When Julia Quinn announced that her next book will be a return to the Bridgertons, much discussion ensued among a group of online friends with some cheering for more Bridgerton books and speculating on what we might get and others expressing the opinion that perfection was best not tampered with. I belong to the former group. I love family groups in my historical romances, and the Bridgertons are longtime favorites. I count another thirty family series among my historical keepers, but my top five are books to which I keep retuning again and again, falling in love with the characters more deeply with each reading.
1. Eloisa James's Essex Sisters
Only Austen and Heyer outrank Pleasure for Pleasure, the final book in this series, on my list of all-time favorite romances. It’s a measure of how much I love the series that it holds first place on this list despite the third book which features the third sister Imogen, one of the two Eloisa James characters whom I dislike. Fortunately, a wonderful hero saves the book for me (Taming of the Duke). I adore the other three sisters: the maternal Tess, who feels responsible for her sisters’ happiness (Much Ado About You); the practical Annabel, whose HEA arrives via apparent disaster (Kiss Me, Annabel); and witty, vulnerable Josie who grows up during the series (Pleasure for Pleasure). I also adore all four heroes: luscious Lucius, honorable Ewan, sweet, reforming Rafe, and particularly the rakish Garret Langham, Earl of Mayne, whose character arc across five novels I find endlessly fascinating. I’m also sentimental enough to cherish this series especially because it was my first EJ series. The first book was current when I read “A Fine Romance,” an op-ed piece that appeared in the New York Times under the author’s real name, Mary Bly. In two sentences, she defined my reading experience:
“My two worlds rarely come together because they are sharply demarcated by prejudice on both sides. Academics tend to deride romance; romance readers often ignore literary fiction altogether.”
I wrote a rare fan letter immediately and stopped to buy Much Ado About You on my way home. I loved it, and by the time the second book was released in late 2006, I had read all of James’s backlist. I’ve read every book since on—or before (when I’m lucky)—the release date.
2. Loretta Chase's The Carsingtons
One of historical romance’s rare happy families with two living parents who love one another and their five sons, Loretta Chase’s Carsingtons are a particular delight. This series is a comfort read for me because the books are just such a feel-good reading experience with Lord Hargate playing the stern papa but pulling strings to ensure his sons’ happiness. Lord Perfect is my favorite because I love the trope of the stuffy hero whose ordered world is thrown into chaos by a rule-defying heroine and predictably Chase handles it superbly. But the other books in the series are also exceptional. I love the gender reversal of Miss Wonderful, and Rupert’s acceptance of Daphne’s genius and his triumphant return make Mr. Imperfect perfect. Plus, there are these great lines: “I'm a man,” he said with what he was sure must be, in the circumstances, saintly patience. “I can do one or the other. Lovemaking or thinking. But not both at the same time.” Not Quite a Lady suffers a bit from comparison to the other books, but it is a moving story. Charlotte describes Darius as a “shockingly good man.” He proves himself that indeed, much better than even those who know him best realize. Last Night’s Scandal, the final book in the series, gives readers the romance of the best child characters in the subgenre all grown up and performs the nearly impossible by exceeding the expectations readers held for a much anticipated, long awaited book.
3. Julia Quinn's The Bridgertons
I am always amused to remember that On the Way to the Wedding, the eighth book in the Bridgerton series, was named both “Most Disappointing” and “Worst” book of the Year in the annual AAR poll for 2006 and won a RITA as the Best Long Historical Romance of the year. Clearly readers had widely different responses to the book. It’s too bad that the award couldn’t go to the entire series. I don’t know anyone who names the final book as the favorite, but I know many who share my view that in the series Quinn gave her readers a fictional world where they spent some of their most cherished reading hours, a world where true love is forever and families banter, badger, and bear one another’s burdens through the years. Happily Ever After, a collection of second epilogues for each novel, also includes “Violet in Bloom,” a story that gives us a look at almost the full span of Violet Bridgerton’s life, a life well-lived with long joys and deep sorrows but overall a life that proved happy, even if it denied Violet the conventional HEA. I wonder what Quinn has in store for us in 2016.
4. Julie Anne Long's The Redmonds and the Everseas (Pennyroyal Green series)
In 2008, Long introduced a new series set in Pennyroyal Green, a village in Sussex England, where tensions have waxed and waned (mostly waxed) for generations between the two most prominent families. I had the feeling from that first book that the series would prove to be extraordinary and would win JAL many new readers. I so love being right. The passion, complexity, and lyricism of the books have made them addictive for many readers. Jacob and Isolde Eversea have five children: Colin Eversea (The Perils of Pleasure, Book 1), Ian Eversea (Between the Devil and Ian Eversea, Book 8), Chase Eversea (Since the Surrender, Book 3), Olivia Eversea (The Legend of Lyon Redmond, Book 11), Genevieve Eversea (What I Did for a Duke, Book 5). Then there is Adam Sylvaine, an Eversea cousin (A Notorious Countess Confesses, Book 6). Isaiah and Fanchette Redmond have four children: Lyon Redmond (The Legend of Lyon Redmond, Book 11), Miles Redmond (Like No Other Lover, Book 2), Violet Redmond (I Kissed an Earl, Book 4), and Jonathon Redmond (It Happened One Midnight, Book 7). Then there is Lord Philippe Lavay, friend of Asher Flint, Earl of Ardmay, hero of I Kissed an Earl and Redmond son-in-law (It Started with a Scandal, Book 10).
In the first book, readers learn of the legend that an Eversea and a Redmond are cursed to fall in love with disastrous consequences once each generation. At the end of the book Colin, who barely escapes the gallows, discovers a secret that reveals the curse held true for his parents’ generation. The first book also introduces the story of Lyon Eversea who left Pennyroyal Green with a broken heart when he was rejected by the reform-minded Olivia Redmond. The Everseas hold Olivia responsible for Lyon’s disappearance. Tidbits about Lyon and Olivia are scattered throughout the series, most notably in I Kissed an Earl in which the hero and Lyon meet and in Between the Devil and Ian Eversea in which Olivia becomes engaged to another man. It Started with a Scandal, which releases March 31, 2015, offers a bit more, and The Legend of Lyon Eversea is scheduled for release on September 29, 2015. Long has said that Lyon and Olivia’s story would end the series, but it is not clear whether the tantalizing tale of Isaiah Redmond and Isolde Eversea will also be told in Book 11 or whether there will be a separate novella, another possibility that has been mentioned. I have The Legend of Lyon Eversea on preorder, and I’ll do the same for the novella if there is one. And did I say I plan to spend September rereading the full series?
5. Jo Beverley's The Mallorens
Having begun reading Jo Beverley with her first book, Lord Wraybourne’s Betrothed, I had already been a Jo Beverley fan for five years when she published her first Georgian novel in 1993. Heyer and Veryan had developed my love for books set in the Georgian era, and I was excited about My Lady Notorious from the moment I spotted it in a bookstore. There was so much to love in this book—ladies in genuine distress, a beta hero with a sense of humor, villains that inspired hatred, and a host of things such as road-trip romance, chick in pants, and a food porn scene that I would not have a vocabulary for until later. Best of all was a fascinating secondary character with dark edges who clearly deserved his own book. But as I waited for Rothgar, I delighted in the stories of his other siblings: Tempting Fortune (Lord Arcenbryght Malloren), Something Wicked (Lady Elfled Malloren), and Secrets of the Night (Lord Brand Malloren). Finally seven years after Beverley introduced her readers to the Malloren World, she gave us Devilish, Rothgar’s story and still one of my all-time favorite reads, even after so many rereads that I’ve lost count. Beverley expanded the world with another eight novels and a novella between 2003 and 2013. Winter Fire and A Lady’s Secret, both of which have ties to Rothgar, are my favorites from the second group, but I have read and reread them all.
My love for the next five families on my list is only slightly less, and I owe many thanks as well to these authors for the many hours I have spent engaged with their characters. I’m working on adding all of these books to my digital collection so that my favorite historical families are never more than a finger’s touch away from another visit.
- The Mackenzie, Jennifer Ashley
- The Merridew Sisters, Anne Gracie
- The Bedwyns, Mary Balogh
- The Hathaways, Lisa Kleypas
- The Windhams—Grace Burrowes
What families from historical romance would you add to my list?
Learn more about the series mentioned in this post:
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.