Are We in a New Historical Golden Age?

RuthlessI sat down to write something kind of snarky about language use in historicals after having come across some particularly heinous examples lately, but I soon found myself thinking about something entirely different:  Are we in the midst of a renaissance of the historical romance?

I think we may be getting there.  Recently I read – and was blown away by – Anne Stuart’s Ruthless.  The novel is a great one any way you choose to judge it, but it’s also noteworthy for taking place in 1765 in France.  Yes, that’s right, I said France. But, refreshing as that different time and setting may be, I loved this book because it is a voluptuous (and, yes, I really think that word applies), full-bodied (yes, I like it, even if it is redundant), lush romance between a truly dissolute rake and a strong, self-reliant woman.  And, even better, it reminded me of a classic of the author’s from a l-o-o-o-o-n-g time ago that I have saved since I first read it – Lord Satan’s Bride. And I am excited – oh, my, am I excited – about the remaining two books in the trilogy.

Then there is Loretta Chase’s Last Night’s Scandal, a book that to me is easily her best in years.  The dialogue crackles and pops and, just as we’ve come to expect from the author, when it’s time to hand over the goods on the romance, the author delivers – deliciously.

Stuart and Chase are experienced mistresses of their craft, but what about the next generation?  Right off the top of my head I can think of Sherry Thomas with her smart, witty style; Meredith Duran, who writes intelligent, lush romances; Joanna Bourne, with her intriguing characters and lush prose; and Tessa Dare bringing zing back to the Regency.

And then add in continuing terrific historical (and contemporary) romances from Lisa Kleypas; Elizabeth Hoyt; Connie Brockway (who I am so delighted to see writing historicals again); and Laura Lee Guhrke, who told us at RWA that her next series of books is set in the Edwardian era (as in the 20th century, and my cup is overflowing.

Bottom line for me is that I am more enthused than I have been in years about the future of the historical – which is nothing short of amazing considering my state of enui just a few short years ago.

I’ll be honest and admit here that I’m not a big fan of Westerns, so I’m not in the same boat as others bemoaning their loss.  But I feel their pain because I do like choice and think it is reasonable of readers to expect more than All Regency, Regency, Regency All the Time.  Most especially when it’s Wallpaper Regency, Regency, Regency.  And, despite the wonders of the authors I’ve mentioned here, there is still an awful lot of Wallpaper out there these days.

What about you?  Who has you excited these days?  Am I jumping the gun in thinking that we may be entering a new historical romance renaissance?

- Sandy AAR

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24 Responses to Are We in a New Historical Golden Age?

  1. Nathalie T says:

    Historical Romance is my favourite even if I also read Contemporary and Paranormal. I was really excited when Mary Jo Putney started writing historicals again and I also love Elizabeth Hoyts books. I’ve tried Tessa Dare but her books wasn’t my cup of tea. I’ve also recently discovered Sara Lindsey and I really liked her first book. The other one is in my TBR-pile.

  2. I’m actually working on a blog entry of my own on this exact topic. After years (egads, years) of sparse to-be-bought lists and seemingly nothing but wallpaper Regency series after wallpaper Regency series after wallpaper Regency series, we have… :gasp: variety. In only the past month, I have devoured books by Joanna Bourne, Judith James, Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran, Charlotte Featherstone and Mary Wine. I am currently juggling Anne Stuart’s Reckless and Elizabeth Hoyt’s Wicked Intentions because I cannot pick only one. The knowledge that there will be another Monica Burns historical makes me want to dance around the room like a giddy schoolgirl…but I still have the new Anna Campbell to devour first, and reading through the historical settings of upcoming releases in Romantic Times Book Reviews elicits many a squee as I see stories coming out from Viking times to the Edwardian era, hitting a lot of others along the way.

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  4. Lee says:

    Well, Sandy, as a fellow historical lover, I hope you’re right. I can’t think of another book set in the Edwardian period – I hope Guhrke delivers.

  5. I love love love historicals, but I am getting a little tired of Regency. Even Medievals don’t seem as popular as they once were, and the ones that are being published now tend to have a supernatural element I’m not loving.

    Even though I didn’t love Ruthless, I did love the setting. How refreshing to read a book that wasn’t set in England! I would have enjoyed more background history on the hero to set the time frame a bit more solidly (I had to go and look up why a bunch of English nobility would have been in exile in France in the 1760s), but it was such a nice change of pace.

    Loretta Chase (as usual) did an excellent job setting the scene too. I really appreciated all the descriptions of Olivia’s clothes; that really put me in the right time and place.

    I do think authors are branching out and trying new things. I hope this is a trend that continues; there are so many eras I would love to read about. I hope we are in a Renaissance!

  6. trish says:

    Sandy, I agree. While I read other genres like contemps and some paranormals, my first love is historicals. And so far this year, I almost feel I’ve had an embarrassment of riches. There are so many books that I want to read, that my TBR for books released just this year is rather unprecedented. I still haven’t gotten to Kinsale’s LESSONS IN FRENCH, Bourne’s THE FORBIDDEN ROSE, Chase’s LAST NIGHT’S SCANDAL, Stuart’s RUTHLESS, Ashley’s LADY ISABELLA’S SCANDALOUS MARRIAGE, Judith James’ LIBERTINE’S KISS, Lofty’s SCOUNDREL’S KISS or Campbell’s MY RECKLESS SURRENDER to name just a few.

    Of those I have read, for the most part, I’ve been very pleased. I recently finished Rose Lerner’s debut IN FOR A PENNY which I enjoyed, I’m currently reading Hoyt’s WICKED INTENTIONS (promising so far) and I read and loved:

    Both of Kaki Warner’s westerns, PIECES OF SKY and OPEN COUNTRY (and I’m not a huge readers of westerns). Thomas’ HIS AT NIGHT, Duran’s WICKED BECOMES YOU, Brockway’s THE GOLDEN SEASON, Kris Kennedy’s terrific medieval, THE IRISH WARRIOR (also loved her debut THE CONQUEROR from last year), and Kleypas didn’t let me down with MARRIED BY MORNING and LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON.

    And, though I still haven’t read her last Girl Bachelor book, WITH SEDUCTION IN MIND, I look forward to LL Gurhke’s new Edwardian-set series.

  7. Victoria S says:

    I don’t know about a “Golden Age”, but I have certainly been in Alt over the recent offerings in Historical romance. Partricia Rice-The Wicked Wickerly, Rose Lerner- In for a Penny, Julia Quinn-Ten Things I Love About You, Loretta Chase-Last Night’s Scandal, Sherry Thomas-His At Night are some of my faves this year . I am looking forward to Sabrina Jeffries A HELLION IN HER BED, Madeline Hunter SINFUL IN SATIN, Jennifer Haymore A SEASON OF SEDUCTION. Top 100 voting is gonna be fun this year :-)

  8. Scorpio M. says:

    It was Elizabeth Hoyt, specifically her Princes Trilogy, that brought me back to historicals. I had stopped reading romance in general for a few years because nothing moved me. Hoyt managed to make me feel enchanted again, I felt lost in the world she painted and I cared about her ‘people.’

    Since my rediscovery of romance, I have found that the quality of romance has improved dramatically since the 90s. I think authors & editors listened. The proliferation of blogs devoted to romance probably helped. We as readers do not want wallpaper historicals or TSTL heroines or heroes who act ridiculous. I have found numerous new-to-me (Hoyt, Dahl, Clare) and now must-buy authors. I love it!

  9. Pat says:

    I just read Marry Me, Jo Goodman’s forthcoming Western, and am excited about the return of the Western. So, yes, I think good historicals are coming back, and all I can say is “Yea!”

  10. annaR says:

    librarianLizy: may I suggest that you give Tessa Dare another chance to work for you? I’ve liked some much better than others. It’s actually a good thing when an author’s books are not carbon copies of each other and thus offers more for a variety of romance readers.

  11. I really really hope so. I’ve just about stopped reading historicals, because they’ve been so disappointing. It’s not the variety of time or place I object to, but the lack of historical detail. They could be set anywhere, anytime. And the anachronisms (Regency spies?) were driving me demented. So I stopped hurting myself and my purse. An accurate Regency would be fun, and you can still get them from the likes of Louise Allen and Nicola Cornick, but there aren’t enough.
    It’s mostly the authors from the old days who have been writing historicals through the slump who are coming back now. I’m thrilled that they are getting more attention and I want more!

  12. Hannah says:

    I don’t know if we’re in a golden age but as a Gen Xer I’m proud to see a lot of people my age and younger who read and write romance. I don’t know if it’s really statistically significant but it’s something that I’ve been aware of recently, just a feeling that I’m part of a new generation of historical romance readers.

  13. Wendy says:

    I had a feeling that when the economy took a dive that we were in for a historical resurgence, and it would seem we are. I keep track of upcoming historical romance releases, and the end of 2010 looks particularly loaded. Now, I’m sure there will still be plenty of wallpaper to go around – but I’ve been heartened to see authors like Carrie Lofty, Kris Kennedy, Judith James emerge, writing in different settings, delivering solid romances, and not skimping on the history. I’ve also been happy to see new, debut authors writing westerns (Kaki Warner, Caroline Fyffe) – and am currently crossing my fingers that the Dorchester news doesn’t completely smother that sub genre entirely….

  14. Magdalen says:

    The bar has been set pretty high by authors like Patricia Gaffney and Laura Kinsale, whose historicals from 20+ years ago still sing in my memory. But Elizabeth Hoyt is superlative in achieving a distinctive voice that transports the reader without being stilted. Joanna Bourne meshes heart and history in wonderful ways, and Loretta Chase conveys the fun without slipping into anachronisms.

    All I care about is good, smart writing. These writers — and others (I haven’t read everything by everyone mentioned here) — are continuing to improve, so it’s just a matter of time before we’re debating whether one of their books has set the bar even higher.

  15. Janet W says:

    And there are always new historical authors to celebrate, like Rose Lerner. I personally WISH reviewers would stop comparing her and anyone new to Heyer: because being Rose Lerner, an original new voice, is just fine in and of itself. I’m looking forward to her next book … real prostitutes who find love are still fairly rare in rom.

  16. Karla says:

    I just want to add a couple of authors that I’ve been excited about. I LOVED Kate Noble’s first two books, and Sarah MacLean delivered a very nice debut romance in Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. I’m expecting good things from Courtney Milan, and, among veteran authors, I’ve enjoyed reading the backlists of Anne Mallory, Caroline Linden and Suzanne Enoch. So I’m feeling very good about historicals right now.

  17. Kati says:

    Sherry Thomas, Sherry Thomas, Sherry Thomas. Not Quite a Husband was superb, and she showed a completely different, lighter touch with this year’s His at Night. Her prose is sumptuous, as is her evolution of both characterization and emotion.

    I’ll be honest and say I didn’t love her first book, Private Arrangements, but I’ve loved every book since.

  18. Ellen AAR says:

    Edwardian romances? Yippee!!!! I love that period and I can’t wait to read them!

  19. KristieJ says:

    I also have hope for the historical after years of a lot of disappointment. As others have already mentioned, I’ve been most impressed with a number of historical authors lately; Judith James, Elizabeth Hoyt, Meredith Duran, Joanne Bourne, Sherry Thomas and Tessa Dare are just a few I’ve enjoyed the past few years. I’m sure there are more that I’ve forgotten to mention too.

  20. Alex says:

    Yay for more Laura Lee Guhrke books! I love her Girl-Bachelors, and though I’m happy at more books by her I’m a bit sad there isn’t more of that series.

    Though I didn’t like Meredith Duran or Sherry Thomas (don’t hate me!) I’m very excited about the future of historicals and I totally agree, I love the choice, the options.

  21. Pamela M says:

    A new “Golden Historical Age?” Picture me optimistcally, doing a happy dance!! I am truly excited to hear about Guhrke’s new series in the Edwardian time period. I love Thomas. Duran and Dare and Hoyt can be hit and miss for me, but I love the new voices of change and I am encouraged that more new options will continue.

  22. Elyse Mady says:

    I think so – there are so many great authors who take their periods and their romances seriously that it’s a pleasure to read them. They take the best of real history and marry it to the drama and desire that is a romantic novel in ways that are novel, fresh and wonderful to read. Bring it on, I say, bring it on!

  23. Mande says:

    Geez, that’s ubneliaevble. Kudos and such.

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