Jun 10 2013 1:00pm

Wishlisting on a Historical Star: A Historical Romance Starter Kit

In the Arms of the Heiress by Maggie RobinsonOne thing I love about the romance genre is the amount of variety. I can literally go from reading a book featuring a shape-shifting vampire angel to a contemporary action-adventure story featuring a Navy SEAL.  That being said, the Old Gray Lady of the genre, the reason the genre as we know it exists today, is because of historical romance. 

Over the years, readers have delighted in romantic sagas that spanned generations and continents, to more precisely-focused stories that rarely stray out of the Regency-era ballroom.  Historicals have ebbed and flowed, come and gone, but have always remained a steady presence in the genre.  It’s why I love historicals so much, and why I get frustrated when I read theories and impending predications that the subgenre is on its last legs.

I don’t believe that, and nothing anybody says is going to sway me otherwise.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t think that historicals couldn’t do with a little renovation project; the foundation is still solid, but nobody wants to live in a house with an outdated kitchen, shag carpeting and not enough closet space.  So just like any home improvement project, I start with a wish list.  I kick the tires, look at samples, and dream of what could be.  What’s on my historical romance wish list? Let me give you the starter kit:

The big one for me is that it’s time to acknowledge the fact that the 20th century is historical. I would start sacrificing small animals if I thought it would lead to more Edwardian-set (1901-1910) stories, if only because of how fascinating that time period is in regards to women’s history.  During this time period, Britain was imprisoning radical suffragettes, and in turn they were participating in hunger strikes, which naturally led to force feedings.  It would take a skilled author, but how fascinating would it be to read a story featuring a radical suffragette, released from prison, haunted by her experiences, who falls in love with a dashing hero, much to her shock, as well as the shock of her comrades?  And that’s just one possibility for an era that saw rapid industrialization and various political stirrings that would ultimately lead to war.

Books:  In the Arms of the Heiress by Maggie Robinson, A Midnight Clear by Kristi Astor, The Last Rake In London / Dauntsey Park by Nicola Cornick

Enticing the Spymaster by Julie RoweAmericans don’t have the same kind of baggage surrounding World War I (1914-1918) as our European counterparts, which is why I suspect some readers are squeamish about the era.  It was, after all, the first modern war.  There was mass devastation and destruction.  A whole generation of young men dead or still alive, but really messed up.  While that could be seen as depressing for some, I see it as a potential for angst.  Hey, if Regency heroes fighting Napoleon can be romance heroes with badass scars and tragic post-traumatic stress, what’s stopping the boys of World War I?  Also, World War I saw women mobilize in unprecedented numbers—as part of the civilian work force, nurses, and wartime industries.  War may be Hell, but from a historical standpoint it certainly had a way of pushing women towards more independence.

Books:  Saving the Rifleman & Enticing the Spymaster by Julie Rowe, Under Her Uniform by Victoria Janssen (short story)

The Gin Lovers by Jamie BrennerSpeaking of independence, America during the 1920s is ripe with possibilities for romance heroines.  Thanks to the automobile, economic prosperity, and one of the stupidest laws in history, for the first time we had an honest-to-goodness youth culture.  The fashions (Chanel!), the music (jazz!), young people were now marketed to, exploited, and something for the Victorian Old Guard to tut-tut disapprovingly about at dinner parties.  Romance readers love their bad boys, and what’s badder than a moonshiner running bootleg liquor in the back of his souped-up car with the law on his tail?  To my way of thinking?  Not a whole lot.  And with a guy like that, a gal would never be thirsty. 

Books: It Stings So Sweet by Stephanie Draven, The Gin Lovers by Jamie Brenner, A Dance With Indecency by Linda Skye (short story)

Ride the Fire by Pamela ClareLest you think I only dream of the 20th century, I would love to see more American historicals, western and non-western in general.  I would love to see more colonial-era stories, pre-Civil War westerns when the frontier was east of the Mississippi, and Americana.  Certainly while women would be limited by what was deemed as acceptable behavior for the mores of the time, if they’re a little off the beaten civilization path, there’s room for them to play around with what is considered proper.  Also, as much fun as it is reading about dashing, wealthy, titled heroes—I’m an American girl.  I like reading about “normal” people.  There’s something uplifting and hopeful in knowing that while your ancestors may not have been blue-bloods, that doesn’t mean they were exempt from falling in love and living happily ever after.

Books: Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare, Come What May by Leslie LaFoy, The Drifter by Susan Wiggs, Courting Miss Hattie by Pamela Morsi

The Beauty Within by Marguerite KayeWhile I certainly have my own list of what I want to see more of, that doesn’t mean I’m screaming death to all Regency-era romances.  I would love to see more characters on the fringe of polite society or gently born but without fabulous wealth and resources.  And certainly while I can appreciate the fairy tale quality of a dashing Duke, I would commit a major felony if I thought I would get more non-titled, non-noble characters in European historicals across the board. 

Books: The Beauty Within by Marguerite Kaye, Lady of Shame by Ann Lethbridge, Sins of a Virgin by Anna Randol

 This is just the tip of the iceberg.  As much as I love reading historical romance, I could spend just as much time talking about what I’d like to see more of in the subgenre. What about you?  What’s on your historical romance wish list?


Wendy the Super Librarian also blogs at So dig that library card out of your pocket and head for the stacks.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. EvangelineHolland
*coughs...shuffles feet...raises hand* Edwardian & WWI is what I write and have been writing for a fair bit. I also write multicultural historicals. ;D

2013 Golden Heart finalist (and my good writing buddy) Piper Huguley writes AA historical romance set during the Great Migration.
Phyllis Lamken
2. flip58
I love romance about India in the colonial period: Shadows of the Moon by M.M. Kaye. Revolutionary America and the early years of the republic are fantastic. Mistress Devon by Virginia Coffman and Passion's Treasure by Bettina Krahn (Whiskey Rebellion),
Early 20th century is fantastic. Garters by Pamela Morsi who has some wonderful historical romances. They all have average American heroes and heroines.
Barb in Maryland
3. Barb in Maryland
Wendy--great post, as always.
Re: American frontier--I would love, love, love to get my hands on Dorothy Garlock's backlish. She featured real, strong women living and loving in frontier Ohio, Arkansas and beyond. Increadably well researched and well written--worth the search.
Jennifer Proffitt
4. JenniferProffitt
I'm right there with you! I started with historicals and still love them. While in other subgenres—PNR and erotica—I tend to go darker, I love a good light historical, which I think some authors have gone away if they stay in the Regency era. I still like Regencies, but I'm done with Dukes, Earls and the like...I've enjoyed Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series which features non-noblity heroes and heroines.

I really think it all depends on the author and while some can use these same themes that have been around for decades and write great stories, others just lack the finesse needed to make these themes classic rather than tired.
Barb in Maryland
5. Phyllis Laatsch
I was just thinking the other day how Heyer's first Georgian novel was written only a little over 100 years after the Georgian era. (1921) So now that we're in 2013, we could start writing about what happened 100 years ago, right?

And now that you've listed all these titles, my library wishlist is growing again.
Lynne Connolly
6. Lynne Connolly
I still love the Georgian era, and I'm actually writing my first Regency in years, but it needed to be written in that time. Maybe it's the depth and the angst we want back?
I think that's it about Edwardian for me. I can never fully enjoy an Edwardian era romance, because of what will happen to them. Not only the horror of the war, but all that came after. A twenty year depression, the long fight for working class suffrage, the rise of Fascism, not enough men to go around, the cream of a generation lost. The decline of an empire and the rise of an evil one. A supremely depressing time.
If you forget "Downton Abbey" and pick up an old, but great series called "When the Boat Comes In" it gives the other side of the post-war era.
Wendy the Super Librarian
7. SuperWendy
Evangeline: Ooooh, that Piper Huguley sounds fascinating! Totally rooting for her at RWA13 this summer!

Flip: I feel like when Pamela Morsi went contemporary, the Americana subgenre really floundered. Would love to see more stories like that. I love westerns, but I also love non-western American-set historicals!

Barb: This is horrifying to admit - I've never read Garlock. I know, I know! And I've heard really good things about her older titles. Maybe we'll see them in digital one of these days?

Jennifer: I'm always struck by Regency historicals featuring characters who are on the lower rungs of the gentry. Julia Justiss has written characters like that. They're "quality," but not rolling around in a bunch of power, privilege and money. So the heroines basically have their good name going for them and.....not much else. Definitely adds a layer of vulnerability.

Phyllis: Oh man, wouldn't that be great! Hey authors and publishers - the saintly Heyer did it! LOL

Lynne: How Americans view WWI is totally different from Europeans. I mean, hello - we showed up really late to the "party." It's an ugly war (not that all war isn't ugly - but you get my drift), and it was so catastrophic for an entire generation. And then, of course, that whole affair is really a direct result of how Hitler came to power so.....yeah, I can totally understand why some readers are squeamish. But from a social history standpoint? I find that era fascinating. So many possibilities.
8. EvangelineHolland
@Lynne: I find the entire 1900-1945 period fascinating, from the Great Depression to the Black Shirts to WWI to the Chinese Revolution and beyond! I am fascinated by the tension between modernism and the long 19th century (and before) and think it's a great backdrop for historical romance since the internal and external conflicts that pushed against people and society.

That said, I love any historical romance set against a dramatic and shifting time period (English Civil War, California Gold Rush, 1848 European Revolutions, Peninsular War, John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, et al), and will grab any historical that promises a gripping historical backdrop with a passionate romance.
Barb in Maryland
9. Marguerite Kaye
I'm in the final throes of writing a series of three short linked stories set during the duration of WWI. It has been one of the toughest things I've ever done, trying to get romance in the midst of such a terrible war, and still remain 'true' to the history, but it's been seriously rewarding too. What I'm liking about some of the books coming out now is that there is more history in them, and more use of real events, so that the history isn't just backdrop. I would love to see more set during the English Civil War and the American Wars of Independence. Oh, and the Jacobite Uprisings.
Barb in Maryland
10. Janga
I choose "All of the above"--although I am not interested in giving up the Georgians, Regencies, and Victorians. I want them all included in the mix. I'll add WW II settings to the list as well. Carrie Lofty's His Very Own Girl was one of my favorite reads of 2013. I'd love to see more books on that level.

What I most want to see, regardless of the period? Historicals that leave me feeling that I've never read a romance exactly like them rather feeling as if I read this same book last year or last week.
Wendy the Super Librarian
11. SuperWendy
Marguerite: Looking just at Great Britain - there's several hundred years between the general "medieval" and "Regency" that always seem to get ignored - and it's really odd. I'd love more Elizabethean. Amanda McCabe has written some (for Harlequin Historical and HH Undone) - but she's the only one that pops into my head at the moment.

Janga: After a long drought where I wasn't reading them (burn-out), I don't want Regencies to go anywhere either. It's been fun, for me, to catch-up with books/authors others were raving about during my self-imposed exile.

What I would love to see is more heavy-duty Victorians - since I love that time period. But, you know, where I know I'm reading a Victorian. I don't want to have to question, while I'm reading, if it's really a Victorian or a vaguely-slightly-Victorian-almost-Regency.
Barb in Maryland
12. Lynnd
I would live to see more historicals set outside of Great Btitain. There is a whole fascinating world out there both in Europe (France, Spain, Italy, the Austrian Empire etc.) and outside (India, China, Japan, U.S., Canada, Australia etc. etc.).

I would also like to see more historicals set between 1300 and 1720, both in Great Britain and elsewhere (I love Judith James' novels set in the Restoration). I agree that the early 2oth century would provide great fodder for epic romances.

I guess I would just like more variety and I am old enough to remember when romances were set in so many different times and places (I think that reading about these places contributed to my love of history and travel). I hope that with the rise of self publishing and small presses, we will start to get some variety back. I don't think that mainstream publishing will change their "formula" anytime soon.
Barb in Maryland
13. Piper Huguley
Hi Wendy,

I appreciate that you've sounded the alarm about the 20thc historical. Truly,average people who were buffeted by these changes in history still managed to find one another and fall in love. This is the entire point of my Bledsoe Sisters series set in the U.S. during the first part of the Great Migration (1915-1936). If average people didn't fall in love, than how did we get here then?

And *waving furiously at my writing buddy Evangeline* these tensions work well in establising internal and external conflicts in fiction writing characters. The 20th c is historical because it is, increasingly, historical to young people. That's just reality and we have to write to it.

Thank you for the good wishes and rooting for me at RWA, Wendy. I need all of the support I can get!

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