I first discovered Sabrina Jeffries in the checkout line at a Meijer store in Michigan over a decade ago. Seduced by the purple cover of a book that promised mystery, adventure and a happy ending, and grateful that the clinch cover art had been relegated to the back, The Dangerous Lord made it into my grocery cart. At home I let the groceries spoil on the counter while I devoured the book instead of foodstuffs.
I’d gotten hooked on romances during a six-month stay in France, where the only free things to read in English were some abandoned romance novels and a couple of Stephen King books that had been torn in half. Instead of learning French, I spent my time discovering that Jayne Ann Krentz and Betina Krahn were crack for English majors: fast and fun, leaving you wanting more as soon as the high wore off. It was only a matter of time before I started spending my textbook money on romances.
Sabrina Jeffries has been dubbed the “Queen of the Sexy Regency Romance,” and for good reason. Her light-hearted, rom-com style Regency romances have earned her a loyal following of readers and put her on the USA Today and The New York Times bestseller lists, but success didn’t come overnight.
Why did such a talented author have such a hard time at first, and how did she turn things around? Jeffries chalks it up to trying to be “different.”
Her first foray into romantic fiction started under the pseudonym Deborah Martin. The books were well received critically, but weren’t commercially successful. Coming from an academic background, she kept trying to find the unusual angle, setting her novels in exotic locales and unusual time periods like 18th century Wales, Restoration Georgia, and Siam.
After a little heart-to-heart with writing partner Rexanne Becnel, Jeffries started over with a new pseudonym and a new focus on lighthearted Regencies. Jeffries’s ability to combine chick-lit-quick dialogue with careful historical research and a fast-paced plotline has brought more commercial success.
Her first series written as Sabrina Jeffries, the Lord series (The Pirate Lord, The Forbidden Lord, and The Dangerous Lord, the third of which sneaked into my grocery basket many years ago and has since received a makeover was both commercially and critically well-received. The Pirate Lord is a classic of romance fiction, featuring a mass kidnapping that goes ever so slightly awry. All three books in the Lord series are being reissued. Back in the day I spent hours trolling every used bookstore in three states, to track those babies down, so thanks be to the glory of Amazon.com and e-readers.
Today, Jeffries is riding a wave of success with her School of Heiresses and Hellions series. Like her moniker, Audrey Hepburn in the film Sabrina, the books are long on charm. Her heroines are typically feisty and compassionate, often standing up to their heroes on principle.
Personally, I think the feistier the better. One of my favorite Jeffries characters is Christabel from One Night with a Prince, who nearly puts a bullet in the hero—with a smile, of course. Even when she writes bad girls (or boys), Sabrina’s characters retain a core goodness that makes them relatable and likable. That is what makes her more unconventional characters so compelling to read: even when they’re bad, they’re not bad to the bone. It makes their transformations into likable characters that much more believable.
Lately, the romance market’s appetite for unusual settings and non-Regency periods seems to have opened up with the popularity of Stephanie Laurens’s Black Cobra series, set in India, Eloisa James’s spectacularly successful Georgian-and-earlier period romances, and Lauren Willig’s foray into British-occupied India. Pocket Books noticed, and will be reissuing four of Jeffries’ Deborah Martin books in 2013. For those of us whose noses wrinkle at the inevitable musty scent of decade-plus paperbacks, this is fantastic news as those books are more densely historical than Jeffries’ more recent books and well worth re-reading.
In the meantime, expect more fast-paced romantic fun with To Wed a Wild Lord, out in November.
Carrie Netzer Wajda is an independent researcher and freelance writer in New York, and can be found at writetocarrie.com. A devotee of romance and mystery fiction, she someday hopes to actually finish one of the 182 gazillion “first books” she has started writing in her lifetime, and maybe even publish it. In the meantime, she loves blogging about her favorite authors.