Monday, April 17, 2017

Historical Romance: How We Got To Where We Are Today

Sometimes when I talk to fellow readers of historical romance, or even authors, and I mention a name from the past, an author who helped shape the genre, like Kathleen Woodiwiss or Rosemary Rogers, I get a blank stare in return. It occurred to me that as lovers of a genre it might be helpful to read some of the classics to see where we’ve come from and to enjoy the greats who have contributed so much to the craft.

I’m not going as far back as Ivanhoe or Jane Eyre. Except for four novels of note in earlier decades, I’m starting in the 1970s when the bedroom door was flung open never to close again. And while I may not have included your favorite author, by reading the romances on this list, you’ll have a good idea of our beginnings and what so many wonderful authors have done for the genre. Think of it as a Recommended Reading List for the Uninitiated in modern historical romance.

So, here’s the list of the historical romances I recommend. Each has something to show you. Some may require you to shop online for a used book though many are available as ebooks. I’m not saying they will all be your favorites, or that they are all mine, and I know that some readers will think I left off one I should have included. This is just a sampling meant to give you a picture of how the genre has developed. Most are novels I’ve rated 5 stars, so I promise you won’t be bored. 

Included because of their significance… and to show you what was out there early

·               Beauvallet by Georgette Heyer (1929)
·               Bride of the MacHugh by Jan Cox Speas (1954)
·               Sleep in the Woods by Dorothy Eden (1960)
·               Bond of Blood by Roberta Gellis (1965)

The 1970s: The Pioneering Years

·               The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss (1972)
·               The Wicked Marquis by Barbara Cartland (1973)
·               Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers (1974)
·               Love’s Tender Fury by Jennifer Wilde (aka Tom Huff) (1976)
·               Moonstruck Madness by Laurie McBain (1977)
·               Caroline by Cynthia Wright (1977)
·               Love’s Wild Desire by Jennifer Blake (1977)
·               The Kadin by Bertrice Small (1978)
·               A Pirate’s Love by Johanna Lindsey (1978)
·               Bonds of Love by Lisa Gregory (1978)

The 1980s: The Explosive Years

·               Lady Vixen by Shirlee Busbee (1980)
·               Skye O’Malley by Bertrice Small (1981)
·               Devil’s Embrace by Catherine Coulter (1982)
·               The Silver Devil by Teresa Denys (1984)
·               Rose of Rapture by Rebecca Brandewyne (1984)
·               Stormfire by Christine Monson (1984)
·               The Windflower by Laura London (aka Sharon & Tom Curtis) (1984)
·               Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught (1985)
·               The Wind and the Sea by Marsha Canham (1986)
·               Mountain Mistress by Nadine Crenshaw (1987)
·               The Hawk and the Dove by Virginia Henley (1988)
·               Capture the Sun by Shirl Henke (1988)
·               Nightwylde by Kimberleigh Caitlin (1988, re-published as Black Falcon’s Lady)
·               Sweet Savage Eden by Heather Graham (1989)
·               Heartstorm by Elizabeth Stuart (1989)

The 1990s: The Developing Years

·               Dark Fires by Brenda Joyce (1991)
·               The Wind Dancer by Irish Johansen (1991)
·               Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale (1992)
·               Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1992)
·               Untamed by Elizabeth Lowell (1993)
·               Princess of Fire by Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham) (1994)
·               Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson (1996)
·               The Passions of Emma by Penelope Williamson (1997)
·               Night in Eden by Candice Proctor (1997)
·               Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson (1998)
·               Kilgannon by Kathleen Givens (1999)

The 2000s: The “Standing On The Shoulders of Giants” Years

·               By Possession by Madeline Hunter (2000)
·               Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry by Amanda Hughes (2002)
·               The Captain of All Pleasures by Kresley Cole (2003)
·               Laird of the Mist by Paula Quinn (2007)
·               Broken Wing by Judith James (2008)
·               My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne (2008)
·               The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran (2008)
·               Raeliksen by Renee Vincent (2008)
·               Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold by Ellen O’Connell (2010)
·               Pieces of Sky by Kaki Warner (2011)


  1. I remember seeing most of these books on the shelves and passing them by. I did read a book or two by many of the authors but didn't much care to read more. I am not one in favor of opening the bedroom door as I don't find descriptions of people having sex romantic.
    I did read most of Barbara Cartland and found her historical notes intriguing and they led me into doing research into the regency period. I have read Heyer and Catherine Coulter. Coulter's books had less humor and more physical violence. That was the time when many authors had the so called hero raping the heroine. A psychologist had said that women fantasized about being raped so they could enjoy sex without guilt That was back in the day when most condemned sex outside of marriage. Coulter has rewritten some of her earlier books and softened them , adding more humor, but a few still have a lady kidnapped and raped but loving the man anyway, and a man putting on a disguise and a raping his wife. Signet had mostly high quality traditional ( now called sweet or clean) regencies. For awhile Zebra and Signet put out eight regencies a month. It was bliss-- expensive but so enjoyable. Most of the Signet authors did as good a job of research into the period as was possible in those days .
    However, most of the authors had no idea about the actual regency except what they gleaned from Heyer and Cartland. Even English authors messed up the titles, had modern marriage laws, and mores. They had stories about sex outside of marriage and put them into the past so as to be less offensive to the censors among us.
    I have Cartland, Coulter, Kinsale, Bourne, , Heyer, of course. I have read several of Lowell's mysteries. Cartland is good as bed time reading and to always make one think-- "I can do this as well." I usually preferred mysteries to romances until I discovered the Signet, Candlelight and Cameo Cartland regencies.

    1. Nancy, I know you don't like love scenes. Some of these books have none, by the way. But the fact is, the modern historical romance reader wants them. I recall one book by Kathleen Givens, an author I love, who slammed the bedroom door in my face... literally. I was so frustrated. I wanted to see the couple loving each other. Alas, I did not. In each of these on this list, the hero, no matter what a bad actor he is in the beginning, ends up as a man deeply in love with and sacrificing for the heroine. I think that is what appealed to the readers--that and a good story. You might want to ignore my Bodice Ripper list when I post it this month.

    2. Nancy, I add as a footnote that The Flame and the Flower, which contains a rape scene (though the hero mistakenly believed the heroine to be a whore) has over 400 5-star reviews on Amazon.