As a lifelong period drama devotee, historical romance is probably my favorite subgenre in all of Romancelandia. But as a history nerd, I’ve never quite understood why the Regency and Victorian eras are so very, very dominant. Don’t get me wrong—I will never say no to a good bustle, and I love Austen-esque tales as much as the next romance reader. But why isn’t there an entire genre of fast-paced, witty Roaring ’20s romances? Or love affairs within the court intrigue of Tudor England? Or, you know, more romances set anywhere other than England or America? The following list is unfortunately still Anglocentric, much like the romance genre itself, but these authors offer a place to start for those looking to move beyond the Regency or Victorian romance.
After the Regency and Victorian periods, the medieval era is probably the third most common setting in historical romance. In Ye Olde Decades Past of romance, it was a super popular period but is now mainly the territory of dashing Highlanders. Which is not at all a bad thing!
Medieval, but make it paranormal: The dashing Scottish hero of Highland Dragon Warrior is, you guessed it, a dragon shape-shifter. And if that wasn’t enough, his love interest is a Jewish alchemist. If you get hooked, Cooper also has a previous series starring the same family, centuries later.
She’s currently writing romantic suspense, but longtime romance fave Garwood has an extensive backlist of acclaimed medieval romances. Start with the Highlands’ Lairds or Lairds’ Fiancées series.
If you’re looking for a realistic depiction of the period in both its cultural sophistication and near-constant violence, let me introduce you to the wonderful Elizabeth Kingston. Her deeply romantic Welsh Blades series takes place during the chaotic English conquest of Wales, and both books have a unique, utterly ferocious heroine.
Wine’s book list is almost entirely medieval and early Renaissance, and she specializes in strong-willed female characters and lushly detailed depictions of Scotland and England.
The Tang Dynasty was one of the golden ages of imperial China, and a particularly good example of how most of the world was doing just fine during what we Westerners have self-centeredly called “the Dark Ages.” Start with Butterfly Swords, where sword-wielding Princess Ai Li flees her upcoming wedding and enlists a handsome, mysterious warrior to keep her safe.
No less an authority than Terry Dresbach, the costume designer for “Outlander,” has said that the 18th century, known as the Georgian period in England, was one of the sexiest ever periods of fashion. This era comes right before the Regency but was earthier, more sex-positive and far less constrained by propriety. Which to me sounds like a recipe for a pretty great time.
After writing many beloved regencies, James has moved back a few decades to give us some arch, intelligent Georgian love stories. I’m partial to her current series, the Wildes of Lindow Castle, which works in the burgeoning gossip press of the era in hilarious ways, but readers also love her Desperate Duchesses books.
Like Mary Wine and the medieval period, Hoyt has staked out a claim for herself as the happy queen of her particular era. Check out her Maiden Lane or Legend of the Four Soldiers series for a grittier take on Georgian England, or go to the Princes books for some upper-class romance.
The Gilded Age/Edwardian Era
As any reader of Edith Wharton knows, the Gilded Age is a particularly fantastic setting for romance (even if it tends to end in gut-wrenching heartbreak—I still haven’t forgiven Edith for what The House of Mirth did to me). The extraordinary wealth accumulated by the American upper class in this period put much of the European aristocracy to shame, and the Yanks compensated for their lack of noble titles by adhering to hilariously byzantine rules of social engagement. In other words, everyone was very sexually repressed and looked super hot all the time.
Shupe has established herself as a go-to author for smart, well-researched historicals, and she does particularly great work in this era. Her superfun Knickerbocker series put her on the map, but I’d recommend starting with A Daring Arrangement, which follows an English noblewoman as she embraces the hustle and freedom of NYC and hooks up with a delicious, dashing financier.
Inspirational romance is often a good place to go for great work set in less popular eras, and Camden’s Empire State series is perhaps the best example of this. Camden’s romances are witty, warm and exhaustively researched. She has a particular knack for writing about the scientific advances of the era, so any readers looking for STEM heroes and heroines will be very happy.
Laura Lee Guhrke
Guhrke has series in all sorts of eras, but her Abandoned at the Altar books take place in Edwardian England. All three romances have delightfully independent ladies, all of them center around broken engagements, and characters can actually drive themselves around in cars rather than carriages! (You’ve heard of carriage love scenes—I raise you old-timey automobile love scenes.)
You’d think with the popularity of “Mad Men,” “Downton Abbey” and every other 20th-century period drama on television, there’d be a corresponding boom of romances. Alas, no. But there are a few shining stars out there, daring to write historical romances in eras sans corsets.
The alter ego of romantic suspense icon Jayne Ann Krentz has lately started writing romances that I swear were tailor-made for yours truly—sexy mysteries set in Hollywood circa 1930. It’s like “Poirot” and the second season of “Agent Carter” had a baby and wow am I sorry for that image. So sorry. Anyway, these books are great—start with The Girl Who Knew Too Much.
Roseanna M. White
Another hidden gem of inspirational romance, the Shadows Over England series takes place during the lead-up to the Blitz. As you might expect, things are very tense, very dramatic and very British. There are spy games and refugee musicians and clockmakers and reformed criminals aplenty, making these books excellent reads to curl up with on a chilly day.
The wonderful Cole has a fantastic backlist of historical novels and novellas written both before and after she became a total superstar with An Extraordinary Union (which is a great pick for a different historical, given its Civil War setting, but also technically still in the Victorian era). Let Us Dream is set in 1917 Harlem, and follows a romance between a cabaret owner and her chef. And Let It Shine stars a boxer and a civil rights activist who fall in love in 1961.