I love the Napoleonic Wars. Or rather, I love reading about the Napoleonic Wars…I wouldn’t have wanted to live in that turbulent time, even though it does give plenty of scope for fictional conflict. There are many, many novels set in the Regency period featuring soldiers who served in the Napoleonic Wars. After considerable pondering, here are my five favorite romance novels taking place in that period, all of them involving characters who participated in the wars in some way. I especially love when an author explores aspects of the period that are less common in romance novels.
Mary Balogh, Slightly Tempted: this is the fourth novel in Balogh’s Bedwyn series, but it can be read on its own. The first book in this series, Slightly Married, involves a former soldier as well as children orphaned by the war, and the fifth, Slightly Sinful, features a diplomat injured at Waterloo; while those are excellent novels, I chose Slightly Tempted because the sheltered young heroine, Morgan, is shown right in the midst of the war, and I liked seeing events from a woman’s point of view. She travels to Brussels shortly before Waterloo, and stays there through the chaos that follows, helping the wounded as she searches in vain for her brother, who went missing in the battle. The events leading up to the battle are depicted with dense emotional detail, particularly how hard it was for the townspeople to deal with lack of information. It’s an emotionally engaging picture of how it must have felt to live in the midst of such a conflict when accurate, current news is almost impossible to come by. Morgan and the hero, the bitter Gervase, are initially at odds but become friends and then lovers amid a much greater conflict.
Tracy Grant's Shores of Desire, takes place in the months before and after Waterloo. I chose this novel because the hero, Robert Lescaut, is an officer with the French army rather than English, something that’s rare in romance (but I wish it wasn’t!). He pretends to be a British soldier while searching Scotland for the man who murdered his wife. There he meets Emma, the heroine, and though they are attracted both emotionally and sexually, he cannot tell her the truth about his identity. The tension resulting from Robert’s deception is one of the best things about the story. Later, they travel to both Brussels and Paris, mingling the events of the war with the mystery plot.
Suzanne Enoch, England’s Perfect Hero: this book is part of the “Lessons in Love” series, but is much darker in tone. The heroine, Lucinda, is looking for a man who is not emotionally complicated. But she falls for Robert Carroway, who is a recluse in his brother’s house. The public was told Robert is a wounded hero of Waterloo, but in fact he was imprisoned and tortured for seven months, and did not take part in the famous battle at all. Society considers him “damaged goods.” Yes, he is emotionally complicated! The strongest part of the novel, to me, is how Robert’s post-traumatic experiences are vividly portrayed, as are Lucinda’s attempts to connect with him, which gradually help to draw him out of his seclusion.
Nita Abrams, A Question of Honor: this novel is first in Abrams’ excellent series about a family of Anglo-Jewish bankers and couriers/spies (based on the Rothschilds). The heroine, Rachel, has been trained as a spy from childhood, and uses some of her abilities in the course of the plot. The hero, Richard, is an army engineer; though not really suited for the job, he must do some spying that involves his expertise, and is wounded in the process. It’s only after he’s wounded that he meets Rachel, who is pretending to be something she isn’t and exercising her skills. The main conflict in this novel is not so much the war with Napoleon, but the conflict between Rachel and Richard as they learn to trust each other, and between the two of them and society, which is opposed to interfaith marriage.
Carla Kelly, The Wedding Journey: Kelly often writes about soldiers and doctors in the Napoleonic period; her current series focuses on naval officers. But this novel is a particular favorite of mine because it’s a great and realistic adventure story. The hero, Jesse, is an army surgeon serving with Wellington. He’s been in love with the heroine, Nell, for years, but doesn’t dare approach her until she needs protection, and he offers her marriage. Nell thinks Jesse married her out of pity; Jesse is too shy to tell her about his love for her. Shortly afterward, they are separated from the army during a retreat. Their wedding journey is a harrowing, grinding slog across Portugal with only two army privates for protection. Most of the story is from Jesse’s point of view, as he is forced to uncover his own courage and leadership skills amid a series of difficult moral decisions, as Nell gradually discovers that she is in love with the man he’s become. It’s an intense, absorbing book, and one of my favorites.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.