In the eyes of high society, Cornish noblewoman Tamsyn Pearce is a pretty, if a bit unpolished, new addition to the marriage mart. But Tamsyn’s not in London to get married—she’s there to find a buyer for her latest shipment of smuggled goods. Eva Leigh’s London Underground series features heroines involved in the criminal underworld rather than sheltered society belles. Here, Leigh tells us what drew her to historical romance’s darker corners.
Readers of historical romance have long immersed themselves in tales of the ton—British high society during the Regency and reign of George IV—and with good reason. The intoxicating combination of elegance, wit, fashion and strictly regulated conduct captivates readers and provides a welcome antidote to the chaos of contemporary life. From the foundational novels of Jane Austen to the era’s glittering re-imagination by Georgette Heyer to the sharp, feminist works of Sarah MacLean and Tessa Dare, the Regency period has proven again and again that readers’ appetite for historical romance has never faded.
Yet, as much as high society continues to captivate imaginations, recent television programs such as Taboo and The Frankenstein Chronicles have introduced audiences to a darker, grittier side of the Regency. MacLean, Dare and other romance authors such as Cat Sebastian and Rose Lerner have started exploring some of the shadier aspects of the early 19th century.
My current series, The London Underground, features aristocratic heroes, but the heroines are from the more lawless side of society. The first book in the series, From Duke Till Dawn, brought readers a romance between an extremely principled duke and a con artist who’ll do anything to ensure her survival. In my latest novel, Counting On a Countess, the upper-class hero has been made an earl in exchange for his military service, and while the impoverished heroine is also nobly born, she’s the head of a Cornish smuggling operation.
Liminal figures have fascinated me—from my earliest youthful daydreams of being a cat burglar to fixating on the scruffy nerf herder scoundrel, Han Solo, and on to learning about women such as Mary Seacole and Mary Anning, who made inroads in male-dominated fields. And while, like many readers, I enjoy fantasies about elegant balls and promenades along Hyde Park’s Rotten Row, I also want to know more about the people—especially women—who didn’t quite fit into prevailing ideas of “proper” behavior.
If genteel women and aristocratic women deserve stories about their journeys to love, don’t working-class and impoverished women deserve them, too? An accident of birth is not the indicator of someone’s moral character. I wanted to write books that showed women’s strength in the face of financial and social adversity, as well as these women finding love and acceptance, so I envisioned The London Underground series.
For research, there was no shortage of texts, including Donald A. Low’s The Regency Underworld, The London Underworld in the Victorian Period by Henry Mayhew, et al., and the often-used The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. To glean more information about smuggling, I turned to Smuggling in Cornwall: An Illustrated History by Jeremy Rowett Johns and Richard Platt’s Smuggling in the British Isles. Naturally, the internet provided a wealth of information—such as finding photos on Pinterest of the Cornish coast where my heroine conducts her smuggling.
For me, the greatest trick with research is not finding the information needed, but knowing when to stop researching and start writing. But eventually, I cut the cord and wrote the story of Tamsyn Pearce, baron’s daughter and smuggler.
And while I will continue to read (and write) tales of society’s dazzling elite, I’ll turn my eyes from the stars down to the streets, where love and adventure await. After all, doesn’t everyone deserve a happily ever after?