Julia London’s latest highland romance, Devil in Tartan, upends the typical power dynamic of the genre —the bold hero is taken captive by heroine Lottie Livingstone, who has commandeered his ship for her own purposes. London tells us how Lottie is part of a new wave of historical leading ladies who recognize the patriarchal injustices of their world and insist on their own agency and happiness anyway.
There is a misconception about historical romance that persists in the book world at large. They are pejoratively called “bodice rippers,” a term that is a throwback to the 1970s, when the heroines were innocent, powerless creatures and the heroes were worldly, experienced alpha males who knew best. The heroines were charming, delightful confections, and the heroes were drawn to their innocence and felt a strong urge to protect them. The heroes were afforded all the meaningful choices—when to have sex, who to marry. The heroine wanted all those things, but rarely got to lead the way of her fate.
Well, good news. The historical heroine has come a long way in the last several decades.
Throughout history, across the globe, women were little more than chattel. They had very few personal rights and lived by the rules of men. Their personal worth was the sum of their chastity and their ability to provide heirs—preferably sons.
Historical romance novels have always captured that lack of power and personal agency, but in the last few years, the heroines have begun to push back. Authors were introducing women who demanded consent long before the current feminist movement took to the streets. Historical heroines have been inspiring readers to make their desires known and their consent necessary. They’ve been in situations where they needed to be strong, to be clever and, most importantly, to create choices for themselves. Of course the historical heroine is still physically vulnerable in a patriarchal world, and she still lives in a world ruled by men, for men. But she has shed her resignations. She is no longer merely a good girl in an impossible situation—she is not going to sit back and wait for life to come at her.
Gone are the days of bodice ripping, and in their place, we have smart, savvy women in a historical setting who learn how to navigate a male-dominated society. To the extent that she can, she pursues what is best for her both personally and, in some cases, even professionally. She doesn’t need a man. She wants one. She is exploring her sexuality instead of being chased around a desk.
In my opinion, the evolution of the historical romance heroine makes the central romance all the more compelling. It becomes something that’s hard-fought and won. This doesn’t mean the historical heroes have lost their alpha or don’t pursue a woman with the same vigor as they always have. He’s still strong, still protective, still possessive, but alongside that is a current of respect and devotion that our heroines have earned. The hero doesn’t just want her—he needs her now. He needs what she fulfills in him, he needs what he was missing before she came along.
In Devil in Tartan, my hero, Aulay Mackenzie, discovers that Lottie Livingstone, the woman who brazenly steals his ship and holds him captive, fulfills him in a way he never imagined he needed. He wants to see her hang for the crime—he definitely wants to see her hang—but he also recognizes what she might have added to his life had she not committed this crime. It’s quite a conundrum for a captain, a man who has always been in charge of his own destiny. It’s just as much a challenge for Lottie, who has never been in charge of her destiny and, now that she is, wants so badly to lean on someone as strong and capable as Aulay. But her conviction is stronger—she will not give in until she has done all that she can for a clan that depends on her, and to live up to her expectations for herself.
It was a delight to pen this novel, to watch these two characters come to realize so much about themselves and what they need in a partner. I was inspired by the way Lottie grasped for the brass ring even when she didn’t want to do it and didn’t know how to do it. But what she did was always her choice. I hope you enjoy the adventure Lottie embarks on and enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed writing it.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Devil in Tartan.