The best historical women’s fiction about the San Francisco 1906 earthquake

The Books I Picked & Why

A Splendid Ruin

By Megan Chance

Book cover of A Splendid Ruin

Why this book?

Lots of books focus on the 1906 earthquake itself, but I like that in this one the quake is almost ancillary. The story is about a young penniless woman who comes to live with a wealthy aunt in San Francisco. She experiences betrayal, madness, and murder, then is locked away from the world. The earthquake actually frees her. She meets a journalist who offers to help her get revenge and claim what’s hers. I enjoyed the fresh take on the 1906 quake and loved the characters. The cover is gorgeous, too!

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A Race to Splendor

By Ciji Ware

Book cover of A Race to Splendor

Why this book?

After the earthquake, people had to rebuild. This one features a female architect who trained under Julia Morgan, rebuilding a luxury hotel that once belonged to her family. The tension rises she competes with a male architect to have the first finished hotel. This book is filled with great descriptions of the setting and events surrounding the quake. It is filled with people reimagining themselves and their city after tragedy and loss.

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By Carol Edgarian

Book cover of Vera

Why this book?

The young woman in this story is fifteen on the morning of the quake. She is the illegitimate daughter of a bordello madam who is trying to live a quiet life with the family paid to raise her. The quake causes her two worlds to collide as she collaborates with a former rival to create a new life. Although Vera is young, she’s savvy and determined to care for her younger sister. I loved the glimpse this novel gave into San Francisco’s seamier side, Chinatown, and wild politics as well as the opulent side of Enrico Caruso and Alma Spreckels.

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The Nature of Fragile Things

By Susan Meissner

Book cover of The Nature of Fragile Things

Why this book?

Sophie emigrates from Ireland and answers an ad from a widower in San Francisco who wants a bride. The novel is told in first person, which is somewhat unusual for historical fiction (although my own book is done that way). This point of view gives immediacy to the horror of the earthquake, which entangles Sophie’s life with that of a pregnant girl and a woman in the Southwest, creating a web of dark secrets and lies. I enjoyed this book because it told a greater tale of women’s solidarity, and what a woman will do to protect her children. 

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Outrun the Moon

By Stacey Lee

Book cover of Outrun the Moon

Why this book?

Another young heroine, fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong, is the main character in this book. Determined to get out of Chinatown’s poverty, she schemes her way into an exclusive school for white girls. The earthquake destroys Mercy’s home and her school. That’s when she jumps into action to help instead of simpering with the heiresses she goes to school with. I love characters with spunk, and Mercy has that. I enjoyed the snippets of Chinese culture woven into this one, especially the superstitions, puns, and wisdom from her parents that make Mercy who she is.

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