Recently, my friends and I started a new book club focused on reading romance and exploring the genre. So far, we’ve read one contemporary novel and two historical novels. We wanted to really deep dive into the genre and set aside our pre-existing opinions or notions about it. I feel like we get a lot of contemporary romcoms marketed at us with their cute illustrated covers, but not a lot of the other genres. So might as well look into it, right?
Well, it’s been quite an adventure especially now that we’ve read a few historical romances. When we were kids, my mom was really adamant about kids being kids so I read mostly Goosebumps and Babysitters Club books. But I knew a few friends in high school who loved themselves a historical romance and had a few sitting on their childhood bookshelves. As someone who’s never read a historical romance in earnest before, it was time for me to really get down and get dirty with them.
I picked three books by three different authors to try:
- Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas
- Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean
- The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
The Duke and I and Devil in Spring were book club picks, but I picked up Wicked and the Wallflower on my own. While all these books are backlisted titles, it gave me a good idea of what the genre was like and where it’s evolved to nowadays. But I read these with an open mind and the objective of finding if historical romances are the books I want to read. Here’s some of my learns:
Historical Doesn’t Mean Old and Tired
I mean, don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of language here that’s dated, but it’s really there for effect. You’re reading historical fiction probably taking place during the 1800s in Britain and language needs to be accurate to the time. No one wants to hear a Duke call his friends “bros,” you know?
On that note, there’s quite a lot of antiquated thinking in these books. My friends and I struggled with some of the themes because they’re not the same as they are today. In historical romances, the patriarchy still dominates. Women are “ruined” by spending 10 minutes with a guy in a room alone. Women can try and own a business, but women are oddly owned by their husbands. It’s a lot of old thinking, but funnily enough it lends itself well to the stories.
You have to remember that these books are written for the time period. I think it’s good to remind ourselves how far we’ve come in terms of gender equality, but at the same time these authors are so good at taking these antiquated thoughts and turning them on their heads.
In each of these books, the women were fierce. They had sharp tongues and didn’t always listen to what the men said. I feel like despite the era these authors decided to write these books, they tried to keep in mind the generation of people reading it. Take for example, The Duke and I. For most of that book, I was a little bored with the parties and the coyness of both Simon and Daphne, but towards the end there were some huge moves that back in 2000 probably made women feel more empowered than they might have back in the real 1800s. It’s these little touches to the story that make them more intriguing to me.
There Are A Lot of Tropes
Whenever I read a review for a romance novel, I always see people get upset by certain tropes that come up. I can never tell by the review if the reviewer knows that these are tropes, but I figured that if you’re not a fan of these then you should steer clear.
But as a fan of tropes (I freaking love tropes I should write a whole blog post about my love for them), I really loved the ones in these books. I’m a huge fan of anti-heros, so I got my fill of them with Wicked and the Wallflower. I also loved fake relationships trope, which was in pretty much all three books I read. I’ll even take the royalty trope because each of these books had a member of the royal family somewhere.
I think the one thing you also need to be a fan of is the journey. When it comes to tropes, you can find that many books share the same themes and the same storylines and if you see books that way then you’ll get really bored of them. However, if you invest your time into reading the books and see how the author uses these tropes, you’ll find a much richer story that might be funny, serious, sad, or incredibly happy. It’ll also make it easy to weed out the books you don’t want to read if there are tropes you’re not a fan of. There’s a lot of tropes within the romance world and depending on your tastes, you can find ones you really love and avoid the ones you hate. I would strongly suggest checking out Smart Bitches, Trashy Books’ trope reference.
The Sex is Steamy
For a long period of time, historical romances were also known as the “bodice rippers.” I’ve learned from my friend, Leigh, that this phrase isn’t used to describe these books anymore and that’s totally understandable, but I like to think it explains the level of steam. Consensual as the love making is, it feels like authors don’t hold back. I’ve read some sexy contemporary romances, but these three books were probably sexier than those.
Maybe it’s because our brains automatically imagine women with pennies held between their knees and the extreme prudence you see in movies like Pride and Prejudice. So when you see characters literally ripping their shirts off and men getting down on their knees to do more than propose between your legs, it’s often shocking and surprising. But honestly, I loved it.
You can have your opinions on sex and they are totally valid, but I believe that sex between two partners can be a beautiful experience and in none of these books did I get the sense that the characters felt ashamed at their acts or judged by it. They did it. They loved it. And their relationships are somehow better for it. It also helps when authors tease the relationship so hard that the reader is just begging for sex to happen. lol.
So I only highlighted three parts of the historical romance here, but there’s ton. I’ll definitely be doing more research in the future and finding out way more in this subgenre than I’m starting with here. This is just my introduction into the genre and in conclusion, I like historical romances. I love that authors sees their time period as a challenge rather than a burden. I love seeing feisty women fall in love with their counterparts. I love the triumphs and surprises and twists. I love me a steamy book too, so that’s never wrong.
I also love that historical romances almost read like fantasy books. Take away the magical elements, the fairies, the elves, the fight for the throne, and you’ve basically got a historical romance. I couldn’t help imagining Wicked and the Wallflower taking place in some faraway world. Maybe it’s because it read like a sexy Six of Crows, that I liked it the best.
I honestly feel like the only issues I have with historical romances are more technical ones. There’s some repetitive language in Devil in Spring and there wasn’t very much action in The Duke and I. These technical issues are more issues with the writing style or the author’s approach, but that’s the whole point of me trying out these books. I want to find what works for me and I hope that this post encourages you to read a little historical romance and find it out for yourself.