Romance readers have always loved blazingly intelligent leads, and Grace Burrowes’ latest historical romance has two—the canny, wordly duchess Matilda Wakefield and bookish, kindhearted Duncan Wentworth. While Matilda hides from her troubles at Duncan’s country estate, they fall in love over transcribing journals and games of chess. In honor of When a Duchess Says I Do (our April Top Pick in romance!) we asked Burrowes to tell us about her favorite love stories starring similarly brainy couples.
Engaging characters come with all kinds of strengths and weaknesses, and—how does this happen?—sometimes what they think is their strongest suit can end up being their downfall, and conversely. When a Duchess Says I Do is the story of Duncan Wentworth and Matilda Wakefield, two very logical, analytical people who find chess erotic and polite society ridiculous. Their romance was a lot of fun to write because those who put their faith in reason can be among the most passionate under the right circumstances. I’ve listed below some other titles featuring characters with a penchant for pondering or an inclination toward intellectualizing. They all find their HEAs, but not by looking in the dictionary!
The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan
Sebastian Malheur and Violet Waterfield, Countess of Cambury, have a relationship built around scientific insights—hers—and social entré—his. Just as we’d expect from somebody named Malheur, Sebastian is a naughty fellow, but being a fellow, he has the creds to propound theories that Violet, a respectable widow, does not. This romance is signature Courtney Milan with its sparkling prose, brilliant repartee and insightful world-building that illuminates both the romance and the fundamental injustice of gender roles (which isn’t exclusive to the historical period). It’s a terrific read.
Midsummer Moon by Laura Kinsale
This book came out in 1987, when scientifically inclined heroines in historical romances were few and far between. Merlin Lambourne has built a flying machine (yes, there is precedent for this), and Ransom Falconer, Duke of Deverell, can see the strategic value of her invention in the battle to defeat Napoleon. They are two very different people, and did we mention he’s afraid of heights while she works literally in a tower? I will never forget the climax of this book, one of the loveliest depictions of what it means to truly, truly fall in love.
Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn
This series opener is not strictly a romance, but the chemistry between widowed Lady Julia Gray and enigmatic sleuth Nicholas Brisbane is as intriguing as the mystery they set out to solve. Both are passionate, intrepid characters, but they also bring tons of deductive skill and technical expertise to their stories. When Julia would be impulsive, Brisbane is the rational partner. When Brisbane is in a temper, Julia can puncture his conceits with a few pithy insights based on evidence and observation. Never did cool logic and sweet reason have such delightfully romantic results!
Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas
Leo Marsden and Bryony Asquith are another historical couple grappling with the social mores that penalize a woman for developing gifts in a traditionally male preserve. In this case, Bryony becomes a physician, and Leo, her former spouse (their brief marriage was annulled), is tasked with escorting her home from India. The journey home, fraught with perils that require them to rely upon each other, is a metaphor for the journey toward a relationship that allows both partners to thrive—to heck with society’s narrow-mindedness. Beautiful prose, phenomenal world-building, scrumptious reading!
Not Quite a Lady by Loretta Chase
This my favorite Loretta Chase (so far) for so many reasons. The heroine, Lady Charlotte Hayward, has been maneuvering and plotting for years to remain unmarried. She is much shrewder and more insightful than she seems (by design), while Darius Carsington is a biologist who views reproductive physiology as nothing to get emotional about, no matter how energetically he undertakes his raking. Charlotte provides the insufferably scientific Mr. Carsington quite an education about the limitations of book-learning, while Darius shows Charlotte that the world yet holds many unexpected wonders . . . so to speak.
The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne
I could have chosen anything by Joanna Bourne, because her protagonists are all bright, self-reliant, resourceful, articulate and possessed of arcane talents (Hawker and his knives, Doyle and just about everything). I went with Annique Villiers and Robert Grey, because in the course of this series opener, they both engineer twists—note the plural—that leave me with such a case of plot-envy that the only cure is to re-read this book regularly and often. When reviewers talk about a brilliant debut, this is exactly the kind of book they’re referring to.
A Duke in the Night by Kelly Bowen
Not all smarty-pants protagonists are scientific! Some boast a broad love of learning, like Clara Hayward, headmistress of Haverhall School for Young Ladies, while others have a mind for business brilliance, like August Faulkner, duke and Bond Street buccaneer. How they come to appreciate each other’s different kinds of smarts is part of the fun of this witty, warm-hearted Regency.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of When a Duchess Says I Do.