I’ve enjoyed historical fiction for as long as I can remember,but it was only in the early 1990s that I started reading historical romance in earnest. As a broke student, used bookstores were my main source of books and these allowed me to range across all kinds of different time and place settings(though I quickly learned that many of the older “You’re a slut!” “Oh, you were a virgin. Now I love you.” books were definitely not my thing). Though I love visiting many time periods, medieval romances quickly became my favorites.
I blame E.L. Konigsberg and Norah Lofts for this. In middle school, I discovered A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver as well as The Maude Reed Tale. Even though I knew from my reading that the Middle Ages were a difficult time in which to live, these two books drew me in. The sweeping epic that was Eleanor of Aquitaine’s life fired my imagination, and mindset of the medieval world seemed so very exotic to me. The history and the huge personalities of the time made me daydream quite a lot.
What’s not to catch the imagination about the Middle Ages? The mixture of faith and earthiness, light and darkness, and the huge social and political upheavals of the time make for intriguing story material – and I’m more than happy to gloss over the less attractive facts of the period in order to enjoy my characters. In the Middle Ages, it seems to me that heroes and heroines truly could be larger than life. The daring feats of knights in battle could become the stuff of legend (and of romance!), and some of the women’s stories lend themselves well to big, sweeping romantic epics. Think of the ladies who defended the castle while the knights were away, or of the women who accompanied husbands on political missions and trade journeys. Not to mention all the changes wrought as countries rose and fell, and entire social systems were altered forever in the years following the Black Death, just to mention a couple of things. There’s a lot of great material to be found.
And it used to be an easy fascination to feed. Between new releases and the USBs, I found Roberta Gellis, Marsha Canham, Laura Kinsale, Rexanne Becnel and Julie Garwood. And it seemed like the major publishing houses released new medievals every month. Up until that point, I had never known anything other than a varied selection of settings, so it never occurred to me that one day books like this would be difficult to find.
Gradually, I started to notice fewer medieval settings, though. If I stuck to the major releases in Borders, I could only find one every few months by 2005 or so. Authors I used to read switched time periods or left the historical market all together. Harlequin Historicals has remained a reliable source for medieval romance, but it has otherwise gotten very hard to locate them. In addition, many of the books that I do find are either humorous and wallpapery, which can be good in small doses but lack a certain sense of place, or they seem more like fantasy/paranormal books than proper historicals. Some of these can be very good, such as Carrie Lofty’s What a Scoundrel Wants, which I enjoyed last year. However, these still don’t fill that desire for a substantial, meaty medieval read.
Thankfully, as I look further afield, I’m starting to find more medievals at smaller publishers such as Leisure or Medallion, or some of the ebook publishers. It’s still a challenge to find medieval romances, but I keep hoping that the lure of this complex time and the creative, strong people who made it will draw more authors and readers. There are many fresh plots out there just waiting to be written, so long live the medieval!
AND…when I was bemoaning the lack of good medieval romances out there, one of my AAR colleagues put me in touch with author Catherine Kean. To help get us started on our medieval romance reading, the author has graciously donated a signed copy of her novel, A KNIGHT’S TEMPTATION to be given away and she says,
“I’m often asked to talk about my favorite part of writing medieval romances. Every part of the writing process—including crafting interesting characters, an authentic setting, and a page-turning plot—is important to me, but I especially love creating that delicious tension between my hero and heroine. Some scenes I can’t WAIT to write, because I can practically see the sparks zipping from my computer keyboard….I hope you enjoy A Knight’s Temptation as much as I loved writing it for you.”
To enter the contest, simply comment below with the title of your favorite medieval romance between now and 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 24, 2009. Good luck!