As a new blogger, an important piece of my learning curve is keeping up with the buzz on Twitter and on established romance and book blogs, and participating in discussions in order to exchange ideas and get to know some other bloggers. I’m posting here at “home” now because there’s so much interesting content about this topic, and my own musings are growing too lengthy for commenting on other pages.
For about a week I’ve been following a wide-ranging discussion about historical romance that’s happening on several of the major romance blogs. (And before I go further, let me just say to my currently quite petite band of Badass Romance followers — if you haven’t checked out the blogs at All About Romance and Dear Author, you are really missing out on the best the romance community has to offer in the way of cross-cutting dialogue and commentary about everything from book covers to publishing trends to literary criticism, along with INDISPENSABLE book reviews.)
Lynn at All About Romance asked Where Have All the Historical Romances Gone? Since the intersection of history and romance fiction is my personal reading sweet spot, this caught my attention right away, and I jumped in to comment, along with a host of other readers and — this is one of the (many) super cool things about AAR — a bunch of historical romance authors, including the actual people who are actually responsible for some of my favorite recent reads in this genre. (!!!) A squee!! moment — ok, and here I am just trying out this term frequently employed in romance bloglandia for when you sort of interact with an author and get all “fangirl” about it….
So I don’t mind if you skip the rest of this post — if you are looking for an actual good new book to read, go right now and find yourself a copy of Libertine’s Kiss, by Judith James. A non-Regency historical romance that is not to be missed. I have been meaning to make a review post about this book for weeks! A Restoration tale, it earned DIK status at All About Romance, and features one of my favorite romance tropes: second chance at love.
OK, back to the Big Picture. Anyway, this week I also started more actively following some of these folks on Twitter. So that’s how I “met” Evangeline Holland, an author of historical romance who also blogs about Edwardian history. Her post offered another angle on The Trouble With Historical Romance, and another blogspace to talk about this with, again, readers as well as writers.
Over at Dear Author, this morning Jane says We should let the historical genre die. Which is a bold statement, but I realize I agree with what she’s saying. Or at least with what I think she might be saying. Can I just say that I agree with my own interpretation of this bold post? How ridiculous, but here is what I want to say: although I have been commenting in a very lamentatious fashion on many of the blog posts this week, I realize that the books I have been feeling nostalgic about are mostly NOT the current crop of historical romances, which, as everyone has noted, are almost exclusively set in the British Isles of the 19th century (or feature expatriate English lords of that era who may find themselves elsewhere on the globe but for all intents and purposes are Regency or Victorian characters).
It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed recent books from Liz Carlyle, Elizabeth Hoyt, Julie Anne Long, Tessa Dare, Anne Stuart, Anne Gracie, Jennifer Ashley, Meredith Duran, and at least a dozen others. And there are standouts like Joanna Bourne’s exquisite Spymaster novels. But what really got me feeling nostalgic about historical romance was thinking about great reads from a decade or two ago — an early Loretta Chase book like The Lion’s Daughter or Mr. Impossible, my first time reading Anya Seton’s Katherine, or a favorite “old school” historical like Elizabeth Lowell’s ONLY series. Why are there so many middling books about Regency lords, while it’s truly hard to find a gem like The Black Hawk, about a thief from St. Giles turned spy for the crown? I’ve also really liked Pamela Clare’s MacKinnon’s Rangers trilogy, at least in part because of the alternate setting that appeals to my love for colonial American history — but, again, it’s hard to find a lot of books that do romance well in this setting.
Which I guess leaves me agreeing that if historical romance continues to occupy such a incredibly narrow band of history, a fairytale version of England overpopulated with aristocrats, I’m OK with the declining sales. Jane/Dear Author is probably right that the genre needs to reinvent itself. Why do we keep reading and buying books about the ton, and then complain about there not being enough historical accuracy, or variety? Many readers in the AAR discussion suggested reading backlists and newly available e-books from the ’90s and earlier. Romantic Historical Fiction defines itself as a distinct genre these days, and I wonder if that’s another place readers are going…? And I suspect many historical romance readers are also quite happily reading newer titles in erotic, m/m and/or paranormal romance, particularly those well-crafted novels that also feature fundamental themes of honor, loyalty, kinship, defiance, courtliness, and characters who battle the odds to end up on the right side of history.
It may sound odd, but beneath surface trappings of daggers vs. claymores, sizzling sex scenes vs. stopping at the bedroom door, the badasses of J.R.Ward’s Black Dagger Brothers and Lynn Kurland’s medieval De Piagets and MacLeods have a lot in common. And it’s these underlying heroic tropes – a lethal combination of boldness, badassery, vulnerability, flaws, charm, and wit – that I respond to as a reader.
So perhaps historical romance as it’s currently being published is reaching an ebb that’s organic, cyclical, and necessary. Maybe it’s time to lament, but move on. What do you think? What is your most recent historical romance read? Or have you been reading something else entirely?
Other links –
This topic has been taken up on many individual blogs, and in several review posts this week, too. I’m including links here for several interesting posts that turned up in my recent reading, but this is by no means comprehensive.
Courtney Milan, Digital Strategy in Historical Romance (author, 19thc historicals)
Elise Cyr, Why Historical Romance? (author, medieval romance)
Dear Author’s Review of Jack Absolute. (Interesting discussion in the Comments here, about romance readers reading more straight historical fiction as we search out more interesting settings.)