What first comes to mind at the mention of the term, “frontier romance?” The endless expanse of wildflower meadows and wagon trains filled with hopeful homesteaders on their way to a heartwarming happily ever after of an inspirational romance like Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly? A young widow and widower finding that love can bloom—again—even in the most unlikely of places? That’d fit. Or how about a cattle drive, staffed by the desperate and broken in body and spirit, perhaps along the lines of Maggie Osborne’s The Best Man? Also a perfect fit.
Maybe it’s the mix of people who might never have had a chance to meet, much less make a life together, if they weren’t headed for the very edges of the known world. From sweet to erotic, frontier romances truly have something for everyone, and the uncertainty of leaving behind all that is familiar for the chance at something better strikes a universal chord. This theme is a classic fit for westerns, to be sure, but also lends itself beautifully to other settings.
Jeannie Lin’s novella, An Illicit Temptation, takes full advantage of beloved frontier tropes, with an important difference—it’s set in Tang Dynasty China. Born on the wrong side of the blanket, Dao lived as a servant in the same palace where her half brother reaped the rewards of their father’s station. None of which prepared her for a trek to the Khitan frontier in Inner Mongolia as a peace bride, alongside her escort, Kwan-Li, a soldier with a secret identity of his own. There’s hot tent loving, runaway horses, and it’s the rigors of the journey that prove Dao’s promotion to princess isn’t in name only, but spirit as well.
Defiant by Pamela Clare takes readers to the original American frontier, with Connor, an exiled Highland hero compelled to fight for the British crown, and Sarah, an English heroine whose bone-deep passion for music sparked a scandal that earned her a one way trip to the wilds of New York. Cue culture clash with the natives, creative interpreting between two languages, one sham wedding with one real wedding nigh…with a witness. All of which is only the first step in getting Sarah back to civilization, but will she really want to go?
That’s the big question in frontier romances. Once the characters have left the homes they knew that far behind, been through such arduous trials for physical and emotional survival, would they be able to go back to the people they were before? I’ve always found this sort of character development fascinating, and if it’s in a setting not often used, all the better.
One could argue that a wide array of frontier settings is in itself a frontier to be explored. In Almost a Scandal, by Elizabeth Essex, heroine Sally braves a frontier not of land but of profession and identity when she embarks upon a naval career in male disguise. Or how about Joanna Maitland’s His Cavalry Lady, where the heroine’s greatest wish is to serve openly in the military as a female?
Frontier romances, whatever the venue, give the characters a chance to grow and change in profound and unexpected ways. What frontiers would you like to see explored in romance fiction?
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.