Jan 16 2012 5:00pm

Animals in Historicals, from Tessa Dare, Ivory, Kinsale, and More!

Albert and Joey in War HorseRomantic Animals in History, or, no, this is not a post about bestiality in historical romance! Geez, people.

I recently saw the movie War Horse, about a horse named Joey and his One True Love, Albert.  Everybody else who tries to love Joey dies, pretty much, which is a sure sign Their Love is Destined.  It made me think of all the memorable animals who’ve appeared in romance novels.  It made me think of them while I was attempting to go to sleep, alas.  So the next morning, I tried to narrow the list down to my favorites.

One Dance with a Duke by Tessa Dare5.  Osiris the stallion in Tessa Dare’s Stud Club trilogy.

Osiris, a former racehorse, serves as both a plot device tying together three romance novels and a representation of the deepest secret of hero Spencer Dumarque.  The reason behind Spencer’s insistence and repeated machinations so that the horse must be stabled at his own estate is the juiciest, most unexpected secret of the novel.

Frankly, I wanted more about the horse.  What?  I like books with horses in them.

4.  Lucifer the mastiff in Liz Carlyle’s No True Gentleman

Lucifer accompanies hero Max de Rohan everywhere; he’s “from Campania…more gentle than the French or English mastiffs and easily trained for police work.”  I particularly love the realism of Max’s affection for the dog, and Lucifer’s sheer doggy-ness:  “First, there’d been a ‘digestive indiscretion’ deposited in the good lady’s rose garden.  Then she’d caught sight of the ‘nose smears’ on the windows.”

He’s huge, intimidating, and drooling.  Yet it’s clear how much Max loves him, and that love and loyalty goes a long way towards showing how Max might be in a romantic relationship:  tender, loyal, and likely to ignore it when you borrow his toothbrush.

Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase3.  Marigold the mongoose in Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible

“You didn’t expect the mongoose attack,” Lord Noxley said.

Marigold is the star of a sort of unrequited secondary romance; she’s clearly in love with the heroine’s brother, Miles, after he feeds her some of his fish, and spends most of the book either chewing on, hiding, or defending one of Miles’ dirty shirts.  (This could possibly be read a kinky on her part.)  Eventually, Marigold defends her people from an assailant by biting him in the leg.

2.  Magic the rat terrier in Judith Ivory’s The Proposition

Most people would think this is an awesome book because it’s a retelling of “My Fair Lady” with gender reversal, but in fact it is great because Mick, the hero, is a ratcatcher.  Best. Hero. Job. Ever.  To aid in his work, he has ferrets (most notably, Freddie, who is a girl and don’t forget it) and a dog.  Magic the terrier is a wonder-dog who ought to have his own tv show, if they had tv shows in Victorian England. 

Magic jumped into the carriage.  “May as well let him ride,” Mick said. “He be the damnedest dog. He’ll only run alongside till he drops, then find us a day later from the smell of the wheels or something.”

…“Have you ever seen anything like it? He’s jumping five times his height. If I could do that, I could leap this carriage house.”

Mick and Magic are inseparable; but to have the woman he loves, Mick is willing to give Magic away.  Thankfully, their separation isn’t entirely permanent, and in Magic’s new home, he gets to be with the bitch he loves, his puppy-mama.

Seize the Fire by Laura Kinsale1.  Napoleon the penguin in Laura Kinsale’s Seize the Fire.

Napoleon isn’t just a penguin; he’s emblematic of Kinsale’s work.  Whenever I’m trying to explain to a non-romance reader how awesome Kinsale’s novels are, I have to mention the penguin, because I’m pretty sure he’s unique in the genre.  Post-traumatic stress disorder and penguins, they go together like…like two things in the same Laura Kinsale novel.

That was the kind of man [Sheridan] was.  A realist.  A scoundrel.  A liar.  A shabby knight with a baby penguin asleep on his boot.”

Napoleon may look like a flightless bird, but in fact he tells us everything that’s truly important about Sheridan. Sheridan’s behavior in the past has not always been admirable, but because he cares for the baby bird, he shows that there’s still good within him, that he still might be able to fall in love.

And that’s one of the best reasons to use animals in romance novels; because, done well, they illuminate character. Which are your favorite animal characters in fiction?


Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Lafka
I think you're on to something here. In some romance novels, animals aren't just elements of the background, they can sometimes actually add something to the plot!
Immediately came to my mind while reading this article Beatrix's ferret Dodger in Lisa Kleypas' Hathaways _ the very ferret that brought Harry and Poppy together in the first place, and that helped Leo and Catherine getting closer. In the Hathaway books, LK makes unusual room to animals anyway, given Beatrix fondness for them. (Pooka the stallion on which Cam "kidnaps" Amelia, the elephant Merripen claims as a wedding gift for Win only to please Bea...)
I also think of Newton, the overweigh corgi in The Viscount who loved me by Julia Quinn. His role is more anecdotal _ to add some comedy of situation _ but still participates to the initial antipathy Anthony Bridgerton feels toward Kate Sheffield.
Heather Waters
2. HeatherWaters
@Lafka -- Oh, I'd forgotten about Beatrix's Dodger, but you're so right--he was his own character for sure and thus an integral part of her story.
Louise Partain
3. Louise321
Elizabeth Hoyt had a couple of dogs that were major characters in her stories: Jock/Dog in The Raven Prince and Sir Mouse in To Seduce a Sinner. Also Laura Kinsdale's The Prince of Midnight features a wolf a picture of a horse who died and a horse the color of moonlight.
Susan Scherzlein
4. Susan Scherzlein
As a cat lover I love the idea of racing cats in Catherine Coulter's Sherbrooke novels, even though I can't imagine training cats to race (unless they wanted to of course).
5. filkferengi
Don't forget Fred in Jennifer Crusie's _Anyone But You_.
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