Historical Romance – Lament, or Let it Die?

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.

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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….

7756458So 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.50718

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?

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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.)

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Boston and Badass

I just need to get this off my mind.   It’s an unfinished post I was working on about 2 weeks ago.  Butch O’Neal was going to be my next badass.  I wanted to do a JR Ward hero to add a solid dose of vampire/paranormal romance into the mix, and review a book I actually really liked.  My blog is so new; I’m still trying to get some momentum going and figure out what it’s really going to be about. What will be fun and interesting for me to ponder and post, and what might inspire some sassy and/or intriguing discussion?
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Even though I read Lover Revealed quite a while ago, Butch’s story was among my Black Dagger favorites and this is partly because of the Boston connection.  So there it is… I’ve been completely stalled and distracted, like everyone else who lives in the Boston area, and pretty much haven’t even thought about my new blog for over a week, since before marathon Monday and school vacation week.  When I did think about getting back to the blog, it was with avoidance,  because I knew this was the post I’d find.  Ugh.  I can’t finish it now, and I’m not sure I should post it at all, even with these fragmentary musings.
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I have noticed the term badass all over the place in mainstream coverage and tweeting about the cops in Boston and Watertown.  I can’t tell if I am just noticing it more, or if it is actually being used more. For example, this from a list of media moments compiled by Boston.com’s Radio BDC blog:
IF YOU WERE LISTENING TO THE SCANNER, THIS WILL NOT BE NEWS: WATERTOWN POLICE OFFICERS ARE TOTALLY BADASS.  While waiting for backup, a single Watertown police officer engaged in a shootout with the suspects early Friday morning — and employed a tactic straight out of a Die Hard movie, according to Watertown police chief Edward Deveau. The officer put his car in gear and jumped out of it, hoping they would think he was still in it as he fired from behind a tree, Deveau said.
We tell kids to “look for the helpers” when we’re forced to talk with them about violent and scary events in the news.  I think some of us grown-ups can’t help looking for badass heroes, in much the same way.
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It’s interesting how quickly social media has provided the means for romanticizing key figures in the drama of the last week.  This morning I read this crazy story about how “hot” and badass the Boston FBI head is, based on tweets and other online sources of pop culture buzz.
In case you were buried under a rock, DesLauriers was at the center of the investigation all last week. He stood up at press conferences and said all kinds of badassy stuff, like this: FBI’s DesLauriers ‘We will go to ends of the earth to find those responsible for this despicable crime.”

I was inclined to just ditch my whole post, since it seems pretty cheesy and insensitive to objectify and engage in the “crushing out” on Boston law enforcement in the context of an overwrought fictional world where the Boston cop hero is a vampire.  I have not been directly injured or affected by the terrible events of last week.  I just live here, and my children live here.  The perpetrator is being treated in the hospital where they were born.  Many other strands link us to the places and institutions that have suffered devastating loss and lockdown. For me, Boston Strong is too personal; it’s not just a meme to adopt, analyze and/or deconstruct.   But then I decided to leave the post unfinished and try and make my peace with it by articulating some of this.

I had been especially looking forward to comments on the “poll” question, but now the whole thing just feels completely different.  Real life badass cops chasing and fighting warped evildoers who suddenly — given the scale and grandiose ambition of their actions — resemble nothing so much as Lessers.  Tough to make your peace with that.

Boston Badass

Badass: Brian (Butch) O’Neal, hard-ass Boston cop and long lost descendant of Wrath; re-united with his kin and his kind when he rescues Beth, a female vampire destined to be Queen.

Falls For: Marissa, aristocratic female of impeccable lineage who was not destined to be Queen, but kicks ass in her own right when she takes on the Princeps Council and defeats an attempt to impose misogynist restrictions on female rights and freedoms (the “sehclusion” motion).

Story Recounted By: the incomparable J.R. Ward, in Lover Revealed (2007)

Hangs Out In: V’s lair at the mansion, the ultimate man cave.

Likes:  Schmancy clothes, good Scotch, the Sox .  There are a lot of high end, top shelf brand names in this book.

Dislikes:  Following law enforcement rules when justice is what he’s after; sitting on the sideline when there are Lessers to be Dehstroyed.

Badass Hero Moment: Withstands torture to protect the Brotherhood and its secrets.

To Read Or Not To Read?

Tangentially Related … and Possibly Diverting:  

Pamela Poll:  Boston cops, Boston criminals… there’s a whole sub-genre now of Boston Noir, and it’s not just books.  There are so many great Boston films.  And tv — who can forget Spencer For Hire?!  So…. who are your favorite Boston badasses?