10 Regency Romances You Should Read (An Opinionated Opinion)

Lord of Scoundrels  by Loretta ChaseTo follow Megan's example, I have chosen ten seminal Regency Romances for you. These are not my top ten best Regencies but books that have had an impact on the genre. In fact, if I were trying to convert a reader to Regency Romance there are one or two here I would not recommend. And believe me, it was not easy to hold this to ten.

10. Judith McNaught,  Whitney My Love

This is a love it or hate it book (I hated it). Here at Heroes & Heartbreakers people have both loved it  and hated it.  Regardless of your response, however,  it’s a book that elicits strong reactions and is a classic example of the 1980s “bodice ripper.” If you're going to talk about the evolution of Historical Romance, you should probably include this book. 

9. Stephanie Laurens, Devil's Bride

The first of Stephanie Laurens's Cynster Books (and, in my opinion, the best) is a first-rate example of the sexually insatiable alpha hero. Of course, Devil Cynster is also totally irresistible so any priapism is immediately forgiven. Published in 1998, this was the precursor of many, many hot Historicals.

8. Laura Kinsale, Flowers from the Storm

Probably the best Historical Romance written with a disabled lead character. If you haven't read the story of the Duke of Jervaulx, who has suffered a debilitating stroke, and Maddy Timms, devout Quaker and daughter of a mathematician, who loves and saves him, you should. Laura Kinsale, one of my favorite writers of angst, does a superb job of portraying illness, genius, frustration, and the power of love.

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

7. Julia Quinn, The Viscount Who Loved Me

The Viscount Who Loved Me is the second book in the Bridgerton series, but it certainly stands on its own. I chose this one because Julia Quinn's trademark humor shines throughout and, like many of Julia Quinn's books, it is a master class on writing sparkling dialogue.

6. Lisa Kleypas, Dreaming of You

Lisa Kleypas at her Historical best. Neither the hero nor heroine is titled and the hero, Derek Craven, is so alpha I can hardly stand it. The melt-down precipitated by his falling in love could only happen to someone as tough and hard as Derek Craven. It's a classic of its kind.

5. Carla Kelly, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand

You can't talk about Regency Romance without talking about the Traditional Regency, and you can't talk about the Traditional Regency without talking about Carla Kelly. Everyone has a favorite Carla Kelly book. I have several. I've chosen Mrs. Drew because, as Cheryl Sneed has noted in her post, Mad for Trad, “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?”

Mrs. Drew Plays her Hand by Carla Kelly

4a. Mary Balogh, The Obedient Bride

Mary Balogh is the other name that is immediately associated with Traditional Regencies. She is the Trad's breakout author, taking on the taboo subject of sex when no one else was doing it. There are many books I could name in which she does so and I imagine many would choose The Notorious Rake. But The Obedient Bride exemplifies Balogh's ability to use sex to define and determine the growth of a relationship.

4b. Mary Balogh, Slightly Dangerous

Maybe I'm cheating,  but I think Mary Balogh needs to appear twice on this list because she is, in my opinion, the trad writer who most successfully made the transition to Regency-set Historicals. It is as if this was what she was meant to write all along.  I have chosen Slightly Dangerous, a wonderful retelling of Pride and Prejudice as my book, although it is the final book in a series and I urge you to read all of them.

Thunder and Roses by Mary Jo Putney

3. Mary Jo Putney, Thunder and Roses

This is the first book of Mary Jo Putney's Fallen Angel series. In the early nineties both she and Jo Beverley began a series of books based on a group of friends. I'm not sure whether these were the first such series but, in my opinion, they were the best. Ultimately, I preferred Mary Jo Putney's Fallen Angels to Jo Beverley's Company of Rogues (marginally), probably because I simply liked the characters better. I suggest you read both Putney and Beverley.

2. Loretta Chase, Lord of Scoundrels

Although I adore Loretta Chase and do love Lord of Scoundrels, it's not my favorite of her books. But it needs to take pride of place here as it is the  book most often mentioned as a “conversion” or “gateway” book to this genre. It should be read and, I assure you will be glad you did.

1. Jane Austen,  Pride and Prejudice

It is with some reluctance that I include Jane Austen on this list. I don't consider Pride and Prejudice either a romance (although it certainly includes one) or a Historical. But it is claimed by many to be the mother of all Historical Romances and, when all is said and done, you can't go wrong reading Jane Austen.

Learn more about or order a copy of the books mentioned in this post:

Whitney My Love by Judith McNaught
Devil's Bride by Stephanie Laurens
Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn
Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas
Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand by Carla Kelly
The Obedient Bride by Mary Balogh  
Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh
Thunder and Roses by Mary Jo Putney
Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

+Check out more reading recommendation lists:

Myretta is the co-founder and current manager of The Republic of Pemberley, a pretty big Jane Austen web site. She is also a writer of Historical Romance. You can find her at her website, www.myrettarobens.com and on Twitter @Myretta.

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Darlene Marshall
1. DarleneMarshall
I like your list, but I'm surprised there aren't any Georgette Heyer novels mentioned. Hard to talk about the Regency genre without mentioning Heyer, especially The Grand Sophy, Faro's Daughter, The Devil's Cub...books that helped define what a Regency novel is.
2. Ros
Right. I'd have had a Heyer rather than an Austen, for the reasons that you mention - Austen wasn't writing romances or historical fiction. Heyer, on the other hand, invented the genre.
Myretta Robens
3. Myretta
You're both right. Heyer should probably have been on the list. But, to be honest, it never even occurred to me. I'm not a fan and have read very few of her books, so she wasn't even on my radar.
4. Kary Rader
Some I've read. Some I haven't. Not sure if Whitney, My Love is one I can read but Flowers From the Storm is one of the best books of any genre I've read. I love lists and this one is a fun one. Thanks for posting!
5. Kathie B.
I have never been a fan of Mary Balogh or Loretta Chase. I LOVE Lisa Kleypas; her books are auto-reads. Austen- not so much. Judith McNaught books are inconsistant. Mary Jo Putney is great. Laura Kinsale is a good writer.
Jennifer Proffitt
6. JenniferProffitt
The Viscount Who Loved Me is the first ever romance I read and I LOVED it! IT stays on my shelf to this day and I pass it around to any romance newbies. Love Love Love. Devil's Bride is another favorite of mine and one of my firsts. For awhile I tried to buy the entire Cynster series but it became too much for my wallet and bookshelves. But Julia Quinn and Stefanie Laurens were, once upon a time, my autobuys when I bought almost exclusively historicals. I still have all those books and still love them dearly!
Lynne Connolly
7. Lynne Connolly
Austen didn't write "Regency romance," she wrote contemporary women's fiction. "Pride and Prejudice" was set in the 1790's so not even Regency.
Yes I was a bit unnerved not to find any Heyers. Arabella and the wonderful Venetia, that has the rake who is the pattern card for all rakes that came after. Damerel. And how about "Black Sheep"? I could do a top ten of Heyers.
All the above writers read and loved Heyer, so she should really feature! Ask the authors what their favorite Heyer is!
Myretta Robens
8. Myretta
@lynnemargaretconnolly As it says in the title, this blog is an opinionated opinion. And Georgette Heyer didn't even enter my mind while I was putting together this blog. As I said above, she probably should have, but it's too late for this post.

Also, I'd like to point out that I did mention that I was reluctant to include Jane Austen in this list as I don't believe she was writing either historicals or romance. But she is included in many lists as a progenitor of the genre and she is certainly read as romance today. Since Pride & Prejudice was first published in 1813, I think we can fairly consider it a product of the English Regency.
Lynne Connolly
9. Lynne Connolly
maybe, but it's not a 'Regency romance,' because it wasn't written retrospectively or as a romance. It was written about the manners and morals of the time. It has a romance in it but it's really a social comedy with a lot of incisive social commentary. There are a lot of essayists who claim that she hated all her characters. I wouldn't go that far, just that she liked characters with flaws, like the rest of us do.
Anyhow, would love to do a Heyer top ten, or maybe you could ask the writers on your list to tell you their favourite Heyers. That would be really interesting, if they wanted to!
Isn't "Jane Eyre" set in the Regency? And "Agnes Grey"?
You've picked some great books, so perhaps ten just isn't enough! Never read "Whitney, my love" (it didn't cross the Atlantic). The Kinsale is always in my top ten of anything. It was my honour to meet her in April and she was just as charming as I thought she'd be. she told me what she was writing now (can't say) and it sounds awesome!
Carmen Pinzon
10. bungluna
Everything I have to say about Heyer and Austin has already been said. I think some more traditional Regency writes, such as Joan Wolf or Laura London, would have enhanced the list. Personally, I would have included "A London Season" or "A Difficult Truce" by Joan Wolf, or "The Bad Baron's Daughter" by London
11. Ducky
I have heard of Carla Kelly but have never read her because she writes LDS romances and I am wary of being preached to and wary of all religious content in romances.
Myretta Robens
12. Myretta
@Ducky, don't let Carla Kelly's religion stop you from reading her Traditional Regencies. They have no more religious content than any other Trad Regency, and she certainly is not preaching. If you like Traditional Regencies, you're missing a treat if you don't give Carla Kelly a try.
13. Janga
I love your list, Myretta. I've read all ten and most are among my keepers. I suspect that every Regency lover's list would be different, if only slightly. The differences are what keep discussions like this one interesting.
Lily Everett
14. LilyEverett
I think Janga's got it right--we'd all have different Top Ten lists, although I'm sure there would be overlap. My overlaps would include Lord of Scoundrels, but since The Shadow & the Star was my first ever romance read, I'd probably have to put it on my list. Although it's not technically Regency, is it? More Victorian. So I guess Flowers From the Storm can stay. : )

Now I really want to do my own list...
15. Julie Brook
LynneMargaret said she could do a top ten of Georgette Heyer - would you, please? I've been on a buying/trading kick, and now own about 30 Heyers I have not yet read. Where should I start, please???
16. carmenlire
Julia Quinn is a favorite of mine- and I love the Anthony's books. Dreaming of You ius simply amazing- I couldn't say how many times I've read that and my heart breaks every time when I read the ending. I must say that Devil's Bride provides such an alpha male it was almost too much for me to take. And, alas, I've heard things on Lord of Scoundrels for years, but have yet to read Chase's book.
17. Lynne M Connolly
RE Georgette Heyer. In no particular order, as it depends on my mood, but my top ten Heyer Regencies are:

Black Sheep, Cotillion, Friday's Child, Venetia, Arabella, Frederica, Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle, The Unknown Ajax, The Toll-Gate, Lady of Quality.

A continual delight, frequent re-reads for me. Her wit is brilliant, her characters instantly recognisable, since every Regency writer ever after has used them (sigh, Damerel! Miles!)

I'm not a huge fan of the Georgians. The age difference in These Old Shades squicks me out a bit, and the historical accuracies in them are a bit suspect. But you can't go wrong with the Regencies. In 40 books she made barely 6 factual errors. I think someone listed them somewhere, but the ones people remember are the blank special licence in The Reluctant Widow and the wrong SoHo in Frederica (Alverstoke takes Felix to SoHo in London instead of to the one in Birmingham).
I'm sure my post went up earlier, but it seems to have disappeared. Melted into the ether, probably.
Priscilla Waller
18. mizwaller
I'm 74 and have been reading egencies since I first read Heyers Cotillion when I was 14. That got me started and I've never stoped. My list of authors definately includes Joan Wolf . I love her single word titles "The Guardian, The Pretenders, The Gamblers, and The Arraingement". All of these books are written in the first person which I love. That seems to be a problem for some people so I wanted to mention it. I have to give a big strong second to the comment about Carla Kelly's books. The ones that are set in the regency have not religious slant at all. Her One Good Turn is a yearly retread for me. Finally, my favorite Putney is still "Shattered Rainbows". It has everything, redeemed hero, a heroine who lives by her marriage vows when anyone else might not, cute kids and dogs and of course a happy ending.
19. Lenore
What a terrific list, Myretta. I am a true diehard Regency fan as I've read all but one - and every one of the series that you mentioned. Being a fan of Kelly (and here is one more voice agreeing that her religion plays no part in her Regency books), Balogh, Laurens, Putney, Kinsale, Kleypas, Chase and Quin, I have to say that they all have in common a certain freshness and timelessness. In contrast, I've tried to read Heyer and found them somewhat musty and dated. Sorry to all the Heyer fans out there

One of the hallmarks of these books is that they can be reread for more enjoyment and I'm a particular fan of SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS - a wonderful, funny, sensitive and absolutely delightful book.

p.s. Quin's Bridgerton series is wonderful but I've found her more recent writing lacking the earlier spark and deeper characterization.
20. Jen-
I was feeling the same as Lenore about some of Quinn's more recent works, but then I read 10 Things I Love About You and for me that got her back on track.

As for Heyer... she was a regency queen. I first read her work only a couple of years ago, and some of them I haven't been able to get through, but others were instant favourites: Sylvester, The Devil's Cub, These Old Shades (I understand what you mean about the 19 year age gap, but I still found the book convincing:), Frederica, Regency Buck, Faro's Daughter....
Jennifer Proffitt
21. JenniferProffitt
Yeah, Quinn grew a little stale for me after the Bridgerton series ended, but her most recent stuff is bringing me back!
DG Rampton
22. DGRampton
Thank you Myretta, it's great to have a list to tick off. I'm usually a Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen purist as I don't want any other unconscious influences in my own Regency romance writing.

But I've re-read their books so many times I'm desperate to sink my teeth into some fun, modern Regencies! Who do you think is best at capturing the beauty of the language of the period?
23. Amber044
When I was younger I was a huge regency fan. I think your list is very good, especially, Whitney My Love. It made me a huge Judith McNaught fan and I ended up reading all of her books. I also love Carla Kelly and Joan Wolf and have several of their books in my "keepers" box. Emma Lange's book, The Irish Rake is also one of my all-time favorites.
24. IndianLizBennett
I started reading one of the books on your list, Julia Quinn's The Viscount who Loved Me. It is terrible. It is basically a Mills and Boon novel with a Regency Touch. There are no surprises, no interesting and real secondary characters. And it borrows all sorts of plot points and tropes from Georgette Heyers novels without being able to do anything interesting with them. The language sounds horribly wrong and incongruously modern. I'm amazed you say you don't like Heyer much because she's done this but only so, so much better. I don't know about the other authors on this list, but Ms Quinn has clearly taken Heyer as a template and then written a boring novel. Sincerely suggest you go back and read some Heyer.
25. Julia Ann Charpentier
Regency Romance books dumbfound critics and irritate realists. Why, then, are they so popular today?

Consider that novels set in Regency England (1811-1820) feature a privileged world among royalty, where material needs are determined by birthright and romance flourishes in clandestine environments.

Much has changed since the days of Jane Austen, whose prim and proper courtships dragged on for hundreds of pages with no one giving it up. Today, daring exploits and push-the-envelope stylistic devices fill their pages with all the drama and tension typical of mainstream America. No writer is required to adhere to the stifling rules established by the time in which Austen penned her world-renowned words. Making characters behave in a manner prohibited in their long-ago realm may seem an anachronism, but audacious plots provide an innovative environment.

These exciting, independent titles for 2015 remain true to the genre yet deserve a high mark for originality:

26. Cate Hogan.
Thank you for this fantastic review! "Pride and Prejudice" is a definite favourite of mine. Here is my list of top 15 historical romance novels of all time: http://catehogan.com/top-15-historical-romance-novels/ Some classic and more current titles. I'd love your feedback!
27. Deb Taylor
The fact that you have included Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh makes this the best list ever.
28. sashacottman
Julia Quinn was one of the first authors I read when I discovered the romance genre. I love her Bridgerton series, especially Romancing Mr Bridgerton. Even made a special trip to St Brides church last year in London because of the pivotal scene in that book.
29. PdxIrishGirl
Wonderful list BUT no Georgette Heyer...?
30. PdxIrishGirl
Wonderful list BUT no Georgette Heyer...?
31. Babs
Whitney My Love is the epitome of 1980s regency. It actually set the standard. JM herself said she had issues with the book and actually did a rewrite. I loved the original. Julia Quinn is a good example of a successful Regency writer today.
32. SueLyn Torgerson
I, too, miss Georgette Heyer from the list. I'm chiming in because I wanted to emphasize that she was the modern creator of the "Regency romance". (As someone said, Austen was writing contemporary.) Heyer did all the research. The dialogue, the historical figures, the locations, the often stereotyped characters (they were new back then), were all made famous by her. While the above authors are excellent writers with good plots, they get their world from Heyer. I hope some of them did even a portion of the amount of research she did, but I doubt it. They just copy her world. There would be NO Regency romance genre w/o her. So even if dated (which many are not) they deserve a mention in any British romance list. They should be required reading for any Regency fan. BTW, there is serious talk of making a film of The Grand Sophy.
Darlene Marshall
33. DarleneMarshall
I just want to say that I love seeing fresh discussions on this topic show up in my inbox.
34. Helva715
SueLyn said almost everything I wanted to say. Georgette Heyer may have invented the Regency Romance, but she also wrote some clever and witty contemporary (for her) mysteries. Her writing style might seem strange to some people today, but her accuracy of detail, plot and dialogue are superior to those who try to copy her. The only thing she doesn't do is sex. So that is probably why her novels aren't as popular with the respondents here as the more modern writers. Miss Heyer's books are historical romances. Emphasis on the historical. As such, they can be written for education as well as pleasant diversions.
Howard Brazee
35. HowardBrazee
Why is it too late to modify that post, when you recognize that "most influential" needed to have Heyer?
36. Nita
Thank you for posting this. I have been exploring regency romances and have my favorites and my "meh" authors. I'm glad I found this site since I see we have the same favorites. I am halfway through your list and they do not disappoint :)
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