Review: Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath

Thursday, February 2, 2017
Title: Rejected Princesses: Tales of History's Boldest Heroines, Hellions & Heretics
Author: Jason Porath
Genre: nonfiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 386
Source: ARC from edelweiss/publishers
Rating: 4.5/5

Blending the iconoclastic feminism of The Notorious RBG and the confident irreverence of Go the F**ck to Sleep, a brazen and empowering illustrated collection that celebrates inspirational badass women throughout history, based on the popular Tumblr blog.

Well-behaved women seldom make history. Good thing these women are far from well behaved . . .

Illustrated in a contemporary animation style, Rejected Princesses turns the ubiquitous "pretty pink princess" stereotype portrayed in movies, and on endless toys, books, and tutus on its head, paying homage instead to an awesome collection of strong, fierce, and yes, sometimes weird, women: warrior queens, soldiers, villains, spies, revolutionaries, and more who refused to behave and meekly accept their place.

An entertaining mix of biography, imagery, and humor written in a fresh, young, and riotous voice, this thoroughly researched exploration salutes these awesome women drawn from both historical and fantastical realms, including real life, literature, mythology, and folklore. Each profile features an eye-catching image of both heroic and villainous women in command from across history and around the world, from a princess-cum-pirate in fifth century Denmark, to a rebel preacher in 1630s Boston, to a bloodthirsty Hungarian countess, and a former prostitute who commanded a fleet of more than 70,000 men on China’s seas.

A popular weblog that turned into a richly-detailed illustrated book last year, Rejected Princesses is a far-reaching (mostly) nonfiction that intentionally searches out the stories of forgotten women from all over the world. The cartoon art for each woman is full of hidden meaning and clever allusions to the individual history being told. The author has a fresh voice and a light tone, so Rejected Princesses is often a fun mix of entertainment plus information. With so many stories, each ranging wildly in terms of maturity levels, and in amounts of violence, abuse, and self-harm, Porath spares no detail but gives plenty of warning for content.  

All kinds of women across the human spectrum (because this is a book that covers both the real and the myths) are covered in often just a few descriptive paragraphs or pages. From its diverse, multicultural pool of one hundred women researched and depicted, there were obviously some favorites to emerge by the book's all-too-soon end. There were the women whose lives I had known about shown in new detail or vividly rendered, and then there were the others that had previously escaped my knowledge but captured my attention. 

Khutulun: the warrior great-great granddaughter of Genghis Khan, who out-wrestled all potential suitors and gained a herd a horses doing so.
(also read: The Tiger Women by Stephanie Thornton)

Boudica: infamous Iceni warleader that burned Londinium to the ground, destroyed a Roman legion,
(also read: A Year of Ravens an anthology covering her rebellion by various authors, review here)

Theodora: the actress who became an Empress, fought for women's rights, loved by Justinian
(also read: The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton, review here)

Hatshepsut: badass female Pharaoh who reigned for 22 years. She was so prolific in her works that her memory survived determined attempts to erase it.
(also read: Daughter of the Gods by Stephanie Thornton, review here)

Tomyris: Widowed leader of a tribe of sometimes-cannibals who fought and beat Cyrus the Great (I accidentally typoed his name as Cryrus and that would be a fitting name after Tomyris was finished with him). Before the battle she uttered the line "Refuse [my offer] and I swear by the sun, sovereign of lord of the Massagetae, bloodthirsty as you are, I will give you your fill of blood!"
(sadly I have read no books about Tomyris, but I would very much like to one day!)

New, and deserving of full-length books:
Annie Jump Cannon -- deaf astronomer who created a star classification system AND personally identified 350,000 stars!
Olga of Kiev -- a legit Russian Christian saint who went on the warpath. She burned a town to the ground for revenge of her murdered husband. With pigeons.
Josefina "Joey" Guerrero -- the only leper ever admitted to the US -- because she was a goddamn war hero.
Shajar al-Durr --  female Muslim sultan who ruled in her own right and ransomed a French King (Louis IX) back to his own country after a failed Crusade.
Noor Inayat Khan -- a pacifistic Indian fighting for the British as a secret agent in WWII. She lasted 3x longer than the average radio operator, despite a lack of training or support.  

There were many more favorites in these pages but half the fun of reading Rejected Princesses is discovering what kind of tale is next in line. With options from all over history, literature, and folklore included, there is no shortage of stories to choose from and learn about. Where before women have largely been sanitized, vilified, or ignored, this nonfiction celebrates all kinds of women -- the saints and the villains, and even the curious mixes of both (see Olga above). It also includes women with all sorts of gender identity and/or sexual orientation. The options range from rebels to spies to journalists to suffragists to rascals; Jason Porath has found a true wealth of fascinating, unexplored history to recount and illustrate.

If you were a fan of Linda Rodriquez McRobbie's nonfiction Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories From History Without the Fairytale Endings (and you should be! -- read Danielle's review here for why) then Rejected Princesses is going to be your next favorite read.


  1. LOVE how this sounds amazing. I'm definitely going to pick this one up, plus it's nice to find another fan of Stephanie Thorntons work! She's amazing at bringing strong women from the past back to life.

    1. You should. It's so fascinating and full of a lot of interesting women. I can't wait for Stephanie Thornton's next -- I hope she picks a woman from this collection to use for a main character! lol

  2. I NEED THIS BOOK! I love learning about "new" figures and new stories about old favorites and this sounds like a really interesting mix. I'm so glad it lived up to its expectations!

    1. YOU DO. I thought of you, Dani, and Gilly a lot when reading this. So many awesome stories in here that each of you would appreciate. This is very much a Morgan book.

  3. Wow, this sounds FASCINATING! I also read a book about Theodora, but the one by Stella Duffy. She was quite an interesting character. Definitely going to have to check this out now.

    1. It really is a cool collection of stories.

      And I have also read Stella Duffy's histfic about Theodora -- way way back in like 2012? If you enjoyed that one, definitely try Stephanie Thornton -- she's way better.


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