Tossed around by The Tide of Life, Emily Kennedy somehow manages never to go utterly loopy, because she's a true survivor. At the start of the story she's a humble housekeeper whose kindly employer marries her, which is good. Then he suddenly dies, which is bad. Then she's cast out into the cruel world and into the clutches of handsome-but-ruthless farmer Larry Birch and his nasty wife Rona. Which is really, really bad. But Emily is gutsy enough to get on with things.
When Rona dies and Birch and Emily become an item, he just uses her as a make-do mistress, eventually dumping her to marry a wealthier woman. His breakup letter - yes, he dumps her by letter - also helpfully mentions which of the furniture she gets to keep. So what does Emily do? She drags all the furniture outside and sets it alight in a massive bonfire of vengeance, before telling the shocked Birch: "If I'm any judge, your new wife will give you as much hell as the last one and it'll still be less than you deserve." Applause.
There are certain things which nice young English ladies just don't do in 1915, and near the top of the list is marrying an African sailor out of the blue and bringing him home to meet the viciously racist in-laws. In Colour Blind, Bridget Paterson does just that - and the wonderful thing is how utterly unapologetic she is about it.
A lesser person would have been shy and sheepish in the face of her family's disbelief, but not Bridget: she proudly presents Jimmy to her family and community and just expects them to accept it, despite everyone constantly spluttering and scoffing at his skin colour. Bridget's defiance never falters, even when her brutal, bigoted brother tries to make her lose her baby. That's how strong she is, and we love her for it.
Imagine being orphaned in your teens and left in charge of a brood of younger siblings, with no money and no prospects and nowhere to go. That's Cissie Brodie's predicament at the start of The Dwelling Place, and the incredible thing is how unfazed she is by it all. "Plucky" isn't the word - she's almost superhuman in her ability to just get on with things, choosing to raise her family in a dank cave rather than submit to the horrors of the workhouse.
Clever, fiery and fiercely independent, she overcomes every trauma that comes her way - including being assaulted by a foppish aristocrat and his witch-like sister. It's no wonder that local carpenter Matthew falls madly in love with her, although Cissie doesn't ever gush over him gratefully. She follows her own instincts to the very end.
The 19th Century wasn't exactly renowned for equality in the workplace. And, in The Gambling Man, the young businesswoman Charlotte Kean is routinely regarded as a plain, matronly killjoy by the blokes all around her. But she doesn't falter in her duties for a moment, taking over her family firm when her father dies, and showing a will of steel when it comes to putting people in line and making the money flow in.
The great thing is, none of this comes at the expense of her own personality and passions. She doesn't need to shove her emotions into a locked box to make it in a "man's world", and even finds the time to have a rather lovely romance with her underling Rory Connor. It's just a pity about his apparently dead wife coming back on the scene. That's the kind of turn up that can really put a dampener on things...