Reeling Under an Avalanche of Dukes
It is alleged that the historical romance genre has, indeed, fallen prey to economic sensibilities. Case in point―the profusion of titles under the Regency Dukedom sub-genre. It seems as if a mere mention of 'Duke' in the title is sure to set the cash registers ringing.
There is no disputing the popularity of historical romances. The Romance Writers of America provides us with statistics that vouch for this fact―historicals account for 33% of sales in the romance genre, trumping paranormal and New Adult.
Not surprisingly, Jane Austen is considered by many to be the torch bearer of this hugely popular genre―albeit she wasn't technically writing historical romances; her work centered on realism, chronicling the contemporary landscape of the Regency era. The lure of historical romances can be attributed to the escapism they offer. Set in times when coy glances and clandestine rendezvous were the norm, these novels seem like a breath of fresh air in these times of relentless communication.
Its resounding popularity apart, however, the genre does seem to reek of repetition from time to time―after all, how much variety can one expect in romance between an alpha male and a submissive woman? Nevertheless, these much-loved writers have demonstrated their ability to churn out some historical romance masterpieces like none other. Additionally, we've also added a few classic authors, some of who may not exactly fit in this genre, but have penned some of the most touching historical romances of our times.
Contemporary Historical Romance Authors
Kathleen Woodiwiss (June 3, 1939 - July 6, 2007)
Kathleen Woodiwiss is best remembered for introducing the element of erotica into the otherwise-vanilla genre of historical romance. Her debut novel, The Flame and the Flower broke the boundaries and went beyond the 'damsel in distress' style of formulaic writing. Her stories were set in varied backgrounds, including the American Civil War and 18th-century England. She was a firm believer in keeping up the quality of her writing, and not pandering to market pressures by churning out one novel after another by compromising on their content.
Rosemary Rogers (December 7, 1932 - )
Rosemary Rogers (along with Kathleen Woodiwiss) was responsible in transforming the content of historical romance in America. At times bittersweet, at times utterly brutal, readers always found her novels akin to a roller coaster ride. Her first novel, Sweet Savage Love, followed by Dark Fires were both bestsellers, and are considered to be the best bodice-ripping books there are.
Johanna Lindsey (March 10, 1952 - )
Johanna Lindsey has been quite a prolific writer, specializing in this genre. Her Fires of Winter ranks as one of the best romances based on the Viking sub-genre. Lindsey's characters and storylines manage to stay true to the overall genre―her heroines possess the spunk to match the alpha hero's machismo. She has written close to 50 novels, cumulative sales of which number up to 58 million.
Eloisa James (1962 - )
Eloisa James is the pen name of Mary Bly, a professor of English Literature. She took on the alternate identity to shield herself from the unnecessary scrutiny which comes with being a romance writer, seeing as she worked in a rather staid academic environment. Her novels, Desperate Duchesses to mention one, have been regularly featured in the New York Times Best Seller list, becoming hardcover bestsellers in Spain and the Netherlands. Her characters and plots are a far cry from the regular fare dished out by the genre, which makes them an interesting and fulfilling read.
Amanda Quick (March 28, 1948 - )
Writer Jayne Ann Krentz, credited with introducing the futuristic/paranormal romance genre, writes historical romances under the pen name, Amanda Quick. Despite the fact that her historicals are not as popular as her futuristic stories, there is no denying the fact that Krentz remains a darn good writer of romances. She has penned close to 20 historical romances thus far, with The Paid Companion and Wait Until Midnight being the best among the lot.
Julia Quinn (1970 - )
It is interesting how Julie Pottinger ended up choosing Julia Quinn as her pen name―she figured out that this way, her novels would be lined up next to those written by the highly successful Amanda Quick. Nevertheless, Quinn's ideas set her novels apart, along with her wryly witty encounters between the characters. Mr. Cavendish, I Presume and A Night Like This have drawn praise from her readers, going on to become bestsellers. Being a feminist, she chooses to pen strong female characters at the risk of compromising with authenticity. Well, her devoted readers have nothing to complain about as she keeps delivering one bestseller after another.
Mary Balogh (March 24, 1944 - )
Mary Balogh grew up on Georgette Heyer romances, and the extent of this influence clearly reflects in her own writing. Most of her stories are centered on the Georgian and Regency era. Her female leads often tend to be "fallen" women, going against the norm of perpetually presenting holier-than-thou ones. She is known for penning passionate storylines built on some rather intelligent dialogs―a skill evident right from her debut publication, A Masked Deception. She loves to keep her readers guessing by introducing interesting plot twists.
Classic Historical Romance Authors
Georgette Heyer (August 16, 1902 - July 4, 1974)
Georgette Heyer was a British novelist credited with creating the historical romance genre. Heavily influenced by Jane Austen, Heyer took to weaving stories set in the past, particularly the Regency era. The standout feature of her novels used to be her characters possessing modern-day sensibilities, and their presence in the Recency era read out like a fine confluence, rather than an anachronism. One of her earliest works include Regency Buck, which is considered to have flagged off the genre. Another refreshing feature of her writing was the measured accuracy and attention given to depicting the bygone era, even if it was only used as a backdrop. If you're new to the gene, and are clueless about where to begin, all you need to do is pick up a classic Georgette Heyer.
Margaret Mitchell (November 8, 1900 - August 16, 1949)
Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning endeavor Gone with the Wind transcends the concept of genres. But a listing of historical romances cannot be complete without the mention of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler. Theirs is a story made memorable owing to the presence of these two extremely unique protagonists, without the typical trappings of a traditional romance. Do read it if you haven't already.
Victor Hugo (February 26, 1802 - May 22, 1885)
Victor Hugo's veritable talents as a poet and novelist certainly cannot be contained to a genre. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1829), a Gothic romance, was originally written with the purpose of reviving local interest in the then-neglected Gothic architecture, which was falling prey to newer designs all across Paris. The resultant novel ended up being a heartbreaking tale depicting the frailty of love when set against a largely decaying cultural setup. Victor Hugo's work transcends all matters of classification and genres―purists would consider it a travesty to confine him to a genre like this. However, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame remains a classic for reasons beyond the mundane.
The world of prose has its princes and paupers, and it is hard to tell what one may or may not find appealing. This list, though unconventional, comprises authors who are worth their weight in gold. That said, if we indeed have missed your favorite, do drop a line and let us know.