She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, By Helen Castor

Damsels who definitely didn't need rescuing

In She-Wolves, Helen Castor celebrates those women who defied convention to wield power in medieval England: Matilda, the irrepressible princess who came close to snatching the throne in 1135; Eleanor of Aquitaine, the French queen who married Henry II, only to lead a rebellion against the English crown; and Henry VI's wife Margaret of Anjou, described by Shakespeare as having a "tiger's heart wrapp'd in a woman's hide" (a backhanded compliment).

Combining careful scholarship with a novelist's eye for detail, Castor offers a fresh perspective and an engaging narrative that barrels along. Few books actually merit that hoary critical commonplace "unputdownable", but this is certainly one of them.