Review: A Tyranny of Petticoats by Jessica Spotswood

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I was so excited when I found about this anthology because some of my all-time favorite authors were included and I got to visit Leslye Walton’s beautiful writing again (I really really love The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender).
As a result, I’ve been hyping this book up in my head for months, which usually spells disaster, but this did not disappoint.

I personally really enjoy reading anthologies.
I read My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories earlier this year and came realize that short stories are one of my favorite types of storytelling. They stay with me for a long time because of their ability to pack a short, emotional punch that leaves me thinking about it for a long time to come.

In this particular anthology there were some incredibly beautiful stories.
It includes 15 original short stories, written by a mix of authors both well-known and relatively new, places young women of racially diverse backgrounds at the centers of fictional narratives throughout American history.
Including heroines that are monsters and pirates and screenwriters and schoolteachers. They are brave and scared, uncertain and sure. But they carry on through their hardships because there is a spark inside them that refuses to be extinguished.
I really enjoyed this book, it opened my eyes to a new side of history.
It was creative, engrossing, and well-crafted.

Rating for each of the stories :
(From here on this review will contain spoilers)

“Mother’s Carey’s Table” J. Anderson Coats (1710: British North America)3/5 stars

This tells the story of a runaway slave girl posing as Joe, a sailor boy – but the truth is exposed, with devastating consequences, when she tries to sink the Spanish warship threatening her crew.
A strong opening to the anthology with interesting writing, but I felt no real connection to the main character.
I did, however, enjoy the aspect of magical realism in this story, it intrigues me to no end.

“I learned to stop asking about Mama. Pop said it was easier that way. That we love people when they’re here, but when they go, they’re gone.”

“The Journey” Marie Lu (1723: The Great Land)4/5 stars

This follows the journey of Yakone, a young Inuit girl, that flees across the frozen tundra after white traders destroy her family’s village and murder the innocent people within, her parents included, in cold blood.
I had no idea about the history surrounding Inuit folklore, so this storyline definitely intrigued me.
I’ve read and enjoyed several of Marie Lu’s books, but I must say that this short story was definitely my favorite piece of writing of hers.

“The spirits will guide you,” he said, “if you take only what you need and respect them in their domain. Even in the darkest night. Remember that, Yakone, and you will never be lost.”
“I’ll remember,” I replied.”

“Madeleine’s Choice” Jessica Spotswood (1826: New Orleans)3/5 stars

In Jessica Spotswood’s story the main focus is on the romance and the choice a free girl of color has to make between the longtime family friend that’s a respectable middle class man of color, who has offered her marriage — or the romantic, wealthy white planter who cannot and whom the mother does not approve of.
The narrative’s voice in this story didn’t really draw me in and her friendship with Eugenie rubbed me the wrong way. It felt like an unhealthy friendship that made me feel really sad for the main character, Maddie:

“You expect a man like that to wait for you?” Eugenie shakes her head. By this time we’re sitting together on the cream-colored silk settee in the parlor. “I thought you had more sense than that, Maddie, I really did.”
“She’s my mother,” I protest. “Even if I don’t agree with her, I have to respect —”
“Do you? I thought you were in love — like something out of one of your novels, you said!” Eugenie’s voice is laced with lemons. “And now you’re willing to give him up to please your mother? I thought you had more spine than that too.”

But in order to decide which man she wants in her future, she seeks advice from voodoo queen, Marie Laveau.
I personally found this to be the highlight of the storyline because.

“El Destinos” Leslye Walton (1848: Southwest Texas)5/5 stars

Leslye Walton’s story was one of my most anticipated stories in this anthology and it was, simply put, beautiful and heart-wrenching.
I read her debut novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, a few months back and I have not stopped raving about it.
So when I found out that she was featured in this anthology, I started counting down the days to when I could finally read more of her writing.

“El Destinos” follows three sisters that are based on The Three Fates — immortal goddesses that appear in Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology — who were once believed to control the destiny of each mortal from birth to death.

Valeria, Rosa, and Maria Elena, the three immortals are sent down to live as Mexican American sisters during the years after the Texas annexation. And their responsibility is to control the threads of life and death.
As always, Leslye Walton did not disappoint when it came to family relationships. I simply cannot put into well enough deserving words how well-written and developed her characters are, especially considering the length of this story.
I’m so glad that Leslye was featured in this book.

“Folks around here call us el destinos. They like to say we came from the stars. And when I stare up at the infinite heavens stretched out above us like a shroud, it’s hard to imagine we came from anywhere else.”

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“High Stakes” Andrea Cremer (1861: Boston, Massachusetts, and Natchez, Mississippi)3/5 stars

“High Stakes” is a short historical fantasy story that had me confused a lot of the times, but I am glad that I took the time to read it.
This follows Klio, a supernatural assassin hired to protect the powerful player, Hamilton Stuart, in the poker game that will determine which faction the supernatural world will take in the Civil War.

“The Red Raven Ball” Caroline Tung Richmond (1862: Washington, DC)3.5/5 stars

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Van Persie is tasked with finding the Confederate spy at her formidable grandmama’s annual ball – with surprising results.
There were parts that I enjoyed, especially the ballroom scenes— it had a very Downton Abbey feel to it that I liked.
Yet the whole revelations felt a bit dramatic, which I can enjoy on Downton Abbey, but in this story I felt no real emotions during those sections.

“Pearls” Beth Revis (1876: Chicago, Illinois, and Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory)5/5 stars

“I never knew how easy it is to escape if you don’t mind leaving nearly everything behind.”

This story truly surprised me with how much I liked the main character, Helen. She is a well-rounded and developed character, I really enjoyed reading about her.

Helen’s a young woman forced into marriage with a cruel man, but bravely decides to flee in order to become a schoolteacher in the rough Wyoming Territory.
The group of students she taught were both heartbreaking and heartwarming to read about and even more so towards the end.
I was really invested in this story and in the short time it took me to finish it, I’d grown really attached to Helen and all the students.
Also, the story about ‘the snake asks the possum’ that Annie told the class is still on my mind. So good.

“Gold in the Roots of the Grass” Marissa Meyer (1877: Deadwood, Dakota Territory)5/5 stars

Visiting Marissa Meyer’s writing is such a comforting thing because I know it will always keep me engrossed, flipping the pages, and engaged. And I’m glad this story holds no exception to that rule.

“Gold in the Roots of the Grass” follows Fei-Yen, a Chinese American spirit medium, helping a young prospector’s spirit find justice for his murder.
Marissa Meyer’s writing combined with one my favorite things in books (mediums) was going to be an all time favorite story of mine right from page 1. The whole prospect of spirits and ghosts intrigues and scares me to no end.
And Marissa did an exceptional job with capturing both feelings in this story.

“It was amazing to me how easily their suspicions came and went. How strongly they wished to believe, despite how they scoffed at our ways and traditions.”

“The Legendary Garrett Girls” Y.S. Lee (1898: Skaguay, Alaska)3/5 stars

This story involves the Garrett sisters, Clara and Lily, who have a prosperous frontier saloon that Soapy Smith, a corrupt con man, is interested in overtaking. They have to cleverly fight back against him and his henchman, so that they can get safely out of town.
I enjoyed reading about the friendship between the sisters and how they had each other’s backs, but the rest of the storyline didn’t really hold my interest.

“The Color of the Sky” Elizabeth Wein (1926: Jacksonville, FL & Dallas, TX)4.5/5 stars

This story is based on the true events surrounding the death of the pilot Bessie Coleman, the first black woman to gain a pilot’s license and the first American, black or white, male or female, to earn an international pilot’s license.

“The Color of the Sky” opened up my eyes and heart with its incredibly written storyline.
Antonia “Tony” meets her hero, aviatrix Bessie Coleman and bears witness to the tragic events that led to Bessie’s death in a flying accident.

I’m glad Tony got to meet and talk to Bessie Coleman in person, their exchange made me smile and even tear up when I thought about it afterwards.

‘To My Dear Admirer Antonia. Only you can make your dreams come true. Always reach for the sky and soon it’ll be time for you to take flight. Your friend, Bessie Coleman.’

“Bonnie and Clyde” Saundra Mitchell (1934: Indiana)3/5 stars

“Here’s the thing: I didn’t want to be famous. I just wanted to take care of my folks.”

Marjorie May Johnson a cross-dressing, bank-robbing teen bandit, more commonly known as ‘Baby Boy Wabash’, is continuously on the run from lawmen, one specifically being her beau.

It was a quick and interesting read with a compelling narrative, but because of the short length not much happened that had me on the edge of my seat.

“Hard Times” Katherine Longshore (1934: Washington State)3.5/5 stars

Rosie “Curls” Marie Weaver is a girl from Nebraska that’s been living on the rails for 8 weeks and been accompanied by 12-year-old Billy for 7 of them.
On their way to hop a train towards the coast in search of a better opportunity they meet Lloyd, who may just help them with their luck.

I definitely enjoyed reading about Billy and Rosie together, he even made me tear up at one point. But Lloyd’s character I could have done without.

“City of Angels” Lindsay Smith (1945: Los Angeles, CA)3.5/5 stars

This follows two factory workers, Evie and Frankie, both aspiring to be in the movie industry. The former to be a screenwriter and the latter an aspiring actress.
They begin to fall for one another— but soon things begin to change when the men return from war.

“Pulse of the Panthers” Kekla Magoon (1967: California)4/5 stars

“It’s been a good life. Quiet. So quiet.”
“Not so quiet now,” I said. “But it’s only one more day.”
“And the day after that, and the day after that,” Granny said. “The tomorrows keep on coming.”

This follows Sandy and her journey towards unraveling her own family’s history when the Black Panthers hold a meeting on their farm.

Along the way she meets Bobby, a member of the Black Panthers, that opens up her eyes by openly talking about his worldview.
I really loved reading the interactions between Sandy and Bobby.

He peered into my bowl and frowned. The batter looked, at the moment, like a lumpy white soup. “That’s gonna be a thing?” he asked.
I gave him the look he deserved for that comment. “Haven’t you ever been in a kitchen before?”
He scratched his head. “I brung in some groceries for a girl one time.”
I couldn’t help but smile at that one.”
Me too.

“The Whole World Is Watching” Robin Talley (1968: Chicago, IL)3.5/5 stars

“PEACE NOW!” The shouting from the crowd has changed back. “PEACE NOW! PEACE NOW!”
I nod along with them. There’s something hypnotic about a good protest. Standing with dozens or hundreds or thousands of people who all want the same thing you do. Calling out for it together from the depths of your soul.”

This follows Jill’s journey with her girlfriend and friends caught up in the riots and police brutality of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
The horrors that happened during it were extremely hard to read about. But definitely a strong end to the anthology.

All in all, I’m really glad I picked this one up because the women featured in this anthology are incredible storytellers and exceptional writers.

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying A Tyranny of Petticoats, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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