What comes to mind at the phrase, “Black Forest?” A dessert rich with dark chocolate, cherries and cream? Old World forests where maidens and orphans might as easily find danger as well as an unlikely love? Ornate castles filled with antique treasures? If you’ve read the novels of German romance author Sandra Schwab, you’re not far off.
Schwab combines her love of romance with a scholar’s attention to historical detail, and with good reason. Besides writing unforgettable historical romance novels, she also teaches English literature at the college level and studies folk and popular literature, the Victorian novel and British society and culture in her academic life. If you’re looking for historical romance rich in heart and smarts, look no further. You’ve found it.
“Nobody ever counts the gargoyles” may not be what springs to mind when thinking of a perfect first (or last) line of a historical romance novel, but in Schwab’s classic Castle of the Wolf, this chilling phrase leads the reader deep into Germany’s Black Forest and a story as rich and delicious as the cake that shares its name.
English heroine Celia Fussell has only two choices when her father dies: live as the spinster sister in her brother’s house or wed the master of mysterious Castle Wolfenbach to gain the German castle for her own. So begins this take on Beauty and the Beast, a gothic tale that may have a touch of paranormal…or not. Celia’s hero, Fenris, wears his wooden leg, courtesty of the Napoleonic wars, as a sign to all that he is irreparably damaged. He snarls, snaps, bristles, and yet is unable to fend off Celia, who believes in fairy tales despite all signs to the contrary. Celia knows all too well that the true Fenris lies beneath, and neither man nor beast will deter her from winning Fenris’ heart, or convincing him that it exists at all. Schwab doesn’t stop there, but adds an exquisite grace note in the fate of the book’s villain that will bring shivers years after the fact.
In The Lily Brand, nineteen-year-old Lily becomes heiress and protégé to her stepmother, Camille, a woman known as the Black Widow, whose pleasure is pain. Camille presents Lily with a special present, the handsome Troy, rescued from a hellish prison, not as a husband but as a plaything. Camille forces Lily to brand Troy with a fleur de lis, marking him as her own. Lily, as much a prisoner as Troy, can’t refuse, though the prospect pains her. She makes a break for freedom at the first opportunity, taking Troy as far as the deepest forest so he can’t be blamed, but that’s as far as she’ll take him.
Romance fans, you know the story doesn’t end there, and when Lily escapes the prison of Camille’s French manor and finds safety in the English home of her grandfather, Troy isn’t far behind. He remembers everything, and he’s not in a mood to forgive or forget just yet. Though this is assuredly a romance, the reluctant newlyweds (because we can’t have a scandal, of course) don’t have the easiest of starts. Troy associates Lily with the degradation and punishment he endured under Camille, and Lily is sure his hatred knows no bounds…and yet, that’s not all, either. With a master’s touch, Ms. Schawb peels back the layers of both Lily and Troy, stripping away wounds of body and soul, until their vulnerable hearts find wholeness and healing. Fans of male/male romance will appreciate the secondary couple here, friends of Troy, whose relationship convinces Lily that love may indeed be within her reach.
For readers who prefer a lighter touch, don’t slink away. Springtime Pleasures brings all the wit and elegance of a classic Regency, along with wild boars, highwaymen and an homage to Vanity Fair. Victorian fans looking for a unique read won’t want to miss Schwab’s Allen’s Miscellany series, where readers can get up close and personal with the world of nineteenth century magazine publishing and enjoy love stories that pack the sweetest Punch. Pun intended.
Whether angsty or more lighthearted, touched with the paranormal or grounded in reality, Sandra Schwab’s stories always deliver the goods in a way readers may not at first expect. With a deft use of language and historical detail, these fairy tales for grownups will sweep readers into another time and place, where no matter how dangerous the wolves in the woods, every couple will live happily ever after.
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.