Angsty romances aren’t for everyone, but stories where the hero and heroine really have to earn their happily ever after are among my favorites. There’s a certain catharsis in following a pair of star-crossed lovers to hell and back. The romance genre guarantees that no matter what obstacles may stand in the way, our hero and heroine will triumph over war, treachery, disapproving family members, class differences or any other slings and arrows life or the author hurls their way.
The way I see it, the lower the valleys, the higher the mountaintops, and every midnight has a dawn. While a romance novel does have the promise that all will be well in the end, the harder it is to figure out exactly how that’s going to happen can keep a reader turning pages long into the night. As long as we have the happily ever after at the end, it can be well worth chewed fingernails and damp handkerchiefs.
Need proof? Try one of my favorite several-hanky reads:
Karen Ranney, Tapestry
The Angst: Ah, the classic teenage pining for a handsome older neighbor…who goes off to war. Then comes back, so severely disfigured and engulfed in despair that he wears a mask when he must be seen by others. Laura’s love for Alex still burns bright, and enters his household as a servant so that she might bring him back from the brink of death—at his own hand. Because of the loss of one eye, as well as all the time that’s passed, Alex doesn’t recognize Laura. Though strongly attracted to her, he is convinced he is a monster, unworthy of love. Laura, needless to say, disagrees.
Penelope Williamson, The Passions of Emma
The Angst: Not only do we have a class difference between the artistic Emma, the daughter of a wealthy mill owner in 1890s Rhode Island and Irish immigrant Shay, but the third part of this love story, Shay’s wife, Bria, who becomes Emma’s dearest friend. Shay and Emma both love Bria, whose fate is all too realistic for a woman of her class in that time, and the pain they both share in her loss is palpable. Emma’s family commits her to an asylum due to her unsuitable passions, and Shay struggles with the burdens of responsibility to his children and his homeland, but a love that can take such slings and arrows will not be denied its triumph.
Judith James, Broken Wing
The Angst: The key word here is “broken.” When we first meet Gabriel, he is a prostitute who knows everything about sex and nothing about love, and therein lays his journey. Gabriel isn’t merely broken, but shattered. He expects abuse, but refuses to allow his own fate to befall another boy, Jamie an English boy far from home. When Jamie’s sister, Sarah, comes to reclaim him, she sees the potential for good in Gabriel. The achingly tentative friendship that smolders into a deep and lasting love travels a long and rocky road, their separation a stab to the gut that makes their reunion all the more glorious.
Charlotte Featherstone, Addicted
The Angst: Lindsay and Anais have been close friends from childhood, but Lindsay has another love, opium. Though Lindsay and Anais confess—and consummate—their love, opium is a jealous mistress, clouding Lindsay’s judgment so that he believes another woman is Anais. The real Anais catches the pair in an intimate moment and, heartbroken, turns to another man. Lindsay allows the opium to overtake him, because when he is in its fog, he can imagine Anais has come back to him. Soon enough, he finds that the drug is no substitute for real love, and he returns, determined to prove himself worthy, but of course it’s not that easy. There’s a fire, a secret baby, Anais’ truly horrible mother, and the sweet, painful yearning that plays off the Victorian setting to absolute perfection.
LaVyrle Spencer, November of the Heart
The Angst: In late nineteenth century Minnesota, kitchen servant Jens comes from a long line of boat builders and knows he can design the perfect craft for the regatta wealthy Lorna’s father has vowed to win by any means necessary. Lorna finds herself impossibly drawn to Jens’ bold vision, and the two, who should never have conversed, become lovers. This does not go over well with Lorna’s family when they find out, and the lovers are wrenched apart. This is a romance novel, however, and Lorna finds within herself the boldness she needs to stand up and fight for Jens and their family.
Anna Campbell, Untouched: Gaslighted Regency hero held captive on an isolated estate, and the only book where I ever had to email the author to make sure the dog was okay. He was.
Meredith Duran, Duke of Shadows: Hero and heroine become separated during India’s Sepoy rebellion, then stumble upon each other years later in a glittering ballroom. Plus heroine paints gory pictures to deal with her post-traumatic stress disorder.
What makes a great angsty historical for you?
Anna C. Bowling considers writing historical romance the best way to travel through time and make the voices in her head pay rent. She welcomes visitors to her blog, Typing with Wet Nails and to follow her at Twitter.