Mar 21 2013 8:30am

All in the Family: Family Sagas in Romance Novels

Born to Love by Valerie SherwoodIt takes one generation to make it,
One generation to lose it,
One generation to talk about it,
And one to make it again

—Valerie Sherwood

These days, a historical romance series usually refers to a group of friends, siblings or colleagues, all within the same generation, but this wasn't always the case. In the 1970s and 80s, a romance series might as easily be a generational saga, with hero and heroine of book one returning as the parents of hero or heroine of book two, who would then become the parents of the lead of book three, and maybe even farther than that.

Valerie Sherwood, for example, often wrote mother and daughter series, often introducing the daughter's story in the second book of the mother's romance. Yes, second book. Sherwood heroines covered a lot of ground. In her Love quartet, original heroine Imogen cut a swath through England, the Netherlands, colonial New York and the Caribbean, giving daughter Georgiana (or Anna, depending on who you ask; it's complicated) some pretty big shoes to fill. Thankfully, such heroines' mamas don't breed fools, and both mother and daughter have heroes who can keep up with them. Sherwood's single title, Born to Love, is a family saga in one volume, covering the years 1666 to 1717 and three women from the same family, all of whom share the same passionate nature and bear the name Dorinda.

Daughters of the Storm by Aola VandergriffThough, as with Sherwood, long out of print (but ripe for an electronic revival) Aola Vandergriff's Daughters of... series follows the three MacLeod sisters and their descendants from the western expansion of 19th century America in Daughters of the Storm, straight through the glittering 1920s in the eighth book of the series, Daughters of the Silver Screen. In between, there's plenty of historical and romantic intrigue, sweeping from San Francisco to Alaska, Hawaii, England, Australia, and even the Titanic. Vandergriff doesn't pull punches when it comes to the harrowing effect WWI has on those who lived through it, and explores issues of ethnic identity, ethics, infertility and raising a child with noticeable differences from others.

Hannah Howell's Murray clan saga, beginning in 1430 with Highland Destiny, introduces strong, stalwart Highlanders who fight as hard as they love, and they're a prolific bunch, begetting not only progeny but sub series. Book number six, Highland Bride, introduces the Cameron clan, and in number ten, Highland Conqueror, readers meet the MacEnroys. If this sounds like readers might need a scorecard to keep track of all the family players, never fear. The author includes a family tree on her website. As of book eighteen, Highland Avenger, the Murrays and company are still going strong fifty years later.

The Black Lyon by Jude DeverauxIf there were a contest for queen of the historical romance family saga, Jude Deveraux would be a strong contender. Her Montgomerys, first introduced in The Black Lyon and The Velvet Promise, have lived through medieval England and Scotland, crossed the pond to colonial America in The Raider, which also introduces Deveraux's other family, the Taggarts. Montgomerys are present as well during WWII, marrying into Lanconian royalty in The Princess. They enter the modern age in the time travel A Knight in Shining Armor, and with Someone to Love, they're on book number twenty-one and counting. Hardcore Deveraux fans still long for more Edilean books, which would have followed a new family, the McTerns, from eighteenth century Scotland to modern day America.

So, what's the appeal of a generational saga? Some readers and writers prefer not to see their favorite couples age; Sue-Ellen Welfonder, for example, has assured readers she will never turn the patriarch of her Highland series, Duncan, who debuted in Devil in a Kilt, into a bent old man. Jo Beverley, though fans have asked for a second generation of her Rogues, has stated she's not intrigued by the Victorian era in which such progeny would live.

But for others, it's a chance to see the happily ever after play out on a grand scale. Historical events become intensely personal when seen through the eyes of beloved characters at different ages. When younger generations spout off about how mom and dad don't understand what it's like to be young and in love, we readers can both sympathize and have a good laugh at their expense, because we know better.

Do you have a favorite family saga, author you wish would write one, or is one generation enough for you?


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.

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1. Lucky4
Celeste DeBlasis wrote The Wild Swan trilogy that started in England and then migrated to pre-civil war America. It spans 3-4 generations. I originally read it in my early 20's and now 20 years later I still go back for re-reads. That's one great thing about historicals is that they are always timely.
Heather Waters
2. HeatherWaters
You know, I hadn't realize how much these types of stories had tapered off over the years, but you're right, they're not as common today. I like mult-generational stories and series (Nora Roberts' MacGregors come to mind; I've read a lot of those books) but then again it can be weird to see your favorite couples later become grandparents. Great post, Anna!
Megan Frampton
3. MFrampton
One of my favorite duo of books is Georgette Heyer's These Old Shades and Devil's Cub, which feature Avon Sr., and Avon Jr. I usually don't like seeing a past hero or heroine all old and settled, but I loved these two renditions. I used to read these family sagas and really love them.
Jamie Brenner
4. jamieloganbrenner
Thanks for this post! Family sagas are my first love, and I wish they would come back. My favorite are the Susan Howatch novels like Wheel of Fortune and Penmarric. There is a richness to the story when you are, say, three generations in that you just can't replicate in other typles of novels.
5. HJ
If you enjoy these two Heyers, Megan, from what I understand you should avoid An Infamous Army. Lady Barbara Childe (the granddaughter of Dominic, Duke of Avon) and her three brothers appear, as do the Taverners, Lord Worth, and Charles Audley from Regency Buck. However, some readers are unhappy about the way the characters are portrayed in An Infamous Army. I can't confirm, because I've never been able to plough my way through the dense historical detail in this book!
6. Vol Fan
I absolutely LOVED family sagas/romance. To me, the old romances were much better (mostly) than our newer ones. So much richer and epic. Truthfully, I fell off the romance bandwagon for several years, mainly because they all became all formula and predictable. Not to mention same locations/eras/dukes/earls, etc. I am back reading them now, but am very picky on the ones I spend my money and time on.

I think my favorite family saga was June Lund Shiplett's "The Raging Winds of Heaven" (first of 8 books if I'm not mistaken). This book was written in 1978 and started the characters in Colonial America/wilderness and ended with their descendants in the Texas frontier. I recently finally found the first one online and have been trying to gather all the remaining books over the years. I will not part with them again. LOL. What I would give to get these on my kindle!!
Anna Bowling
7. AnnaBowling
@Lucky4, I still can't believe I haven't read the Wild Swan books; I've heard so much about them. Must see what I can find on today's library trip. Rereads after twenty years counts as the highest of recommendations for me.

@redline_, if I'm remembering right, Nora even has a couple of short pieces about McGregor hisorical ancestors. There haven't been a lot of multigenerational stories as of late, but all trends come around again, so who knows what the future may hold? Glad you liked the post.

@MFrampton, while I totally get why some readers don't care to see favorite couples at later stages of life, when done right, it can be oh so good. Looks like the Heyer duo is a good example.

@jamieloganbrenner, I couldn't agree more. Family sagas are my favorites, too, and the richness added by each new generation can't be beat.

@HJ, there's yet another generation in the Heyer books? Definitely fits a family saga then.

@Vol Fan, I love the variety family sagas can provide. Adding the Shiplett books to my TBR list. With many authors rereleasing their older titles as ebooks, one never knows.

@all, my mistake, first book in the Vandergriff saga is Daughters of the Southwind; Daughters of the Storm is a few books down the line.
8. Linda M Hart
Hmm! Lots of family sagas to revisit! I'm going to the library today to see what I can find!
Anna Bowling
9. AnnaBowling
@Linda M Hart, Sounds like it's time for a family saga reunion. Lots of great books out there.
Megan Frampton
10. MFrampton
@HJ, I have heard that about An Infamous Army--both that the older characters have dissatisfying endings and that the history overshadows whatever story there is. I'll stick with the Avons (and Faro's Daughter, and the Nonesuch, and Frederica...)
11. Marian Lanouette
I love a book that spans generations
Anna Bowling
12. AnnaBowling
@Marian Lanouette, me too. There's nothing like a good big story.
13. kreads4fun
Looking for a multi generation series, check out Linda Howard's MacKenzie series. Also, if you are looking for Game of Thrones type epic swash and buckle, check out Diana Gabaldon, the feminine counterpart to George R. R. Martin. The main Outalander series and spin off Lord John books can keep anyone busy for a while. I love that the books are now about 50% original characters and 50% the story of Jaime Fraser's children and grandchildren.
14. bigedsgirl1
I'm addicted to the Murray clan series by Hannah Howell. I was thrilled to see that the latest book, Highland Chieftain, features Callum MacMillan who at age 10 was a pivotal character in the earlier book Highland Angel. One of my favorite and more contemporary family sagas is the Calder series by Janet Dailey.
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