My love affair with the novella began when as an undergrad I discovered I much preferred “Bartleby the Scrivener” to Moby Dick and “The Dead” to Ulysses. Part of the attraction of the literary novellas was the length, of course, but as I branched out into novellas in romance fiction, I found other advantages. Not only could I read a complete novella while waiting for soccer practice to end or while my students were doing their department-mandated in-class writing, but I could also try new writers with a minimum investment of time. I reserved a special shelf for keeper anthologies and expanded my auto-buy list with authors I first fell in love with through novellas.
The only problem was that novellas in historical romance tended to be seasonal because anthologies usually centered on a holiday theme, most often Christmas but sometimes Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day or June weddings. Imagine my delight when the digital revolution led to a renaissance of historical romance novellas. Old favorites were being reissued in digital format, and new ones were being offered as ereads only. I could choose from novellas that were prequels to established series or introductions to upcoming series, novellas that gave me the story complete with HEA of a secondary character, novellas that served as a snack to tide me over while waiting for a new novel from a favorite author. My Kindle was filling up with novellas from Miranda Neville, Meredith Duran, Kate Noble, Grace Burrowes, and others. Heaven!
Soon I had so many novellas that I was faced with a difficult decision. Which of my many cherished romance fiction novellas would I archive and which would remain on my ereader to be reread as I waited in the doctor’s office or in an endless supermarket checkout line? I am still in the process of making choices, but these are the six novellas that I’ll never delete, the ones I reread again and again. (I consider Christmas novellas a category of their own. That explains the absence of Mary Balogh, Mary Jo Putney, and Carla Kelly from this list.)
6. “A Tale of Two Sisters,” Julia Quinn
Quite often in novels I love, there are secondary characters for whose stories I long. I never give up hope because authors sometimes write these stories many years after the character is introduced. Such was the case with Ned Blydon, cousin to the heroine of Julia Quinn’s first book Splendid (1995) and a character as well in her next two books Dancing at Midnight (1995) and Minx (1996). Finally in Where’s My Hero? (2003), an anthology devoted to the HEAs of characters connected to the authors’ earlier books, Quinn gave readers Ned’s story. And what a delight it is to see charming rake Ned fall for the wonderful Charlotte Thornton, three days before he’s due to marry her sister . Some truly terrible poetry adds to the fun.
The novella is only available as part of the anthology, but since the anthology also includes another favorite novella—“Against the Odds” by Lisa Kleypas, which is the story of Dr. Jake Linley from Someone to Watch Over Me and Lydia Craven, daughter of Sara and Derek Craven from Dreaming of You—I don’t mind.
5. “From This Moment On,” Candice Hern
I’m a fan of Candice Hern’s under-appreciated books, and I particularly enjoy her Merry Widows series. Wilhelmina, Dowager Duchess of Hertford, is one of the Merry Widows. Before she was a widow or a duchess, she was a notorious courtesan. Even further back, she was the beautiful daughter of a blacksmith in a Cornish fishing village in love with Sam Pellow, a fisherman. Circumstances and choices take them in different directions until long years later they are unexpectedly reunited in an inn and discover that broken hearts and other loves have not destroyed their feelings for one another. The reunion story is my favorite trope, and this is a rare example of mature adults shaped by experience finding a second chance at love, one of those thisclose to perfect gems.
As with the Quinn novella, this one is available only in the anthology, but since it includes a novella by one of the queens of the form, Mary Balogh (along with novellas by Stephanie Laurens and Jacquie D’Alessandro), it’s another bonus buy.
4. “The Governess Affair,” Courtney Milan
Courtney Milan has proven herself one of the genre’s most gifted novella writers. There’s not a bad one among the many she has written, but even among stellar examples of the form, “The Governess Affair” is special. It is a prequel to Milan’s Brothers Sinister series. Once you know the heroine is a former governess ruined by a duke who thinks such women are his to use and discard with or without their consent and the hero, a man focused on becoming the “richest coal miner’s son in all of England,” is an employee of the duke, you know this is an extraordinary story. It becomes more so as Serena Barton demands compensation and Hugo Marshall finds an obsession greater that the ambition that has consumed him. Subtle, powerful, compelling, unforgettable—these are just some of the adjectives that describe this story. All of Milan’s novellas are available in digital format.
3. “Seduced by a Pirate,” Eloisa James
At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum from Milan’s novella, but equally wonderful, is this jewel by Eloisa James. I smiled from the opening sentence to the closing one. A spinoff from James’s 2012 fairy tale novel, The Ugly Duchess, this novella features Griffin Barry, who return home after spending almost half his life at sea, most of it as pirate captain of the feared Flying Poppy, misnamed for the wife he left behind somewhere near Bath when he jumped out a window on his wedding night. Big, bronzed, and dangerously male, with a healthy disregard for nonessentials, a killer sense of humor, and an innate understanding of children, Griffin returns with a limp, a blue poppy tattoo on one cheek, and a pardon from a grateful king who has declared him a privateer. Phoebe, his wife, intelligent, sensible, and loving, proves a perfect match for this iconoclastic male. Having created a satisfying life for herself in his absence, she has a number of surprises for him. “Seduced by a Pirate” is funny, tender, and just plain fun. Released first as an e-novella, it is also available in print in As You Wish, the print version of the serial novel With This Kiss.
2. “The Demon’s Mistress,” Jo Beverley
George Vandieman returns home after Waterloo to find his family dead and the estate he inherited in ruins. His efforts to improve his fortune have left him deeply in debt, and he, drunk and desperate, believes his only recourse is suicide. He has the pistol to his head when Maria Celestin, the Golden Lily, bursts into his room and begs him to listen to her proposition. The childless widow of a wealthy merchant, Maria has the means to indulge her wishes, and what she wants from Van is the promise that for six weeks he will accompany her to social events as her affianced husband who adores her. If he agrees, she will pay him ten thousand pounds up front and another ten thousand at the successful end of their temporary relationship. The money is enough to clear Van’s debts and give him a new start. He accepts, albeit filled with questions, but Maria’s reasons are her own.
What follows is one of the best older woman-younger man tales ever written and what is arguably Jo Beverley’s steamiest romance.
Appearing first in the anthology In Praise of Younger Men (2001), the novella was reissued along with “The Dragon’s Bride” and “The Devil’s Heiress” (all part of Beverley’s Rogues world) in Three Heroes, informally known as the books of the Three Georges, (2004). It is available digitally in Three Heroes and as a single e-novella.
1. “The Mad Earl’s Bride,” Loretta Chase
Lord of Scoundrels is one of my all-time favorite historical romance novels, and I love The Last Hellion almost as much. “The Mad Earl’s Bride,” connected to these novels and chronologically falling between them, ranks with them as examples of stories of which I never tire. Some novellas seem too long, as if they would have worked better as short stories. Some seem unfinished as if they should have been lengthened into full novels. “The Mad Earl’s Bride” is perfect; the story is fully developed and complete as it is written.
Dorian Camoys, Earl of Rawnsley, is convinced that his death from the brain disease that drove his mother into madness before it destroyed her is imminent. Terrified of ending his days restrained like a wild animal, he retreats to his home in Dartmoor. Gwendolyn Adams, like Jessica Trent of Lord of Scoundrels, is a worthy granddaughter of Genevieve, dowager Viscountess Pembury. No beauty, Gwen is a pragmatic, independent woman with a knowledge of medicine that makes her the equal of many trained doctor and a dream of building a hospital to treat those who can’t afford medical care. When her grandmother’s fiancé, a distant relative of Dorian’s, suggests Gwen marry the new Earl of Rawnsley and bear him a son to preserve the Camoys family line, Gwen sees a possibility for acquiring the wealth and influence to realize her dream. Dorian is reluctant, but after a year of self-imposed celibacy, he sees the appeal of marriage to the red-haired witch who stirs his lust and his curiosity. Both Dorian and Gwen get much more from their marriage than they expected, and the reader gets the joy of seeing a passionate, loving relationship develop with dialogue that only Chase can write and a fascinating look at early 19th-century medical practices. These are engaging characters who move the reader to laughter and to tears. No matter how many times I read this novella, it is always fresh and always powerful.
It first appeared in the anthology Three Weddings and a Kiss (1995) and was later reprinted in another anthology Three Times a Bride (2010). Both anthologies are available in digital format, and on June 4, 2013, “The Mad Earl’s Bride” will be available as a single story from Avon Impulse for a mere $1.99.
Loretta Chase may have given me my all-time favorite historical romance novella, but there is always something new on the horizon that makes my novella-loving heart beat faster. I can’t wait to read “The Perks of Being a Beauty,” a June 18 release from Manda Collins that features Amelia Snow, the mean girl from Collins’s Ugly Ducklings trilogy. I love a redeemed heroine tale. And on July 15, Mary Balogh will give readers “The Suitor,” an e-novella linked to her current Survivors’ Club series. Christmas books will begin to be released in October, I’m sure there will be some new novellas then. Ah, anticipation!
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.