One thing I love about the romance genre is the amount of variety. I can literally go from reading a book featuring a shape-shifting vampire angel to a contemporary action-adventure story featuring a Navy SEAL. That being said, the Old Gray Lady of the genre, the reason the genre as we know it exists today, is because of historical romance.
Over the years, readers have delighted in romantic sagas that spanned generations and continents, to more precisely-focused stories that rarely stray out of the Regency-era ballroom. Historicals have ebbed and flowed, come and gone, but have always remained a steady presence in the genre. It’s why I love historicals so much, and why I get frustrated when I read theories and impending predications that the subgenre is on its last legs.
I don’t believe that, and nothing anybody says is going to sway me otherwise. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think that historicals couldn’t do with a little renovation project; the foundation is still solid, but nobody wants to live in a house with an outdated kitchen, shag carpeting and not enough closet space. So just like any home improvement project, I start with a wish list. I kick the tires, look at samples, and dream of what could be. What’s on my historical romance wish list? Let me give you the starter kit:
The big one for me is that it’s time to acknowledge the fact that the 20th century is historical. I would start sacrificing small animals if I thought it would lead to more Edwardian-set (1901-1910) stories, if only because of how fascinating that time period is in regards to women’s history. During this time period, Britain was imprisoning radical suffragettes, and in turn they were participating in hunger strikes, which naturally led to force feedings. It would take a skilled author, but how fascinating would it be to read a story featuring a radical suffragette, released from prison, haunted by her experiences, who falls in love with a dashing hero, much to her shock, as well as the shock of her comrades? And that’s just one possibility for an era that saw rapid industrialization and various political stirrings that would ultimately lead to war.
Books: In the Arms of the Heiress by Maggie Robinson, A Midnight Clear by Kristi Astor, The Last Rake In London / Dauntsey Park by Nicola Cornick
Americans don’t have the same kind of baggage surrounding World War I (1914-1918) as our European counterparts, which is why I suspect some readers are squeamish about the era. It was, after all, the first modern war. There was mass devastation and destruction. A whole generation of young men dead or still alive, but really messed up. While that could be seen as depressing for some, I see it as a potential for angst. Hey, if Regency heroes fighting Napoleon can be romance heroes with badass scars and tragic post-traumatic stress, what’s stopping the boys of World War I? Also, World War I saw women mobilize in unprecedented numbers—as part of the civilian work force, nurses, and wartime industries. War may be Hell, but from a historical standpoint it certainly had a way of pushing women towards more independence.
Books: Saving the Rifleman & Enticing the Spymaster by Julie Rowe, Under Her Uniform by Victoria Janssen (short story)
Speaking of independence, America during the 1920s is ripe with possibilities for romance heroines. Thanks to the automobile, economic prosperity, and one of the stupidest laws in history, for the first time we had an honest-to-goodness youth culture. The fashions (Chanel!), the music (jazz!), young people were now marketed to, exploited, and something for the Victorian Old Guard to tut-tut disapprovingly about at dinner parties. Romance readers love their bad boys, and what’s badder than a moonshiner running bootleg liquor in the back of his souped-up car with the law on his tail? To my way of thinking? Not a whole lot. And with a guy like that, a gal would never be thirsty.
Books: It Stings So Sweet by Stephanie Draven, The Gin Lovers by Jamie Brenner, A Dance With Indecency by Linda Skye (short story)
Lest you think I only dream of the 20th century, I would love to see more American historicals, western and non-western in general. I would love to see more colonial-era stories, pre-Civil War westerns when the frontier was east of the Mississippi, and Americana. Certainly while women would be limited by what was deemed as acceptable behavior for the mores of the time, if they’re a little off the beaten civilization path, there’s room for them to play around with what is considered proper. Also, as much fun as it is reading about dashing, wealthy, titled heroes—I’m an American girl. I like reading about “normal” people. There’s something uplifting and hopeful in knowing that while your ancestors may not have been blue-bloods, that doesn’t mean they were exempt from falling in love and living happily ever after.
Books: Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare, Come What May by Leslie LaFoy, The Drifter by Susan Wiggs, Courting Miss Hattie by Pamela Morsi
While I certainly have my own list of what I want to see more of, that doesn’t mean I’m screaming death to all Regency-era romances. I would love to see more characters on the fringe of polite society or gently born but without fabulous wealth and resources. And certainly while I can appreciate the fairy tale quality of a dashing Duke, I would commit a major felony if I thought I would get more non-titled, non-noble characters in European historicals across the board.
Books: The Beauty Within by Marguerite Kaye, Lady of Shame by Ann Lethbridge, Sins of a Virgin by Anna Randol
This is just the tip of the iceberg. As much as I love reading historical romance, I could spend just as much time talking about what I’d like to see more of in the subgenre. What about you? What’s on your historical romance wish list?
Wendy the Super Librarian also blogs at WendyTheSuperLibrarian.blogspot.com. So dig that library card out of your pocket and head for the stacks.