Book Review: A Tyranny of Petticoats

I finally started the books I won in the #BadassHistory giveaway. First off: A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS!


A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS is a historical YA anthology with 15 short stories about strong, clever, resourceful female protagonists in American history. Edited by Jessica Spotswood, the book features such heavyweights as Marie Lu, Marissa Meyer (!!), and Beth Revis.

I was never into American history until college, when I took two courses on women in U.S. history. (Fun fact: that badass title is a reference to a John Adams quote in response to Abigail Adams’ famous request for him to ‘remember the ladies’ and their rights). So I was so excited for this anthology when it was announced, and A Tyranny of Petticoats totally lives up to its glorious concept. You want badass girls? There are SO MANY badass girls here: 


There’s Jocasta, a runaway slave who has to sink a pirate ship. There’s Rose and Lily Garrett, two tavern-keeping sisters who have to outsmart the legendary Soapy Smith. There’s Marjorie May Johnson, a cross-dressing bank robber who runs from cops by night and makes out with those same unsuspecting cops by day. There’s Lizzie Van Pelsie, a bluestocking debutante who has to find not a husband, but a Confederate spy at her grandmother’s ball. And many, many, many more.

Jessica Spotswood (The Cahill Witches Trilogy) mentions in the foreword that diversity was really important to her in compiling this anthology, and the tremendous diversity displayed in this book is an absolute delight. The heroines in these stories are diverse not just in race but class, background, and sexual orientation, from Marissa Meyer’s Chinese-American medium in Deadwood Territory, South Dakota to Lindsay Smith’s lesbian Latina factory workers during WWII. There are the classic American subjects–the Civil War, the Great Depression–but also fascinating glimpses into times and places in U.S. history you might be less familiar with, like the free people of color of antebellum New Orleans. Several of the stories include fantasy elements, and even the folklore is diverse, ranging from Inuit mythology to Chinese ghosts.

With anthologies, there are almost inevitably some hits and some misses, but I actually liked every single story in this book! If I had to pick favorites, I would single out J. Anderson Coats’ “Mother Carey’s Table”, Beth Revis’s “Pearls”, Marissa Meyer’s “Gold in the Roots of the Grass”, and Robin Talley’s “The Whole World is Watching” (set amidst protests during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and explores the intersectionality of the civil rights, feminist, and LGBT movements, one of my favorite themes from my American Women in History class), but really, every story is memorable. This book has everything–adventure, suspense, romance, heartache. Ultimately, though, it’s an empowering, rollicking good time.

After I finished A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS, I thought, “This book is so awesome, but I wish Stacey Lee could’ve written a story. She’d have killed it. There should be a sequel with her contributing.” Well, just last week, a follow-up book was announced, THE RADICAL ELEMENT (named for a quote by Rutherford B. Hayes: “Universal suffrage is sound in principle. The radical element is right”). And guess who’s on the new list of authors?

Big thank you for that to Jessica Spotswood, and for this wonderful anthology. I wouldn’t have expected anything less, though, from a book with a dedication this perfect:

To Bessie Coleman, Marie Laveau, Annie Oakley, Rose O’Neal Greenhow, Bonnie Parker, and all the other women, named and nameless, whose stories have inspired ours. 




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