hélène, Duckie, and Madam Andreè.

An Australian living in Paris, Nancy jumps out of planes with her red lipstick and converts a truck into an ambulance all to fight in WW2.

Nancy is chosen to help lead the French Resistance with British aid. She is responsible for saving thousands of people’s lives.

Did I mention that she does all of this with a 5-million Franc bounty on her back? Plus, find romance, a sweet pups named Picon, and the best way to outdrink the men in your life.

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Odile In The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

TUL Rating: 4-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

For some seriously nerdy kick-butt women in historical fiction, nothing is better than inspiring librarians.

Based on a true story, meet the librarians at The American Library in Paris that join the French Resistance.

Risking their lives, they bring the power and comfort of words and books to soldiers as well as their Jewish patrons.

Paired with an alternating storyline of a young girl growing up in Montana in 1983, readers watch as one woman tries to move forward from her past while another is hoping to build a strong and loving future.

Travel to France with even more books about Paris, and explore the best books about books.

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Osla, Mab, And Beth In The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

TUL Rating: 5-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

Inspired by the true stories of women military code breakers during WW2 and the ultimate friendship novel, meet three very different women that come together for the same goal: to defeat Hitler in the war.

My favorite character is Osla, a ritzy but mostly woke socialite and feminist with an uncanny ability to woo a prince in a boiler suit.

Watch as WW2 and alleged betrayals destroy this once tight female friendship.

When the women reunite — with one placed in an asylum on the brink of exposing a traitor — they must crack one more code as Britain prepares for a royal wedding.

They also host a book club on their job site — what’s not to love, especially if WW2 books or books with a shade of red in the title are your jam?

More Kick-Butt Women In Historical Fiction From Kate Quinn

The Socialite by J'nell Ciesielski book cover with a white blonde woman in a red dress looking at the Eiffel TowerPin

Kat In The Socialite by J’nell Ciesielski

TUL Rating: 4.5 Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

If you are more of a romance reader looking for historical fiction with powerful women, grab The Socialite, a story about a high society woman helping in the French Resistance.

Kat’s well-to-do father sends her off to Paris to retrieve her runaway sister, Ellie. A mistress to a vile Nazi soldier, Kat has her work cut out for her.

Unbeknownst to Kat, her father has paid Barrett Anderson — a now Scottish bartender and French Resistance fighter — to safely return both sisters.

Kat and Barrett begin to fall for each other, but what happens when Kat learns about Barrett’s true intentions?

More From J’nell Ciesielski

Beauty Among Ruins by Jnell Ciesielski book cover with white blonde woman in purple dress looking out at a castlePin
Don’t miss Lily in this Beauty & The Beast historic romance retelling set in Scotland at a castle, Beauty Among Ruins.
The Book Of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel book cover with woman holding a brown and gold book and wearing a white blouse with a turquoise skirtPin

Eva In The Book Of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

TUL Rating: 5-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

Historical fiction, bookshops, WW2, and librarians…I cannot get enough. For inspiring women in historical fiction based loosely on the real-life WW2 document forgers, meet Eva Traube Abrams, a retired librarian.

With the modern-day discovery of a mysteriously coded book – Eva’s book – that the Nazis had confiscated, Eva revisits her past during WW2.

As part of the French Resistance, Eva forged identity documents for children to cross the border into neutral Switzerland, giving up the chance to save her own family.

This special book holds their names. Find romance and themes of family and patriotism.

Read even more books about inspiring librarians.

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Joana & Emilia In Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys

TUL Rating: 4.5-Stars
Amazon | Goodreads

A YA WW2 book and one of the best fictional books about Poland for teens, you’ll cheer for and cry over Joana and Emilia’s stories.

Joana is a carry-over character from Sepetys’s Between Shades Of Gray. A young Lithuanian and multilingual nurse, Joana helps a group of new friends as they flee to safety.

Emilia is a young Polish girl impersonating a dead Latvian woman to stay alive. Pregnant and scared, she has seen more atrocities than most. 

With the Soviet army advancing on Hitler’s fallen territory, refugees Emilia, Joana, and Florian scramble to catch safe passage to Germany. 

They are headed toward the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff, which is immediately sunk by Soviet torpedos.

Along with Polish history, Salt to the Sea is a heart-wrenching and powerful book about the Baltics as well as ships.

A Few More WW2 Or Post WW2 Historical Fiction Books With Powerful Women

Who are your favorite leading ladies and women in historical fiction?

What historical fiction books with strong women inspire you? Let us know in the comments.

You May Also Enjoy:

WW2 Historical Fiction We Love
Travel Across Time With These Books
Favorite Books About WW2
Best World War 2 Books For Teens
Books If You Loved Mulan

This article was originally part of our 2021 Uncorked Reading Challenge.

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Christine Frascarelli

Christine (she/her) is the owner, lead editor, and tipsy book sommelier of The Uncorked Librarian LLC, an online literary publication showcasing books and movies to inspire travel and home to the famed Uncorked Reading Challenge.

With a BA in English & History from Smith College, an MLIS from USF-Tampa, and a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship in Christine's back pocket, there isn't a bookstore, library, or winery that can hide from her. Christine loves brewery yoga, adopting all of the kitties, and a glass of oaked Chardonnay. Charcuterie is her favorite food group.

54 Comments

  1. Yaaaaaaaaay women-led fiction that doesn’t feature a “damsel in distress”
    I am so stoked to find this list and read all these great comments and recommendations too! Thanks so much for sharing. My kick-ass women in historical fiction vote goes to “Daughters of Teutobod” by author Kurt Hansen(http://www.kurthansenauthor.com/). The story is told from the point of view of three very different women, each of whom faces and overcomes her own struggles. From ancient Gaul to WWII Pennsylvania to current day America and France, these women are united by the nature of the difficulties they faced, by their patience, courage, and wisdom. It is a beautiful book that I couldn’t put down and these women were definitely kick-ass!

  2. I just finished reading ‘The Salt Island Diaries’ by Nissa Tolton, which takes place in mid-19th century New England. The most interesting character, in my opinion, is Paige, a strong-willed widow with two daughters, who takes in a feral girl. The two develop an intense relationship which renders Paige increasingly feral herself, and increasingly unwilling to entertain Victorian expectations.

  3. The Secrets we Kept by Lara Prescott – a brilliant novel about the women who worked in the CIA during the Cold War, and the story of how Dr. Zhivago came to be published despite the USSR’s determination to silence Pasternak. I defy any woman to read the first 3 or 4 pages of this book and not be immediately hooked!

  4. YESSSSS! I feel like I was meant to find this blog because I recently finished a historical fiction book about a strong woman from medieval times and I AM on the hunt for more! The book that 100000% needs to be added to this list is – “Matilda Empress” by Lise Arin (https://www.lisearin.com/). Matilda, the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, faces obstacle after obstacle but perseveres. She is married against her will, her cousin (who she is having an affair with) steals the throne from her when her father passes away, she lives through 20 YEARS of civil war, and she becomes pregnant with her cousin’s child, the rightful heir to the throne. I could NOT put this book down and it kind of reminded me of The Other Boleyn Girl. Here’s to kick ass women in historical fiction!
    Happy reading

  5. WWI and WW2 historical fictions are my absolute faves, so I have read a lot! The women who have stuck with me most recently are those from Kate Quinn’s books, especially the 3 in The Huntress!

  6. I would say my favourite female characters in historical fiction are Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, and Boudicca.

  7. my favorite women from historical fiction are sally and irina from lara prescott’s the secrets we kept. if you haven’t read it yet, it’s part cia spy novel, part history of boris pasternak’s doctor zhivago, part heartbreaking love story that left me sobbing.

  8. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is a favorite…I loved reading Eve’s journey and how strong she was. The Alice Network introduced me to novels that showed the true strength women showed during World War II and has made me want to read more .

    1. Kate Quinn is an amazing historical fiction author for bringing light to women’s roles during wartime. I just finished her new March release The Rose Code and devoured every second. It was SO good.

  9. Jo March from Little Women is my favorite woman in historical fiction. I love how she forged her own way as a writer in a time when women were expected only to marry and bear children. Jo did these things but they were her choice.

  10. Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac from the “Nightengale” have to be two of the many wonderful women from WWII fiction. I could only hope that I would have had the bravery of these two women during this trying time.

  11. My favorite historical character is the nameless narrator of Rebecca. While she is very naive and gauche at the beginning of the novel, her love for Maxim allows her to hold him together and after the moment when she learns the truth about Rebecca’s death.

    1. Let me know what you think of The Book Of Lost Names once you finish it. I loved that one (and my former coworkers are friends with the author) — I didn’t know much about the document forgers in France until I read it. I also loved the WW2 romance story.

  12. My favorite Historical woman would be Virginia Hall from No Woman of Importance that my boyfriend just let me read… so good!

  13. I loved The Alice Network and Resistance Women. Reading about the extremely varied experiences of the characters, depending on their country of origin and how they participated in the resistance effort, was enlightening. I’ve read a lot on WWII history, and delving into how the women were instrumental in the spy network/resistance has been eye opening. I also enjoyed The Lost Friends Network, The Invention of Wings and Hidden Figures, for historical fiction a little closer to home!

    1. Those are all fabulous book suggestions. I also love reading about people’s roles during WW2, especially women’s secret positions and stories that were more hidden or obscure. Kate Quinn and Ruta Sepetys are definitely authors for both of us there! I also loved The Book Of Lost Names in this aspect. I haven’t read The Lost Friends Network — I’ll have to look into it. This is nonfiction, but Denise Kiernan is a fantastic historian. She does an awesome job of uncovering the behind-the-scenes at Biltmore, and you learn so much more about Edith Vanderbilt. Kiernan’s other nonfiction book, The Girls of Atomic City, is on my TBR list.

  14. I love historical fiction! It’s hard to pick favorites, but I’ll settle on Vianne and Isabelle from The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I can’t choose between the two- they are both so brave and well-written!

    1. I might have to add The Taster to my Goodreads list — I love WW2 historical fiction inspired by real people and events, and I just looked that one up. It sounds incredibly interesting. Thanks so much for the book suggestion.

  15. Thanks for the list! I love historical fiction. It’s so hard for me to pick just one fave though, but my biggest love would be the women of the Tudor family. I’ve read so many of Philippa Gregory’s books but Jacquetta Woodville (The Lady of the Rivers), Elizabeth Woodville (The White Queen), and Catherine of Aragon (The Constant Princess) were my favorite characters of her books. She really knows how to bring historic figures to life. But my favorite fictional character would be Anne de Bohun (War of the Roses trilogy by Posie Graeme-Evans).

    1. Thanks, Sharon! I struggle to remember all of my favorite historical fiction books, too. I was trying to think of a good Tudor family book to put on this list — I’ve read one or two from Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl) but not the ones you’ve mentioned above. I might need another go at her novels. I know they are widely loved. I’ll have to look into the War of Roses trilogy; that one I am unfamiliar with. Thanks so much for the awesome women in historical fiction book recommendations!

    1. Hey Cat! Thanks so much. It has definitely felt like a long winter this year lol. I recently updated our Southern novels book list that you contributed to — it just keeps growing and growing. Have a great weekend.

  16. The world that we knew by Alice Hoffman is rife with strong women, even a female golem! Set in France during WW2, a desperate Jewish mother will do anything to protect her daughter from the Nazis. I loved this story.

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