Mar 15 2011 1:00pm

Mad for Trad: Top 3 Traditional Regency Authors

The First Quadrille at Almack’sTraditional Regencies*. Just the phrase makes me smile. It evokes images of carriage rides through Hyde Park at the Fashionable Hour, weak lemonade at Almack's, wafer-thin ham served at Vauxhall, Corinthians making elegant legs in the direction of Innocent Misses, Prinny fat jokes, and the stylish Beau Brummell.

Traditional Regencies portray a world of manners and restraint, where the use of one's Christian name signals intimacy and the touch of a hand can be as sensual as any graphic love scene. I miss Traditional Regencies, but am grateful to have a bookcase groaning with hundreds of them to take them down, lovingly stroke the silly covers, and escape into a different, but complete, universe.

I love so many of these books and authors (see groaning bookshelves reference above) that any attempt to list my favorites is doomed to failure. I started out thinking of a Top Ten. Then knew I'd better narrow it down to a Top Five, or we'd be here all day. And then, I hit on a theory (explained below) that narrowed the list to Three. Here they are, a representative book from each. Feel free to argue with me. I'm bound to do so as well.

The Obedient Bride by Mary BaloghMary Balogh: The Obedient Bride (1989)

Mary Balogh is the Queen of Trads and everyone's favorite – with good reason. Though she had been writing historicals for decades, even while still writing Trads, she remains the Gold Standard. I have too many favorite books, but today it is The Obedient Bride. It has many of the staples of a Trad: a marriage of convenience, the Innocent Miss, the Worldly Peer, but Balogh got away with adding what were verboten topics in Trads: sex and infidelity. Our Heroine's reaction to the infidelity will make you stand up and cheer, and the sex; well, Balogh is one of the best at using sex to track a relationship. When our Hero goes from “doing his duty” to “making love,” it is an incredibly moving and sensual scene. Fabulous stuff.

Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand by Carla KellyCarla Kelly: Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand (1994)

Everyone's second favorite Trad author is Carla Kelly, which sometimes strikes me as odd, for she eschews all those Regency staples I listed above. Her books rarely revolve around the London Season, her heroes and heroines are rarely of the aristocracy, and there is an earthy quality to her writing that flies in the face of the ton's well-manicured lawns. And yet, she is as much of a Trad superstar as Mary Balogh, she just usually portrays a different side of the Regency. Like Balogh, I vacillate as to my favorite Kelly, but the one I've reread most often is Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand. The title of the book alone is almost a synopsis for any of Kelly's books. She writes about real, relatable people, dealing with real problems and who just get on with it, without whining or blaming others. They play the hand they've been dealt with grace and dignity, humor and love. What is better than that?

The Ramshackle Suitor by Nancy ButlerNancy Butler: The Ramshackle Suitor (2000)

I believe that any choice for favorite Trad author after the previous two is entirely subjective and would be willing to bet that no one's Number Three will be the same. It took me a long time to settle on Nancy Butler (though part of me is screaming, what about Barbara Metzger? Edith Layton? Emma Jensen?), but, I will try to make a case for her. Her books offer a good blend of both Balogh- and Kelly-type Trads; there is humor and angst, lords and ladies, self-made men and governesses. Not that Butler is the only Trad author capable of this; indeed, both Balogh and Kelly stray, with great results, from their archetype romance, but I do enjoy Butler's books. My favorite is The Ramshackle Suitor. It has a nice, young, Beta hero who falls hard and fast for the older, careworn heroine and proceeds to who wear her down with charm and kindness. It also includes one of the sweetest marriage proposals I've ever read.

So, am I right in my supposition that Balogh and Kelly are most readers' #1 and 2? Who are your favorite Trad authors? Is it possible to cull your list down to three? And which books would you recommend?

*Wikipedia says: Works in the tradition of Georgette Heyer, with an emphasis on the primary romance plot, would be traditional.


Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com 

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Rachel Hyland
1. RachelHyland
I, too, am a Trad enthusiast... when my Regencies involve premarital sex and an ignorance of proper propriety -- or the kind of blantant disregard for Society's good opinion one sees in, say, Marion Chesney -- I have been known to get quite cross. Ms. Heyer would emphatically NOT approve. (That said, a new Stephanie Laurens or *hangs head in shame* Lauren Willig novel is always cause for some degree of joy in my otherwise old cattish bosom.)

I would say my favourite, FAVOURITE Traditional Regency author would have to be Judith A. Lansdowne. Her best, I think, is The Bedeviled Duke; it's just so witty and sweet and beautifully, cleverly written. Although I also really love her Lord Nightingale series. Oh, and Mutiny at Almacks is sheer delight! Who am I kidding? They're all delectable.

Balogh I can take or leave, and Kelly I find a little irksome in that very ordinariness you describe so eloquently (much like Paula Marshall, I feel she often takes the fairy tale out of my grown-up fairy tales), but I do very much enjoy Nancy Butler. Barbara Metzger is also way up there on my list: I mean, Luck of the Devil? Lady in Green? Miss Westlake's Windfall, for Heaven's sake! All works of glorious, decorous genius.

I must confess to having somehow missed out on sampling the Trad stylings of of Emma Jensen, however, and will go about rectifiying this immediately.

Terrific post! But... uh, really? Edith Layton as a Trad author? Is it just me she makes blush, then?
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
@RachelHyland, Edith Layton wrotes some amazing Trads, back in the day, before she moved onto Regency-sets; have you read those?

For me, I'd say my top three trads are Balogh's Notorious Rake, Kelly's REforming Lord Ragsdale and Layton's Abandoned Bride.

I absolutely adore Metzger's wit. The woman loves a good pun even more than I do.
Victoria Janssen
3. VictoriaJanssen
I'm glad someone else loves Nancy Butler! I have a nice little stack of hers waiting to be read.

I agree with your first two choices, no question.
Rachel Hyland
4. RachelHyland
@ MFrampton

Nope, must have missed them, and only came upon her works created during her bodice-ripping period. Are they any particular titles you (or perhaps you, Cheryl?) recommend I track down?
Megan Frampton
5. MFrampton
Of her trads, I like:

The Duke's Wager
Disdainful Marquis
Abandoned Bride
False Angel

She also wrote a bunch of those novellas in the Regency Christmas collections, which are good.
6. AMG
I love my Trads. Any Dorothy Mack fans? Or Elizabeth Fairchild? Or Diana Brown (which are mini melodramatic classics with beautiful writing, and real consequences for actions!)

What about some non-signet writers? Carola Dunn, Joan Smith (not all--she went down in quality). I didn't like Chesney much, but I do see the appeal. I also loved Patricia Veryan (both regencies/georgians)-she's a bit precious and schmaltzy, but her good stories do make you turn the page for fun/action/romance.

I could go on...
Manda Collins
7. mandacollins
Favorite (and first) Edith Layton trad is Lord of Dishonor. Also a big fan of Mary Balogh's, especially The Famous Heroine. And Jo Beverley's Emily and the Dark Angel.

Almost forgot Sheila Walsh! She was superb. Minerva's Marquess and The Sergeant Major's Daughter are particular favorites.
Manda Collins
8. mandacollins
Yes, Patricia Veryan! I loved her Leage of Jewelled Men series and the Golden Chronicles. And the Sanguinet Saga...good times.
Cheryl Sneed
9. CherylSneed
@RachelHyland - Layton's trads go back to the early 80's. I like the ones Megan recommended as well - and love her Xmas anthology stories. Metzger's Xmas stories are also perfect little gems, aren't they? She's the queen of Artful Alliteration and always has a bit with a dog. Fun stuff. ;-) I'm a big fan of Judith Lansdowne - she writes such Nice Guy heroes, and Bedeviled Duke is my favorite of hers.
Virginia Campbell
10. VirginiaCampbell
Adding to the list of lovely and talented authors:

Jane Aiken Hodge
Jeanne Savery
Joan Wolf
Joanna Maitland
Mary Kingsley
Gayle Wilson
Donna Simpson
Karla Hocker
Sophia Nash
Nicola Cornick
Anne Gracie
Louise Allen
11. Santa
I ADORE trads and you've hit on three of my facvorites.
Donna Cummings
12. Donna Cummings
What a great topic. I love traditional Regencies and have quite a lot of them stashed away. My top three faves would have to be:

Kasey Michaels/Michelle Kasey
Barbara Metzger
Jo Beverley

I absolutely loved the madcap situations of the first two authors' books, and when it came time for a little more seriousness, Ms. Beverley was the go-to author.
13. Barb in Maryland
Yay to the person mentioning Diana Brown (She only wrote 7 and they are all worth reading.) I'd like to add Clare Darcy to the list-very Heyer-esque.
I can't believe that no one mentioned Elizabeth Mansfield! I have two of her's on my keeper shelf-Phantom Lover and Her Man of Affairs. Both worth seeking out.
MaryJo Putney also wrote trad Regencies at the start of her career--the very best of which is The Rake and the Reformer.
And yes, Veryan can be just a tad sugary, but I gobbled them up, especially her early ones (Sanguinet Saga and Mistress of Willowvale).

Hmmm, I am noticing a distressing agist trend here--most of the ones I am recommending are from the 70's and 80's. I guess I gave up on Trad Regencies after about 1990!
Rachel Hyland
14. RachelHyland
Thanks everyone for the early-Layton tips; she's made it to the top of my Must Find list.

@6. AMG and 7/8. MandaCollins

Patricia Veryan and Jo Beverley! Thanks for the reminders... I really must go dig out some of theirs for a gentle afternoon's reread.

@ 13. Barb in Maryland

Clare Darcy... so Heyer-esque as to be almost actionable. Sure, that's not unusual in the field, but she always stuck me as even moreso than most. Not that Ihaven't enjoyed her books over the years -- with Lydia being a particular favorite -- but I thought it worth mentioning.
15. AMG
Barb--Yes to Mansfield--those 2 you mention are my favourite of hers too. Enjoyed Darcy, but not all books.
Sgt Major's Daughter is a personal fave too. Walsh's early Regencies were superb.
16. Janet W
May I reserve the right to re-visit this list? My top three would definitely include Balogh and Kelly: yes to Mrs. Drew but there are other Baloghs I prefer. Like The Snow Angel but I'm always changing my mind. Of course Jo Beverley ... and actually, Stephanie Laurens wrote some lovely Regencies altho I'm not sure I would put Laurens on a traditional stack. I am an inveterate buyer and collector of OOP Regencies but I give many of them away ... trying to hook others on the genre ... and also because one only has so much room. Two of my oft read faves are Emma Lange and Joan Wolf. I would put either of them ahead of Butler but then we are blessed to have such excellent choices. Yes of course to Elizabeth Mansfield's Her Man of Affairs. What about Candice Hern? She has written some delightful stories.

I wandered over to a set of keeper shelves and jotted down some authors and titles from two shelves. I could, like many of us ,I suspect, go on for pages if I transcribed the titles & authors from every shelf but this is what I spotted: Viscount Vagabond by Loretta Chase, The Bishop's Daughter by Susan Carroll, Lord Musgrave's Deception by Diana Campbell, The Desperate Viscount by Gayle Buck, The Cockermouth Mail by Dinah Dean (very humourous), and a trio of books by Cheshire, Clare and Clary.

What a great topic! Thanks Cheryl.
17. AMG

Dinah Dean is amazing! I read Cockermouth Mail a couple of times a year. And I have a few of her Russian books-so amazing. They are incredibly hard to get, so I haunt used books sites/stores. They aren't sexy, but the stories are tight, the writing clear, the characters are interesting, and they are period appropriate in thought & deed. So some of the heroines might seem a bit tame, but they are rarely passive!

Thumbs up to the other suggestions from me, except for Laurens. I just don't like her style. But that's just me.

So many cool suggestions.
18. Susan/DC
I miss Nancy Butler and Elisabeth Fairchild; both wrote wonderful trads. Besides Butler's "The Ramshackle Suitor" I also love her "The Discarded Duke". Both books are marvelously romantic and have many swoonworthy passages. Fairchild is a master at depicting longing, a skill too many authors today, in the era of jumping into bed by the second meeting, have lost. Adore Balogh's early trads. Her "The Notorious Rake" is among my most re-read books. Agree that Barbara Metzger is a unique voice, and one which I very much like.

Thanks for reminding me of some of my favorites and also for providing a list of books to hunt down.
19. AJ, The Original
A number of my top authors have been listed (Barbara Metzger for her trads - not a fan of her single titles; Jo Beverley and Emily and the Dark Angel; Carla Kelly).

Three that I haven't seen mentioned that I really enjoy:

- Patricia Oliver - Although her later books in the Seven Corinthians series were hit or miss, Miss Drayton's Downfall is one of my favorite traditional Regencies.
- Michelle Martin - She only wrote a handful of traditional Regencies, but they are fun and heartwarming.
- Anita Mills - She wrote what is probably my #1 Regency, Scandal Bound.

Great topic!
Cheryl Sneed
20. CherylSneed
@AJ - Love Michelle Martin. I can't tell you how many times I've reread her Queen of Hearts. She had such a great voice.
21. Lesley-Anne McLeod
I am proud to write traditional Regencies, and I love your post today. I would concur with choices for top 3 trad writers--there are many other excellent authors also, as mentioned in the comments, though the demise of traditionals in print hurt us all. I hope people realize that there are many many new traditional Regencies out there in ebook form. Long Live the Traditional Regency! :)
22. Oona
Thanks VirginiaCampbell, for listing Jane Aiken Hodge. I loved her books in the 70s and 80s and thought she had stopped writing when I couldn't find any new books. Thanks to the Internet, I found that she had written many books that I had never heard of. I've enjoyed tracking them down on the Internet and used book stores.
Cindy Rosenthal
23. cindyR
I haven't read Books by Nancy Butler or Ms Lansdowne but I've added them to my list of authors to read. I'm currently reading a series by Grace Burrowes who belongs on this list. I've also loved books by Jo Beverley, though not when there is too much suspense or people are in extreme danger (why I'm not fond of Amanda Quick books; but I love Loretta Chase's and Victoria Alexander's books. I've found it impossible to get books by Dina Dean though she's been recommended before. I love Lisa Kleypas' Wallflower series and her other regencies;
24. Shinjinee
Yes, to Diana Brown and Dinah Dean (superb Russian Regencies, and love both the Cockermouth Mail and the Country Gentleman, and still have the latter. Can't believe that I left behind/lost the Cockermouth Mail).

Edith Layton early Regencies (Signets) were fabulous. Yes, to Candice Hern who is also republishing her Regencies, as is Carola Dunn (a bit more hit-and-miss, but I love Miss Jacobson's Journey)

Jo Beverley's Signet Regencies all fantastic along with her early historicals (personally, I prefer her medievals which are fantastic, but then.... ).

Lots of happy memories there. Thank heavens for Belgrave House and e-books!
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