100 stories of badass historical and mythical women from all around the world, most of whom you've never heard of. Each entry has a page of illustration and a page or two of text.
Short answer: 12 and up. Younger readers could enjoy most of it, but you'd probably want to read it with them.
Long answer: There's harsh material at the very end, but every entry has content warnings and a maturity level. In terms of US movie ratings, it's probably 35% PG, 60% PG-13, 5% R. This isn't a book to censor history or try to put a pretty spin on things, but it also doesn't get explicit regularly or without reason. Some of the most harrowing entries are online, to help you gauge how bad it gets: check out Ida B Wells, Wu Zetian, and Elisabeth Bathory.
The full table of contents is available below - click here to jump to it. Twenty entries are available for you to preview!
(keep an eye out for these icons, showing content posted online that didn't make the final cut for the book)
Cut Content: Micaela's Graphic Death
Records say the Spanish cut out her tongue and then tried to use a garrote on her. Her neck proved too slender, however, so they used rope and then kicked her until dead. Tupac got off worse - after watching the executions of his family and having his tongue cut out, each of his hands and legs were tied to a different horse and he was literally pulled apart. In a shocking turn of events, the brutal slaughter of folk heroes did not achieve the desired goal of winning over the average Andean.
Mariya Smirnova was a peasant from a village school who became a squadron commander. She was a nervous wreck before each of her 935 missions, and slept only two to four hours a day for the entirety of the war. When sent to a recreation facility to calm her nerves, she ran away to rejoin the Night Witches, because she couldn't stand others risking their lives while she did nothing.
Yevdokiya (Dusya) Nosal joined the unit after the maternity ward where she'd just given birth was bombed and her newborn son was buried in the rubble. She was shot and died mid-flight.
Irina Kashirina had to steer her plane home when her pilot, the aforementioned Dusya Nosal, was killed mid-flight. With Nosal slumped into her controls, Kashirina, with one hand, grabbed her by the collar and lifted her off the controls. She used the other hand to steer.
Nina Raspopova was born into famine and destitution. Barely able to enter technical school for engineering (she sat on the stairs for two months before being allowed in), she thereafter joined the Night Witches. One of her most harrowing experiences saw the entire floor of her cockpit blown away by a shell and her navigator shot in the neck. They landed the plane and the two had to walk back to the Soviet lines through mud and impassable roads -- in their socks. When they returned, the men at the infirmary allowed them ahead in line, possibly at the costs of their own lives. Another time, with the Germans closing in, she had to take off in an airplane which was missing half of one of the propellors. To balance it out, she knocked half of the other one off and narrowly held the plane together as she escaped.
Nadezhda Popova joined after the Germans killed her brother and converted her house into a Gestapo police station. She was one of the first recruits into the Night Witches, surviving some of the most dangerous missions -- she at one point returned from a sortie with 42 bullet holes in her plane, map, and helmet - but miraculously alive. She met her future husband in the war, and lived to the age of 91. Of the experience, she would later say: "I sometimes stare into the blackness and close my eyes. I can still imagine myself as a young girl, up there in my little bomber. And I ask myself, 'Nadia, how did you do it?'"
Cut Content: The Courtesans Who Helped Topple the Qing
Included as an aside in a handful of writeups on the fall of the Qing dynasty is a mention of the Chinese Women's Espionage Training Institute - an organization of Shanghai courtesans who trained spies to aid in bringing down the Qing dynasty. As they formed in the twilight days of the revolution, it's unclear how much effect they had, but they're worth recognizing regardless.
The last sentence of their manifesto: "What difference does occupation make when it is a question of duty?"
The Mahabharata has an inconsistent attitude towards transfolk, possibly owing to its many versions, and likely due to it being long as hell and old as dirt. While Shiva, Sikhandi, Sikhandi's parents, and Sthuna (the yaksha [forest spirit] that Amba/Sikhandi swaps genitals with) are all totally cool with Amba/Sikhandi's gender fluidity, Sthuna's boss goes on a rant once he finds out what Sthuna's done. He says, "oh, worst of Yakshas, you have done what has never been done by anyone -- an unnatural, abnormal, simpleminded, underhanded act that deserves all the punishment I can think up, so no one else will ever do it." He then "curses" Sthuna to remain a woman. Complicating the Mahabharata's stance on gender yet further is the fact that the main character of the Mahabharata, Arjuna, spends a year of his life undercover as a woman in a harem, and is praised in extreme details for his cleverness in doing so. So, take what you will from all that?
Cut Content: Okugo's crimes
The women had numerous other complaints about Okugo -- he'd been an unrepentant turd monkey for decades. The laundry list of his crimes included levying arbitrary taxes, embezzling money, and "gathering materials to make bad juju."
In the Summer 2008 newsletter for the International Institute for Asian Studies, Elsa Clave-Celik argues that much of what we know about Keumalahayati - and many other Indonesian heroines like Cut Nyak Dhien and Cut Meutia - is a romantic fabrication. Going back to some of the Dutch sources for these tales, she points out that there's little evidence Keumalahayati fought the Houtmans directly.
Clave-Celik puts forward that much of the stories about said heroines are distant echoes of one of the heroines of Indonesian/Hindu mythology: Amba/Sikhandi, written about elsewhere in the Rejected Princesses book. She points out that the template of warrior widow-martyrs of noble birth fits comfortably into a narrative that Indonesian and even Dutch societies were comfortable with - she specifically points to Dutch novelist and children's book author Marie van Zeggelen as the source of much of Keumalahayati's mythologization.
Women who do not fit this mold, she shows, do not get the same heroic treatment. Indonesian commoners and foot soldiers like Pocut Meurah Intan and Pocut Baren, who fought but also received medical aid from the Dutch -- Baren was an amputee! -- do not receive the same warmth from the history books. Something to keep in mind while reading through the rest of the Rejected Princesses book - what stories are advancing what agendas? What's been vilified and for what reason? What's been left out?
Stay tuned to Rejected Princesses Volume 2 for the answer![1. Just kidding. There is no Volume 2. Yet.]
(keep an eye out for these icons, showing content posted online that didn't make the final cut for the book)
Goat-riding, spoon-wielding princess who fights trolls to save her sister.
Disguised herself as a man to be the physician women needed.
The reluctant royal who became the Maori's greatest leader.
When a neighboring tribe threatened the Yoruba, she went undercover as a spy to find their weakness.
To warn against the incoming British, this teen girl staged her own midnight ride - far longer and more dangerous than Paul Revere's.
A clever woman who rose from obscurity to become a political force, playing nations against each other to protect her people.
Indigenous lawmaker who united warring tribes under a unified code of laws that she made herself.
The odd couple of Crimean nursing - one a jolly black businesswoman who swore by folk remedies, the other a by-the-book Victorian rebel who revolutionized the field of medicine.
Irish pirate queen who led decades of rebellions against England, met face-to-face with Elizabeth I, and got official license to continue her piracy.
Pistol-packing, liquor-swigging, 6'2" black postal carrier/babysitter of the Wild West.
An unbeatable warrior princess who just wanted to have kids - and founded a new nation in her quest to do so.
Overcame polio, poverty, measles, mumps, scarlet fever, racism, whooping cough, and teenage pregnancy to make Olympic history by winning three gold medals.
Viking princess who decided she'd rather be a pirate than get married.
Black, Muslim warrior queen of a tribe of griffin-riding Amazons - and the honest-to-god namesake of California.
The first naval admiral of modern times, she protected her country from foreign invaders with aplomb.
Ludicrously over-accomplished athlete who invented flying ambulances and won the only gold medal ever awarded by the French Academy of Sports for "all sports" - yes, all of them.
A phenomenally successful archaeologist who became a fashion icon for wearing men's clothing.
The greatest leader of the nomadic Tuareg tribe of northern Africa, who put their men in veils and let their women run the show.
Revolutionized the field of mathematics, yet was persecuted for being Jewish and paid a pittance for her visionary teaching work.
United Hawaii under one rule, abolished ancient taboos, and led negotiations with the fledgling United States.
Champion weightlifter, suffragette, mom - this "Lady Hercules" did it all.
Jewish businesswomen who saved thousands of Jews from the Inquisition by smuggling them out of the country.
Indomitable pirate queen who ran Morocco and ruined Portugal.
Fiery defender of the pope who made kings kneel before her.
Cross-dressing Queen of Thieves who flouted social norms and had plays written about her.
Daring journalist who infiltrated insane asylums, exposed slavery rings, and raced around the world in under 80 days.
Rose from poverty to become a respected journalist who raced Nellie Bly around the world.
Sisters who led an army on elephant-back to overthrow oppressive Chinese rule and establish a short-lived Vietnamese kingdom.
As an old woman, led an incredibly successful rebellion against British colonialism, known as The War of the Golden Stool, or the Yaa Asantewaa War.
Tossed off the expectations of Victorian society, became an expert mountaineer, traveled the Middle East by herself - later teaching Lawrence of Arabia how it's done - and became one of the most influential women in the English empire.
Sword-and-gun-toting lesbian teen vigilantes - 17th century Potosi's answer to Batman.
Brilliant undercover spy who posed as a slave to spy on - and attempt to burn down - the Confederate White House.
This pope was largely assumed to be male until she gave birth in the midst of a procession - and largely assumed to be factual until the 13th century.
Instigated a massive "women's war" against British taxation, the effect of which was one part protest movement, one part comedy roast, and one part block party.
This self-described "undutiful daughter" posed as a man to become the world's first female shipwright.
Let her leprosy go untreated for years to make herself the perfect spy in the Japan-occupied Philippines - soldiers wouldn't touch her, so she could slip right through.
Recruited widows, orphans, and prostitutes into an all-woman ninja spy group, the largest in Asia at the time.
Massively educated princess who started all-female gang of itinerant teachers, who would roam the land and educate unsuspecting passersby.
Led colony of escaped slaves and protected them from the English using borderline supernatural abilities.
Chaste and virtuous woman spends life assuming she's better than her more sex-positive neighbor, and for this haughtiness becomes in death a demonic woman who lures wayward men to their death - a stunning indigenous inversion of the Madonna/whore complex.
Fearsome undefeated samurai warrior who was "a match for any god or demon," and is one of Japan's greatest heroines to this day.
Sex worker who became empress of the Byzantine Empire, and used her political power to safeguard her interests, and her husband's reputation.
Widowed young queen who led a fearsome rebellion against the British with her child tied to her back.
Saved the Jewish people by hammering a tent spike through an unsuspecting house guest's head.
Spirited poetry-spouting princess who lived an audacious life and put her cheating lover on blast with her expert slam poetry.
History's first computer programmer, who invented algorithms for the first computer - which didn't even exist during her lifetime, so she had to do it all in her head.
Born in a prison cell, this revolutionary financed and led a large chunk of Greece's navy to victory in their fight for independence.
When her husband unexpectedly died, she rolled up her sleeves and became one of the greatest authors of the age to keep food on the table. She wrote passionate defenses of her gender (and military treatises!) that were centuries ahead of their time.
Escaped slave turned slave rescuer turned plantation-torching Union spymaster, she was part Moses, part Joan of Arc, part Spider-Man.
This uneducated rebel preacher upstaged New England magistrates so much that they founded Harvard University in part to prevent women like her from gaining power.
Independent, bold wife of the Prophet Muhammad, she led armies in the Battle of the Camel and was one of the central figures of the Shia/Sunni civil war that continues to this day. (Note: this entry's image follows Islamic artistic conventions to depict its figures respectfully)
Brutal princess-turned-Christian saint who burnt down enemy towns using pigeons.
The world's fiercest all-female fighting force, and the incredible tale of how they rescued their deposed queen from slavery in Brazil.
This amateur dancer escaped a life of abuse by pretending to be an Indonesian princess - and eventually became a victim of the maniacal world of espionage.
Rose from dire poverty and violence to become the greatest black entertainer of all time - Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Angelina Jolie all rolled into one.
Sword-slinging Arabian heroine who stars as the heroine of an extremely long and entertaining epic tale.
Chicago detective whose crime-busting exploits grew so popular she had her own newspaper series and starred in her own movie.
When this princess had her life ruined by an unstoppable warrior, she: became a fervent ascetic for years and got a divine boon; killed herself to reincarnate faster; came back as a man; and killed the man who'd wronged her, in the stunning climax of the world's longest epic poem.
When Byzantine forces capture her brother, this warrior poet donned the outfit of a black knight and went on a bloody rescue mission.
This phony Asian royalty fooled rural England for some time - but the truth she was hiding was far darker.
This heroine of South America and Italy fought in numerous civil wars alongside her husband, Giuseppe Garibaldi, often while pregnant or while carrying her children.
This unassuming middle-aged woman became one of Britain's most notorious terrorists in her unyielding quest to win women the right to vote.
The actual hero of the Ali Baba myth, this slave girl saves the titular character by singlehandedly dispatching the forty thieves - without him even knowing.
One of the most infamous libertines of the Renaissance, she cavorted all over Europe to flee her abusive marriage, lived a hedonistic life, and wrote memoirs under her own name - all in an attempt to win herself a divorce.
Joined her sister Hortense Mancini in escaping from an equally abusive marriage, making headlines (and trouble) all across Europe in the process.
Roundly-despised and unfairly-maligned seductress of the bible who ran afoul of the wrong priests.
Revolutionary who martyred herself to help rid China of the Qing dynasty.
Bisexual cross-dressing spy princess of the Qing dynasty - a hero to some and unspeakable villain to others.
The infamous teen girl who helped end the Hundred Years War and save France - but do you know how she got to such prominence? This book has an answer, and it involves another powerful woman, operating behind the scenes...
This all-female civilian volunteer unit of the WW2 Soviet military overcame a lack of training, equipment, and faith to pull off one of the greatest underdog feats in human history and in so doing become Germany's worst nightmare.
This legendary pockmarked poet sang truth to power and was killed for it, becoming an enduring symbol of resistance.
Stranded by her cruel relative on an abandoned Canadian island (literally named the Isle of Demons), she survived for two years by hunting animals and eventually made it back to France.
Picked to be an impotent figurehead, this savvy intellectual quickly learned how to play politics and modernized the nation to ward off invasion.
The strident partner of the eponymously-named Tupac Amaru Rebellion of native peoples against the Spanish, she handled army and bureaucratic logistics with an unmatched efficiency.
When hijackers boarded her plane, this 23-year-old flight attendant gave her life to save the lives of hundreds.
One of the greatest painters of the baroque, she revenged herself on her rapist both in the court of law and in her powerful, grotesque, incredibly popular paintings that depicted his gruesome death.
The illegitimate and widowed child of a minor noble, she became one of the most powerful and outrageous women in Italy, commanding troops, insulting Machiavelli, and fighting Cesare Borgia with unmatched ferocity.
Somalia's ballsiest queen, she took power from men either figuratively or literally - by ordering much of the gender castrated. Hero or villain, depending on who's doing the telling, she remains one of Africa's most divisive figures.
Sold into sexual slavery to Hernan Cortes, this maligned woman became his interpreter, and it was with her words that the Aztec Empire fell.
Born into the lowest rung of the caste system, this woman put decades of horrific abuse to an end by starting a bandit gang, laying waste to those who preyed on the less-fortunate, and getting a reputation as an incarnation of the goddess of destruction. After she gave herself up and spent some time in prison, she got out, ran for parliament, and won.