Alternate History Books by Women

Yes, women do write alternate history books.

Yes, women do write alternate history.

The BBC Radio 4 “Open Book” program recently characterized alternate history as “an exclusively male domain in terms of authorship.” While some exceptions were noted, including speculative fiction by Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Atwood and Marge Piercy, neither the presenter nor her guest appeared familiar with more recent alternate history books by women. Fortunately, female-authored alternate history is alive and well. To clear up the BBC’s misconception, and to introduce you to some novels you may not have come across, here’s a list of alternate history books written by women.

Alternate History Books by Women

This list is intended to be a starter, rather than exhaustive. With one exception (to show that women writing alternate history is nothing new), it includes a sample of novels published in English within the last decade. It thus does not include short stories, novellas and anthologies. It also leaves out the many alternate histories by women that fall into the science fiction, steampunk, fantasy or time travel categories, as well as books intended primarily for children and youth.

The Professor in Erin by Lily (Charlotte Elizabeth) McManus (1918)
What if Hugh O’Neill won the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, ending English rule in Ireland?
(This is the oldest alternate history book by a woman listed on Uchronia.)

The Romanitas Trilogy by Sophia McDougall (2005-2011)
What if the Roman Empire never fell?

The Small Change Series by Jo Walton (2006-2008)
What if Britain made peace with Adolf Hitler in 1941?

Eleanor vs. Ike by Robin Gerber (2008)
What if Eleanor Roosevelt replaced Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 election?

Clopton’s Short History of the Confederate States of America 1861-1925 by Carole Scott (2011)
What if the Confederacy won the American Civil War?

Margot by Jillian Cantor (2013)
What if Anne Frank’s sister Margot escaped the Nazis and went to the United States?

The Boleyn Trilogy/Tudor Legacy Series by Laura Anderson (2013-2015)
What if King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had a son?
What if Queen Elizabeth I and King Philip II of Spain had a daughter?

The Roma Nova Series by Alison Morton (2013-2016)
What if a small, female-ruled remnant of the Roman Empire survived into the modern era?

The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and The Tsarina’s Legacy by Jennifer Laam (2013, 2016)
What if a secret fifth daughter of the Romanov family continued the Russian royal lineage?

Napoleon in America by Shannon Selin (2014)
What if Napoleon escaped from St. Helena and wound up in the United States?

The Enemy Within by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (2014)
What if FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was murdered three months after John F. Kennedy’s assassination?

My Real Children by Jo Walton (2014)
What if John F. Kennedy was killed by a bomb in 1963? Or what if he chose not to run in 1964 after an escalated Cuban Missile Crisis led to the nuclear obliteration of Miami and Kiev?

A Set of Lies by Carolyn McCrae (2015)
What if the British Secret Service convinced Napoleon to work with them after his 1815 defeat, substituting a double for him on St. Helena?

I invite readers to add other alternate history books by women in the comments.

You might also enjoy:

Napoleon in alternate history

What if Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo?

Could Napoleon have escaped from St. Helena?

Alternate History by Napoleon

25 commments on “Alternate History Books by Women”

  • Alison Morton says:

    Good post, Shannon! The academic interviewed on the programme, Dr Carver, was very gracious in reply to our polite but protesting emails. but unfortunately the BBC has not to date sent either of us a reply to our emails. A pity as listeners will be left with a wrong impression of althist fiction.
    More work to do!

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Indeed! I hope more readers and writers of althist will chime in. It would be lovely to hear the BBC do a program about alternate history by women.

  • Matt Mitrovich says:

    Lets not also forget that a genre related to alternate history, steampunk, has several women writers as well. Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century comes to mind, which Uchronia recognizes as alternate history.

  • Shannon Selin says:

    Thanks for these great additions, Matt. When I started writing the post, I quickly realized that there were so many althist books by women that it would be difficult to list them all — thus the decision to leave out steampunk, scifi, fantasy, etc. It’s wonderful to have them in the comments.

  • Joanna M says:

    What a great list! I’m going to add some of those to my virtual TBR pile. I recently spent a season reviewing alternate history by women (https://strangecharmbooks.co.uk/category/reviews/alternate-history/) and although you’ve mentioned most of the ones I covered, another is Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle, summarised as “what if Visigoths colonised North Africa and then invaded Europe” (but a whole lot of other stuff as well) — it’s long but worth it.

  • Shannon Selin says:

    Thanks for introducing me to your Strange Charm site, Joanna. It’s splendid to have a forum that showcases speculative fiction by women. The alternate history books you’ve reviewed sound fascinating. Great to add them to this list, and to my TBR pile!

  • Christoph Fischer says:

    Shame they didn’t do their research well enough. Thanks for setting the record straight.

  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

    Thank you for the mention! I’m honored to be on this list. Let me recommend two websites for readers. The first is the Sidewise Awards for Alternate History, which started in 1995. It has a listing of the winners and nominees since then, including many women. You can find it here. http://www.uchronia.net/sidewise/about.html

    I’m running a website on women in science fiction, because apparently, people think women don’t write sf either. I don’t blog there as often as I like, but there are some resources on that site as well. I just sent the site’s readers here. You can find it at http://www.womeninsciencefiction.com/

  • JoAnn Spears says:

    I appreciate this article and the interesting comments and links. I struggle with marketing my two Tudor novels, which are sort of a cross between historical fiction, alternative history, chick lit, and old-lady steampunk. Reading this, methinks that I have not been working the alternative history angle sufficiently. Thanks for the ideas and inspiration!

  • M. Louisa Locke says:

    The Future Chronicles group, which puts out short story anthologies, includes two volumes of Alternate History stories, each with a number of women writers.

    https://www.amazon.com/Alt-History-101-Future-Chronicles-Ken-ebook/dp/B010965L6M

    and

    https://www.amazon.com/Alt-History-Future-Chronicles-Samuel-Peralta-ebook/dp/B01B9RBAF6

    They are a good source of some indie writers in this sub-genre.

    M. Louisa Locke

  • Leanna Renee Hieber says:

    I so appreciate your taking the time to correct this grievous error in reporting!

    I too have had trouble in knowing exactly how to talk about my own work with Tor Books, which falls under Gaslamp Fantasy, but my ETERNA FILES series has often been labeled as Alternate History as well, albeit full of paranormal elements due to the Spiritualist and occult angles as was popular in the 19th Century. Thank you for this discussion!

  • Shannon Selin says:

    My pleasure, Leanna! Thanks for letting me know about The Eterna Files. Here’s the link for readers: http://www.leannareneehieber.com/the-eterna-files/.

  • Stephanie R. Sorensen says:

    Hi Shannon,

    What a great list!

    I would like to let you know as well about my “Toru: Wayfarer Returns.” Set in 1850s Japan, it is an alternate history steampunkish technofantasy. Samurai with dirigibles change history.

    http://stephaniersorensen.com/books/

  • Sophie Weston says:

    I really enjoyed imagining what would be happening today if the Prince Regent’s daughter had survived in my 2011 story To Marry A Prince. Renamed South Kensington Museum and everything!
    I’ve always had a soft spot for Charlotte. It was really great to give her a happy ending. http://bit.ly/29t1qgz

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks, Sophie. It’s a shame Charlotte died so young. I love the idea of the Charlotte and Leopold Museum!

  • Farah Mendlesohn says:

    Thank you! I consider myself well read but have missed many of those.

  • Graeme Shimmin says:

    Hello Shannon,

    Interesting list! I’ve written up my own top five here: http://graemeshimmin.com/alternative-history-novels-written-by-women/

    There are some overlaps with your list, like Jo Walton’s excellent work, but a couple of different ones, such as ‘The Big Lie’ by Julie Mayhew and the classic ‘Swastika Night’ by Katharine Burdekin.

    Sadly, I haven’t managed to get round to reading ‘Napoleon in America’ yet, but it’s on my list!

    Regards,
    Graeme.

  • Shannon Selin says:

    Thanks, Graeme. Great list! Thanks for including Napoleon in America as an honourable mention.

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