Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Girls who disguise themselves as boys

The girls-disguise-themselves-as-boys trope has always been one that appeals to me.

Every writer handles this differently, of course, but the situation is generally pretty fraught because it adds the question, What happens if she gets found out? to the question, How can we save the world? And, of course, generally the girl is found out before the end of the story and generally this does lead to a crisis.

So, today Gail Carriger has a post at tor.com: Five books in which girls disguise themselves as boys.

Her list:

Alanna, of course — Tamora Pierce’s Alanna from the Lioness quartet. It would have been astonishing if Carriger hadn’t included Alanna.

Sword Masters by Selina Rosen, which to me sounds a bit like a Mulan story — not that there’s anything wrong with that!

The Price of the Stars by Debra Doyle & James D. MacDonald, which is space opera.

To Play the Lady by Naomi Lane

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

As it happens, I haven’t read any of those except Pierce’s Alanna series. But I can sure think of quite a few more stories using this trope that I definitely loved, plus a couple of others that I haven’t read yet but have on my TBR pile. Let’s count ’em off, in no particular order:

Hunting by Andrea K. Höst. This is one story in which the woman’s masquerade is discovered, but everyone handles the discovery with fair to good aplomb.

Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett. I’m laughing just thinking of this story. Actually, this would be a pretty good introduction to Pratchett’s work. But you could hardly say anything about it without giving away too much.

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler. One of my favorite books from recent years. I’m so much looking forward to the 4th and last book coming out next year. I’m going to re-read the first two and then go one with the series.

Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley. I do think it’s impossible to do a truly successful ending to the Robin Hood legend, and I don’t think McKinley pulled it off. But I like the book quite a bit.

Mairelon the Magician by Patricia Wrede. The sequel didn’t appeal to me nearly as much, but this was one of my favorite’s of Wrede’s stories.

Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshaw. I’m departing from SFF here, but this is quite possibly in my personal top ten list for favorite books of all time.

The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer. One of the first books of Heyer’s I read, and such a charming protagonist. I can’t quite sympathize with the male lead’s problem at the beginning of the story, though. I mean, he was just going to marry this woman because of quite mild pressure from her family, explicitly to let her family sponge off his wealth. Baffling. Maybe that kind of thing made sense at the time Heyer was writing?

A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly. The woman who dresses as a man is not the protagonist, but I like her a lot.

Okay, and that’s all I can think off right off, but here are a couple on my TBR pile:

Wild Orchard by Cameron Dokey.

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This is a Mulan re-telling. I’m looking forward to trying it!

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen.

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As in, Will Scarlet. So this is another take on Robin Hood. I wonder if Gaughen will pull off a really satisfying ending?

And, of course, I can hardly leave the subject without mentioning The Floating Islands

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9 Comments Girls who disguise themselves as boys

  1. David H.

    Another SF/F one would be Harry Turtledove’s alt-history THE GUNS OF THE SOUTH. One of the two POVs in this story follow an enlisted soldier & one of the members of his regiment is a woman disguised as a man. (That aspect is apparently based on real Civil War history.)

    Looks like the relevant TV Tropes article is “Sweet Polly Oliver”: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SweetPollyOliver

  2. eyesofmara

    I love this trope too! I’m going to have to add some of these to my tbr pile. Monstrous Regiment is classic. Also, Neverhome by Laird Hunt is a really interesting read. Kind of plays with and deconstructs the trope, and I’m reading Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer right now and enjoying it so far.

  3. Linda S

    It’s been a while since I read THE PRICE OF THE STARS and its sequels, but I remember liking them a lot. I thought at first that the worldbuilding was a little too reminiscent of Star Wars, but it ended up going in some interesting directions.

  4. Rachel

    Thanks for your suggestions and input! The odd thing is, The Price of the Stars looks *very* familiar and it seems to me I ought to have read it, yet I have no memory of it at all. Maybe I picked it up and looked at it and put it down again? Maybe I read it in an alternate universe? Not sure, but it does sound interesting.

  5. SarahZ

    Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee is a historical fiction that uses that device.

    Then there’s All Men of Genius, by Lev AC Rosen, a steampunky riff on Twelfth Night. That one was cute.

  6. Rachel

    Pete, that’s interesting, I didn’t realize that was where Pratchett got the title. Thanks for sharing the link.

    Sarah, a steampunky riff on Twelfth Night? What an intriguing description!

  7. Elaine T

    Practically everytime someone brings Doyle & MacDonald’s MAGEWORLDS series to my attention there’s a comment to the effect that it started as Star Wars with the serial numbers filed off. My husband likes them, but I haven’t read them yet. It’s supposed to be quite a fun read.

    Do Walton’s THE KING’s NAME & KING’S PEACE count? The female narrator is basically a knight, but I don’t recall her hiding her sex.

    And about a zillion juveniles I read growing up.

  8. SarahZ

    All Men of Genius was maybe a little silly, but I definitely enjoyed it. It’s not a “you must read this right now”, but worth adding to the pile.

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