October 12, 2022
Get swept away
Calling all lords, ladies and gentlefolk: The year’s standout historical romances eagerly await your presence.
So, you made your way through not only “Bridgerton” but every other historical miniseries you could get your hands on, and now you’re faced with the daunting task of picking out a Regency romance novel from approximately one million titles. Don’t worry—we’re here to help. There are tons of terrific books out there, and because the subgenre has more variety than you might expect, we’ve added a complementary television series to each recommendation below to help you scope out the vibe.
A Duchess by Midnight
Miss Drewsmina “Drew” Trelayne is determined to make a name for herself as a guide for young debutantes embarking on their London season in A Duchess by Midnight by Charis Michaels. When her newly royal stepsister, Cynde, uses her connections to secure Drew’s first paying client, Drew has her work cut out for her. How can she teach the Duke of Lachlan’s troubled nieces proper deportment and etiquette when she can’t seem to stop herself from breaking all the rules with the irresistible, scandal-ridden duke?
Read if you loved “The Baby-Sitters Club”
Yes, we’re really comparing a Regency romance to a TV show based on a series of chapter books, and here’s why. Both A Duchess by Midnight and the recent Netflix adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s popular series, which launched in 1986, take a story that had grown a bit stagnant in our imaginations and make it feel fresh without losing the magic of the original. Drewsmina is a Regency version of the stepsisters from Disney’s Cinderella, and through her, Michaels breathes new life into a slightly dusty fairy tale. Far from being a two-dimensional figure, Drewsmina becomes the fully realized heroine of her own story by being willing to grow and change. Her less-than-perfect past makes her the ideal person to reach the lonely, isolated duke and his two wary girls in this charming twist on an age-old story.
Kunigunde “Kuni” de Heusch is determined to become the first Royal Guardswoman of Balcovia. She can’t get distracted by anyone or anything—not even Graham Wynchester. But when Graham interferes with her mission at the beginning of Erica Ridley’s Nobody’s Princess, Kuni ends up falling in with the astonishing Wynchester clan—going on adventures, learning acrobatic skills and discovering a brand of heroism and service that is like nothing she’s ever known. Her time in England is limited, and the future of her dreams is waiting for her in Balcovia. She’ll soon have everything she ever wanted . . . except for a certain remarkable man.
Read if you loved “The Umbrella Academy”
Unlike the characters in the comic book-inspired Netflix series, the Wynchesters don’t have supernatural powers, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to make the world a better place. These adopted siblings use their fortune to right wrongs and protect the innocent. They bicker with and tease and aggravate one another, while still coming together when there’s an enemy to face. It’s lovely to see Kuni fall for not only the eminently lovable Graham but also his entire family and their appreciation of and support for one another. Ridley’s take on the Regency period is quirkier and broader than the norm, but that just makes Nobody’s Princess all the more compelling and fun.
The Rake’s Daughter
In Anne Gracie’s The Rake’s Daughter half sisters Clarissa and Isobel Studley have no one but each other—and if their father had had his way, they wouldn’t even have that. Isobel is the illegitimate daughter whom the unscrupulous baronet had no interest in raising, and only Clarissa’s stubborn loyalty kept the girls together through childhood. They cling to each other even tighter when their father dies and they are sent to London to live with their new guardian, Leo Thorne, the Earl of Salcott. Because his opinion of Isobel stems from her father’s viciously cruel descriptions, Leo is appalled by his instantaneous and fierce attraction to her. As they both try to shepherd Clarissa through her first season, the fiery Isobel challenges Leo to see past his preconceptions.
Read if you loved “The Good Place”
Gracie takes a warmer, sweeter view of Regency high society; there are still challenges and prejudices, but there are also examples of extraordinary kindness, devotion and compassion. Like Eleanor and Michael in the afterlife-set TV show, the characters in The Rake’s Daughter have vibrant, rich personalities that make it easy to root for them. Leo has a particularly impressive character arc, starting off almost as an antagonist before becoming the hero he always had the potential to be. And it’s not just the lead characters who will steal your heart: Loyal, kind, insightful but insecure Clarissa is reminiscent of Chidi from “The Good Place,” and one can only hope she gets her own book soon.
★ A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting
Kitty Talbot, the heroine of Sophie Irwin’s A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting, is left with four sisters to care for and an ocean of debt after her father dies and her fiancé jilts her. The only thing left of value is herself, so it’s off to London and the marriage mart to find a rich match. Luck seems to be on her side when she’s able to catch the eye of sweet, easily manipulated Archie de Lacy, but her hopes are punctured when his disapproving older brother, Lord Radcliffe, comes to break up the match. Desperate to the point of recklessness, Kitty manages to convince Radcliffe to make a trade: She’ll leave his brother alone if he helps her find another match. But what starts out as a grudging alliance blooms into something more, something built on growing respect, admiration, attraction—and maybe even love.
Read if you loved “Inventing Anna”
If you loved the high-wire tension of the miniseries featuring Anna Delvey’s con artist exploits, then this is the Regency romance for you. But unlike Anna, Kitty is a heroine you can genuinely like, even as you marvel at her audacity. She’s clever and cunning, but she’s also wry, funny and refreshingly honest, with admirable reasons for her manipulative fortune-hunting. From the start, her sharp mind and ruthless practicality make the story relentlessly readable, charging scenes with terrific tension and biting wordplay. Crucially, however, there’s so much more to Kitty than her diamond-hard facade. She’s not a cipher but a vivid and relatable character. The more Radcliffe understands her, the more he loves her—as will readers.
In Remember Love, Mary Balogh kicks off a new Regency-era series that will center on Ravenswood Hall, an ancestral estate.
Caleb Ware, the handsome Earl of Stratton, lives at Ravenswood with his wife, Clarissa, and their five children. By all accounts, the tightknit family is happy and prosperous. Gwyneth Rhys, whose family lives next door, has been in love for years with the earl’s oldest son, smart and serious Devlin Ware, who is fresh out of Oxford.
During a party at Ravenswood, Gwyn discovers that Devlin has been pining after her in turn. For one dreamy night,they dance and stroll in the moonlight and everything is perfect. But then Devlin’s discovery of Caleb’s philandering changes the trajectory of their lives. He calls out his father for his ungentlemanly behavior and is subsequently cast out of the family.
Balogh tells the story in two parts: The first section takes place before Devlin learns of his father’s infidelities; the second is set six years later, after Caleb has died and as Devlin returns home to take his place as earl after serving in the military. Having his idealized vision of his family shattered changes Devlin, and Balogh’s structure firmly underlines this. Young, hopeful and naive in the first section, Devlin is ruled by his sense of responsibility in the second, to the point that he’s confident there’s no room in his life for the frivolity of love. But Gwyneth, drawing on their lifelong friendship, can see right through Devlin, and fans of second-chance romances will be delighted as she slowly draws him out, reminding him of all the love he was once able to give.
Balogh doesn’t add in any superfluous conflict, allowing readers to luxuriate in her lush descriptions of the Regency era and sigh as Devlin and Gwyneth overcome the troubles of the past to find their way back to each other.
★ The Bride Goes Rogue
Joanna Shupe sets the pages on fire in the passionate Gilded Age romance The Bride Goes Rogue, the third entry in her Fifth Avenue Rebels series. Romantically minded Katherine Delafield has always looked forward to marriage, even though her own union has been arranged by her father. Her intended, New York City tycoon Preston Clarke, is a man she’s only seen from afar, and she’s stunned and humiliated when she learns that Preston has no intention of honoring his agreement with her father. Intent on making up for lost time, Katherine attends a scandalous masquerade ball and enjoys an exciting dalliance with a masked man—who turns out to be none other than her ex-betrothed. Despite their shock at discovering each other’s identity, neither truly regrets that steamy encounter . . . and all the other ones that follow. The ruthless Preston proves to have a heart after all, and despite being a naive ingenue, Katherine surprises him with her ardent desires. Shupe skillfully brings the opulent setting to life, and Katherine and Preston’s love story will leave readers with racing hearts and satisfied smiles.
From Bad to Cursed
The peace of the magical town of Thistle Grove is threatened in From Bad to Cursed by Lana Harper. Four supernaturally gifted families live side by side in relative harmony in this Illinois community. The paranormal citizens make a living providing exciting, supposedly fake experiences to tourists, aka “normies”—at an occult superstore, for instance, or a haunted house. But during one of the town’s celebrations to mark the festival of Beltane, a mysterious curse nearly strips young witch Holly Thorn of her powers. Holly’s upstanding cousin Rowan Thorn and town wild child Isidora Avramov are ordered to investigate. Rowan and Issa have been enemies for years, but as they hunt down the person who cast the curse, their antagonism morphs into a surprisingly strong mutual attraction. From Bad to Cursed is an all-senses escape into a vivid and inventive world. Written from Issa’s snarky first-person perspective, this paranormal rom-com is sure to delight.
Readers are invited along on an exciting adventure in author-duo Christina Lauren’s Something Wilder. Lily Wilder leads tourists on fake treasure hunts through the beautiful desert landscapes of Utah. It’s a career path made possible by Lily’s infamous treasure hunter father, Duke Wilder—and made necessary by her late father’s lack of financial planning. To her unpleasant surprise, Lily’s latest group of clients includes Leo Grady, the man who got away (or, more specifically, left her) 10 years ago. Even as they grapple with their past and what drove them apart, unforeseen danger requires Leo and Lily to combine their reserves of courage and cleverness to survive. The authors clearly hold the red rocks and canyons of Utah dear and describe them in loving detail throughout. Something Wilder is laden with suspense, intrigue and fun as its main couple faces down danger and learns to love again.
Cat Sebastian returns to the Georgian-era setting of 2021’s The Queer Principles of Kit Webb with The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes, a charming story about two chaotic bisexuals who cross each other’s paths while pursuing their criminal endeavors.
It’s hard to be sanctimonious when you have to rely on the man blackmailing you. That’s exactly the situation Marian Hayes, the Duchess of Clare, finds herself in after shooting her husband. The only person she can think to turn to for a quick exit strategy is Rob Brooks, the cheerful highwayman and con artist who’s blackmailing her. If she could reach her own rear end, she’d kick it. And thus starts another highly enjoyable romance from Sebastian.
Sebastian’s prose is playful, and she sets a fast, jaunty pace as Marian and Rob ramble around the countryside, trying to figure out their next moves. She has a knack for making her characters relatable to modern audiences while still ensuring that they feel like people who live in 1751 and thus have to grapple with a rigid class system. Rob is an impulsive, reckless career criminal with an enviable resume of robbery, counterfeiting and horse theft. His secret is that he’s recently become the heir to a dukedom that he doesn’t want, seeing as he is firmly opposed to the aristocracy on a philosophical level. Meanwhile, the quick-witted and courageous Marian married a duke in order to ensure her family would be taken care of, but she soon learned that the price of the title was too high to pay. Unlike many historical romances, wealth never gets the characters of The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes anywhere: It never makes them happy, and it never truly changes the circumstances of their lives.
The couple’s mutual (and initially grudging, on Marian’s part) fondness morphs into a sweet romance moored by their shared practicality and humor, and by the quiet wounds of loneliness that echo in each of their hearts. Rob loves Marian almost from the beginning, and even though she struggles to open her heart in return, she always treats his love as the precious treasure that it is.
If you’re not already a fan of historical romance, you will be when you’re done reading this one.
Following the Battle of Waterloo, Viola Carroll abandoned her previous identity, as well as her aristocratic title, to finally embrace life as a trans woman. Allowing the world to believe she had been killed in action, Viola took on the role of companion to her sister-in-law, Lady Louise Marleigh.
But Viola’s dearest friend, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood, is not coping so well. He drowns himself in alcohol and opium to cope with his despair over Viola’s death, the lingering pain of a war injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Louise determines that she and Viola must intervene, and so they travel to Gracewood’s ancestral home, Castle Morgencald.
The term “slow burn” doesn’t begin to capture the agonized pining of this romance, which is absolutely suffused with yearning. Hall poignantly depicts Viola’s tangled mix of relief and sadness upon being reunited with Gracewood. Viola has nurtured a quiet hope that their connection to each other would be undeniable—that Gracewood would know and accept her without a second’s thought. But if he doesn’t, she agonizes over telling him that she’s the friend he’s long thought dead, knowing that revealing her identity could ruin the new life she’s built for herself. Some of the most emotionally fraught scenes in the novel are when Hall focuses on Gracewood’s inner turmoil, empathetically portraying a once powerful, nearly untouchable man who is overwhelmed by trauma.
Hall adds some levity with flirtatious banter between his main couple, moments when readers can see the dark cloud hovering over Gracewood become a little lighter. There’s also a robust and interesting cast of side characters, which could mean (fingers crossed) A Lady for a Duke is but the first book in a series.
Hall first hit the bestseller list in 2020 with Boyfriend Material, a contemporary rom-com, and his fanbase has been growing ever since. Now that the British writer has hit it out of the park with this emotionally resonant, character-driven Regency romance, readers’ biggest question (besides “Is there anything Alexis Hall can’t do?”) will be “What will Alexis Hall think of next?” No matter what it is, it’ll be nuanced, swoony and a stellar example of what romance can do—just like A Lady for a Duke.
★ Never a Duke
In Never a Duke by Grace Burrowes, a determined lady teams up with an almost-gentleman to search for women who have gone missing in Regency London. Ned Wentworth, who was adopted into a wealthy ducal family as a child, is intrigued to receive a note asking for aid from Lady Rosalind Kinwood, known for her dedication to charitable causes. Instinct urges him to demur, but Rosalind’s beauty and her fear for her missing lady’s maid calls to him. As Ned and Rosalind meet to discuss his investigation, a slow-burn romance full of understated yet heart-aching yearning begins. Burrowes’ writing style evokes classic Regency romance with its witty repartee and loving attention to clothing. Tortured-yet-tender Ned is an unforgettable hero who learns to value himself as much as those around him do. This is the seventh entry in Burrowes’ Rogues to Riches series, and fans will revel in glimpses of past couples and feel delighted that the worthy Ned has found love at last.
Mad for a Mate
MaryJanice Davidson pens a furiously paced, full-of-fun shifter romance in Mad for a Mate. Magnus Berne, a brown werebear of Scottish extraction, is surprised when Verity Lane washes up on the beach of his private island. He’s fascinated by her presence, then even more fascinated to learn she’s a squib—a werecreature that cannot shift—and is part of a club that takes dangerous dares to prove their worth to the world. When fellow club members begin dying, Magnus worries about the lovely Verity, and though usually reclusive, he opens himself up to her world and heart. Nimble-minded readers will delight in Davidson’s almost stream-of-consciousness style and occasional authorial interjections. She never spoon-feeds readers the rules of her paranormal world, which keeps the pace brisk and suits Mad for a Mate’s all-around quirkiness.
When She Dreams
Amanda Quick returns to the glamorous 1930s resort town of Burning Cove, California, in When She Dreams. Intrepid Maggie Lodge resolves to discover who is trying to blackmail her employer, a popular advice columnist. As part of her investigation, she travels to a conference in Burning Cove along with her newly hired (and newly minted) PI, Sam Sage. The conference’s subject intersects with one of Maggie’s personal interests: lucid dreaming, a state in which dreams can act as a conduit to psychic abilities. After a conference attendee’s suspicious death and an encounter with a scientist who is obsessed with Maggie’s abilities as a lucid dreamer, the pair realize this might be much more than a case of simple blackmail. Maggie’s can-do attitude finds a perfect complement in ex-cop Sam’s world-weariness. Falling in love is an unexpected delight for both of them, but longtime fans will not be surprised by Quick’s imagination and mastery of storytelling, which never fail to entertain.
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