If You Like….
We all have plot devices we don’t entirely love. One of the ones that I tend to shy away from is the “girl in breeches” trope. On the other hand, once I started thinking about it, I realized that there are a vast number of exceptions to my “no books about women posing as men” rule.
If you like books with women posing as men, you’ll probably like….
— There’s nothing like the master! Shakespeare’s As You Like It, in which Rosalind flees into the Forest of Arden disguised as a young man named Ganymede, and, of course, Twelfth Night, in which the shipwrecked Viola disguises herself as the page Cesario, falling hopelessly in love with Orsino, who eventually reciprocates the sentiment (as my Shakespeare prof in college used to say, “We know what the pet names in that family will be!”).
— Georgette Heyer’s The Corinthian, sheer, madcap fun in which the heroine poses, as various points, as a schoolboy, the hero’s cousin, and his nephew;
— Also Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades, in which the heroine, Leonie, has been raised as Leon, and serves as the hero’s page before being schooled as a lady;
— Going very Old School, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’s Civil War set Ashes in the Wind, in which the heroine, Alaina, poses as “Al”, the lad who helps out in the hospital (until the brooding Yankee doctor takes him under his wing and tries to make “him” take a bath);
— And more Old School, that classic of high camp, Johanna Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue, in which the heroine, Georgina, can only get passage home to America by posing as “George”, a lowly cabin boy;
— While we’re on the high seas, Carole Nelson Douglas’s seventeenth century swashbuckler, Fair Wind, Fiery Star, in which the heroine, Miranda, goes disguised as a boy on two separate occasions, once as a cabin boy, and once as a young man come to town in London;
— More recently, Eloisa James’s Duchess By Night, one of her Desperate Duchess series, in which the widowed Duchess of Berrow decides to spice up her life by attending a house party as a young man;
— And even more recently, Juliana Gray’s Princesses in Disguise trilogy, beginning with How to Tame Your Duke, in which three princesses from a German principality with a Wodehouse-esque name are whisked to safety disguised as boys– and adventure and romance ensues.
What are your favorite girls disguised as boys novels?
9 Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean. The heroine, Callie, decides to make a list of all the things she would like to do to turn her life from dull and spinsterish to exciting and fulfilling. She has to dress as a man to fulfill some of the tasks. Of course, she finds love along the way. This was a great book that had elements of woman-dresses-as-man, but it did not rule (haha) the story.
I loved how Callie threw caution to the wind; especially how she inveigled her future husband to become her partner in crime after she had one too many mishaps.
I love Gentle Rogue! Actually I really enjoy the whole Malory series!
Also Without Honor by Elizabeth Stuart has a lot of lady in pants to disguise herself whilst roaming the Scottish countryside with a handsome rogue who, you guessed it, is seemingly without honor. A pretty good read!
As I was reading this entry, I realized that I hadn’t had a recent encounter with a-woman-as-man, though I remember some of the stories you mentioned. I don’t mind the trope, perhaps since I haven’t read an example of it in quite some time.
And guys playing girls? Can’t think of any books offhand.
“The Masqueraders”, by Georgette Heyer. A brother and sister, escaped Jacobites, each masquerade as the opposite gender. Great fun.
Anne Stuart’s Shadow Dance has both a man dressing as a woman and a woman dressing as a man.
In Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex, the heroine disguises herself as a boy and pretends to be her brother when he fails to report for duty in the Royal Navy. It is very well done and I enjoyed seeing her success with the tasks most would consider beyond the realm of the ability of a female.
Also, in the Alexia Tarabotti series (Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, etc.), one of the secondary characters, Madame Lefoux, dresses as a man but doesn’t pretend to be a man for the most part. The series is such fun, I felt it was worth a mention.
Mulan is the story I think of besides Shakespeare’s, but I do not know of a book this story is written down where I could read it (English please) Anyone know of one?
It’s just a scene, but Emerald Ring, Letty and Jane as dandies…
The Exploits and Adventures of Miss Althea Darcy by Elizabeth Aston is a fun read! The series runs around the imagined family of Lizzie and Mr. Darcy. In this novel, Althea flees a disastrous marriage and disguises herself as a gentleman, it’s a witty and delightful book!
A bit(!) out of genre, but two of my recent favorites are:
Anne Lyle’s Night’s Masque Trilogy. Set in an alternate Elizabethan England, Coby is a tireman in the theatre. She hides her gender behind trousers in order to survive. She’s integral to the story, but not the main character.
Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names; part one of the Shadow Campaigns. Winter Ihernglass is field-promoted to command, but no one knows that he is really a she, on the run from her poor childhood.
Neither book(s) are exactly what you’d expect, but the characterizations are great.
Sea Change by Darlene Marshall is amazing! The heroine is posing as a male surgeon aboard a ship!
I also liked the Talisman Ring, which had a scene with cross-dressing in it.
Also out of genre, but Alanna: The First Adventure from the Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce was hugely influential for me in my youth. It features a young girl in a pseudo-medieval world training as a knight (and hiding the fact that she’s a girl). Not only was the series realistic about the difficulties of physically emulating and besting boys (and later, men), but it also dealt with the emotional and romantic repercussions of living as a boy–the loneliness, gender confusion, problems with having a huge crush on your best friend, who actually thinks you are just one of the guys….Also, these were the books that taught me that the best guy on paper isn’t necessarily the right match. Fun stuff, and worth reading even as an adult!
Great list, Lauren.
This is actually one of my favorite tropes, but I’ll mention just a few additional books: Elizabeth Lowell’s Reckless Love (even tho the H is a jerk), Jackie Ivie’s Lady of the Knight, and Virginia Henley’s Seduced.
It’s funny, I realized some of my favorite early- books-I-picked-out-myself (middle school-ish)were in this vein – Alanna by Tamora Pierce (girl disguised as boy to train as a knight), Caroline, a Starfire romance (girl disguised as boy for Westward travel), and The Song of the Nereids, a Christian (YA?) romance about a girl disguised as a deckhand on a ship.