Traditional Regencies*. Just the phrase makes me smile. It evokes images of carriage rides through Hyde Park at the Fashionable Hour, weak lemonade at Almack's, wafer-thin ham served at Vauxhall, Corinthians making elegant legs in the direction of Innocent Misses, Prinny fat jokes, and the stylish Beau Brummell.
Traditional Regencies portray a world of manners and restraint, where the use of one's Christian name signals intimacy and the touch of a hand can be as sensual as any graphic love scene. I miss Traditional Regencies, but am grateful to have a bookcase groaning with hundreds of them to take them down, lovingly stroke the silly covers, and escape into a different, but complete, universe.
I love so many of these books and authors (see groaning bookshelves reference above) that any attempt to list my favorites is doomed to failure. I started out thinking of a Top Ten. Then knew I'd better narrow it down to a Top Five, or we'd be here all day. And then, I hit on a theory (explained below) that narrowed the list to Three. Here they are, a representative book from each. Feel free to argue with me. I'm bound to do so as well.
Mary Balogh: The Obedient Bride (1989)
Mary Balogh is the Queen of Trads and everyone's favorite – with good reason. Though she had been writing historicals for decades, even while still writing Trads, she remains the Gold Standard. I have too many favorite books, but today it is The Obedient Bride. It has many of the staples of a Trad: a marriage of convenience, the Innocent Miss, the Worldly Peer, but Balogh got away with adding what were verboten topics in Trads: sex and infidelity. Our Heroine's reaction to the infidelity will make you stand up and cheer, and the sex; well, Balogh is one of the best at using sex to track a relationship. When our Hero goes from “doing his duty” to “making love,” it is an incredibly moving and sensual scene. Fabulous stuff.
Carla Kelly: Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand (1994)
Everyone's second favorite Trad author is Carla Kelly, which sometimes strikes me as odd, for she eschews all those Regency staples I listed above. Her books rarely revolve around the London Season, her heroes and heroines are rarely of the aristocracy, and there is an earthy quality to her writing that flies in the face of the ton's well-manicured lawns. And yet, she is as much of a Trad superstar as Mary Balogh, she just usually portrays a different side of the Regency. Like Balogh, I vacillate as to my favorite Kelly, but the one I've reread most often is Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand. The title of the book alone is almost a synopsis for any of Kelly's books. She writes about real, relatable people, dealing with real problems and who just get on with it, without whining or blaming others. They play the hand they've been dealt with grace and dignity, humor and love. What is better than that?
Nancy Butler: The Ramshackle Suitor (2000)
I believe that any choice for favorite Trad author after the previous two is entirely subjective and would be willing to bet that no one's Number Three will be the same. It took me a long time to settle on Nancy Butler (though part of me is screaming, what about Barbara Metzger? Edith Layton? Emma Jensen?), but, I will try to make a case for her. Her books offer a good blend of both Balogh- and Kelly-type Trads; there is humor and angst, lords and ladies, self-made men and governesses. Not that Butler is the only Trad author capable of this; indeed, both Balogh and Kelly stray, with great results, from their archetype romance, but I do enjoy Butler's books. My favorite is The Ramshackle Suitor. It has a nice, young, Beta hero who falls hard and fast for the older, careworn heroine and proceeds to who wear her down with charm and kindness. It also includes one of the sweetest marriage proposals I've ever read.
So, am I right in my supposition that Balogh and Kelly are most readers' #1 and 2? Who are your favorite Trad authors? Is it possible to cull your list down to three? And which books would you recommend?
*Wikipedia says: Works in the tradition of Georgette Heyer, with an emphasis on the primary romance plot, would be traditional.
Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com