For far too long, Beau Brummel's cravat has held a stranglehold on historical romance! Yes, we dip our toes in books set twenty or thirty years on either side of the Regency, and some even—daringly—dabble in medievals or Westerns, but when you think of Historical Romance, you tend to think of books set in that tiny sliver of a setting known as Regency England. But no more! With the successes of Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, and even Mad Men, and perhaps our march into the 21st century, readers are tentatively interested in romance novels filled with motorcars, electricity, telephones, short hemlines, and speakeasies. Granted, I do have a personal stake in this new trend, since I write 20th century-set romance novels <eg>, but I believe this setting is just as romantic as all of those books filled with Empire waists, scandalous waltzes, dandies, rum smugglers, and curricle races.
My love affair with the Edwardian Era was sparked by Jane Feather's Matchmaker's trilogy. Published back to back in 2004, the trilogy follows Constance, Prudence, and Chastity Duncan, daughters of a spendthrift viscount and a (deceased) suffragist. To resuscitate their waning income, they reinstate their mother's society newspaper and add a matchmaking service to go with it. Book one, The Bachelor List, opens in the midst of the suffragette movement, which was sparked when the Women's Social and Political Union moved their headquarters from Manchester to London. Ardent suffragist Constance Duncan meets her match in new MP and Cabinet Member, Max Ensor, whose views on votes for women are more than Neanderthal. Book two, The Bride Hunt, deals with the trouble their newspaper has caused for their father's dubious business associate, which leads Prudence to obtain the services of London's top barrister, Sir Gideon Malvern. In Book three, The Wedding Game, the youngest Duncan sister is hired to find a rich bride for Dr. Douglas Farrell, and ends up wanting him herself!
One wouldn't think the Great Depression a romantic era, but Emma Holly manages to meld the lavishness of Art Deco with the gangster era and dust bowls in her erotic paranormal FitzClare trilogy. Holly's distinctive world-building is never better than in Saving Midnight, Breaking Midnight, and Kissing Midnight. The linchpin of the trilogy is upyr Edmund FitzClare, who attempts to atone for his past by adopting three English children orphaned in WWI. Needless to say, his past rears its ugly head when power-hungry acolytes of his nemisis Nim Wei, wreak havoc on 1930s Europe and America. Each book has its own H/H, but the primary plot is woven throughout all three books, which all move at breakneck speed. A plus is that the books are HOT—Holly's skill with blending romance with erotica is definitely on display. Luckily, they're all on the market, so you can gulp them up at once.
Lastly, I point to WWII. Surprisingly, despite the iconic image this war has left on pop culture, with its boogie-woogie bugle boys, GIs, SOE spies, and whatnot, there haven't been too many authors who dared to tackle the setting. It was probably a given that “unusual historical” extraordinaire, Carrie Lofty, was up for the challenge. Her latest e-book release, His Very Own Girl, is definitely romance with a capital R. Lofty tells the story of a female ATA pilot and an American GI on the cusp of D-Day, and all of the fears, doubts, and danger of the period are expertly woven into the incredibly sexy and romantic relationship between Lulu and Joe. The best part about the setting is that Lulu is allowed to be sexually forward without seeming anachronistic! Lofty took me on an emotional joyride, and now I want more WWII romances from her and other authors.
Below, I've listed a mix of plain historical romance, erotic historical romance, some inspirational historicals, and even some time-travel, in hope that it will whet your appetite for more 20th century settings!
- Wedding of the Season, Scandal of the Year, and Trouble at the Wedding by Laura Lee Guhrke
- The Last Rake in London/Dauntsey Park by Nicola Cornick
- Homefront Hero by Allie Pleiter
- Home by Morning by Alexis Harrington
- Home by Nightfall by Alexis Harrington
- The Moonlight Mistress by Victoria Janssen
- Midnight in Your Arms by Morgan Kelly
- Gather the Bones by Alison Stuart
- It Stings So Sweet by Stephanie Draven
- The Widowed Bride by Elizabeth Lane
- Blood Moon Over Bengal by Morag McKendrick Pippin
- Harmony by Sienna Mynx
- Buttercup by Sienna Mynx
- Perfidia by Elspeth McKendrick
- Blood Moon Over Britain by Morag McKendrick Pippin
- A Distant Melody by Sarah Sundin
1950s Romances (yes, they do exist!)
- Devil at Midnight and Angel at Dawn (first book set in Medieval Era, second book hops ahead in time to Hollywood in the 1950s) by Emma Holly
- Sundial by Carrie Lofty
Evangeline Holland is a writer of historical romances, an amateur milliner, and a really great cook. When not writing or reading, you can find her blogging about the Edwardian era on her website, the aptly titled Edwardian Promenade.