Do you know what some of most commonly asked questions are? Genre questions. Either asking us what genre a certain book or series is in, or what exactly is that genre. After spending so much time immersed in the world of romance, it has become second nature to instantly catergorise books into their respective genre, or sub-genre. Just a glance at the blurb, or even just the cover then I can tell you what genre it will be. Of course, not everything is black and white and not every book is so easy to label, but a majority are.
We have previously done a very concise guide about genres giving an overview of each, but we decided to take each genre and do a more general and indepth guide. In this, we will tell you the definition of the genre, what types of characters you may expect to see, popular troupes within a genre, some of our favourite authors and series within this genre. And anything else we can think of! By the end of the guide you should be able to tell what book is what and have a few recommendations to pick up.
In this third chapter will be…
It seems like a simple task to identify a historical romance, and for the most part it is. If there’s a romance and it’s set in the past then the chances are very high that what you have in your hands is a historical romance. But then again, maybe it’s a historical fiction book…or maybe some tricky author added a time travel story line in there and now your head is spinning and you have no idea what the hell you’re reading!
A historical romance can be defined as a romance is set anytime before the 1940s . The technology and background will reflect real history (with perhaps a few minor alterations to fit the story) and be reflective of history at that point in time. The focus of the story will be the romance/relationship between the hero and heroine and by the end of the book, happily ever after (HEA) will be achieved.
Historical romance covers such a massive time period and can be set anywhere in the world, although for the most part are set in the UK or US. You can go from Medieval Scotland to 1930’s Hollywood glamour all within one genre, it has a huge amount of scope. Here are some popular time periods and places that authors like to explore:
- Georgian England
- The Old West
- Victorian England
- WW1 and WW2
- Medieval England and Scotland (poor Wales and Ireland, they barely get a mention!)
If you still aren’t quite sure if you have a historical romance, ask yourself this:
- Is this set anytime before and including the 1940s?
- Does it (more or less) reflect the technology and historical facts of the time i.e. there has been no concerted effort to change history or technology?
- Is there a HEA at the end of the book between the two main characters?
If all the answers to those questions are yes, you have yourself a historical romance. If they aren’t, you may have steampunk (question 2) or a historical fiction.
It’s never easy is it? There always seem to be exceptions and historical romance is no different. It is such a broad category that you are bound to find sub categories with in. Here are a few, they are all still historical romance…but you may want to add an extra tag on your book shelf to differentiate them:
Spy Romances – There are the historical equivalent of romantic suspense, however, unlike their contemporary counterpart they don’t have their own genre. In these types of historical romances, the hero and/or heroine are spies working for the government trying to uncover some kind of plot, maybe the heroine accidentally gets caught up in the danger; or maybe the hero is undercover and our spy heroine doesn’t realise it. There are many types of combinations for these and they are perfect for readers who like their historical romance with some extra danger added in.
Extra Sexy – A historical romance can cross the line from romantic into erotic territory. Perhaps there is some BDSM involved, menages, or just more sex than story. If that’s the case you have yourself an erotic historical romance, this one is more of a judgement call, you could shelf it as an erotic romance or as a historical romance. But, personally I tend to still shelf as historical, only with an erotic tag on it.
LGBT – What if the hero and heroine are actually hero and hero or heroine and heroine and any other combination of body parts and genders? Tricky. Again, this is a judgement call, what do you think the defining characteristic of the book is, that it’s a historical or that it is LGBT? Whatever you said, there’s your answer and that answer may differ reader to reader and no one would be wrong, it’s all about personal choice.
Time Travel – I love that this is a thing in historical romance. There is a well established tradition of time travel in historical romance. Just look at the popularity of Outlander! And Diane Gabaldon isn’t the only one who does it. Usually, a woman from present times, for magical reasons, will be flung back in time and right at the feet of a sexy Laird or Lord. A heavy dose of suspension of disbelief needs to happen for these books, but it’s worth it, they can be a lot of fun. But is it historical romance? Yes. If most of the book is spent in medieval Scotland (or wherever the heroine has been flung) then it is. I’ve read one or two where it was the other way round, and a hero/heroine was flung to the future and most of the book was spent in present times. In those cases I catergorised it differently, either as a PNR or contemporary depending on what else occurred in the book.
Characters you may meet…
Contemporary romance encompasses so much! It is one of the biggest romance genres which contains a huge range of different characters. And yet, you can find yourself bumping into the same characters again and again throughout contemporary romance. There are quite a few of these archetypes, but these are some of the most recognisable:
If you’ve read a few historical romances you will be oh-so familiar with The Virgin. I admit this Virgin character probably describes 95% of all historical romance heroines and as that’s the case, there aren’t that many defining characteristics, you can have a feisty virgin, a shy virgin, a prudish virgin, a curious virgin… and the list goes on. But, they do have one thing in common. There is always, always that “oh my will it ever fit?” moment, whether it is a thought or a conversation. I love that moment. It’s a cliche but it’s one that I hold dearly to my heart.
Ah the Rake. The counterpoint to our Virgin character. The historical equivalent of contemporary romance’s Manwhore. He’s charming, he’s aristocratic, he’s wicked and if he’s a particularly alluring rake, then he probably has some deep emotional wound as well. It’s completely understandable why heroines across the genre fall head over heels for them. And, it’s extremely satisfying to see a Rake brought to his knees by his heroine and prove the verity of the phrase “reformed rakes make the best husbands.”
The Help, whether it be the Governess, the stable boy, the scullery maid or the factotum. When a lord or lady falls for the Help, it’s always one hell of a ride. Dealing with the disparate class differences as well as cultural differences between the two characters is always a rocky and emotional ride when done right. But, who can resist the allure of a brawny stable boy (man) or the charms of a buttoned up and beautiful governess?
The Heir. The first son, the one everyone is depending on to produce the next duke, marquess or earl. His responsibilities to his family and his title weigh heavily on him. He probably has a list of the perfect attributes for his perfect wife, meek, biddable, pretty…dull as dishwater. So, he best be ready for when the entirely unsuitable heroine bursts onto the scene and up ends his very ordered life.
Popular troupes and themes
*Grins in glee* I love historical romance, and there are a few popular troupes within it that I particularly adore and whenever I have a whiff of I immediately pounce on. But, of course there is many types of stories within historical romance and some that don’t fit into any category at all. I’m afraid this list though is mainly going to be featuring my favourites!
I LOVE a plain Jane or a wallflower story. In fact many of the items on this list will probably be a version of this in some way or another. Often, she isn’t really that plain, she just happens to not be disgustingly beautiful, but she does manage to snare the attention of a disgustingly beautiful hero. I love it, especially when that hero is a rake, swept off his feet by a wallflower. Love. It.
Marriage First. Love Later
These books put the cart before the horse as it were. The couple marry, whether by arrangement or by circumstances they can’t control. Either way they are shoved together in the intimate contract of marriage and without really knowing one another. Or having wild misconceptions. As they get to know one another love blossoms and all misunderstandings are thrown aside and they live in much delayed marital bliss.
For those hero and heroines that just don’t conform. Especially the heroines. Perhaps she is a scientist, or mathematician and her interests lie beyond the ballroom and finding a husband. Sadly, times being what they were she has little choice in the matter if she wants security. Normally it’s the man you least expect who is her perfect match. Maybe he’s a wicked rake or a seemingly stodgy duke. Either way the mismatched pair are perfect together and we get the pleasure of seeing them both arrive at the same conclusion.
Spies, Spies Everywhere!
He’s a handsome spy working undercover for the Crown. She’s a beautiful lady who keeps getting tangled up in this web of intrigue. It’s inevitable that sparks will fly, passions will flare and general shenanigans will ensue. Sexy shenanigans that leave bosoms heaving and tight trousers in their wake.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention somewhere a little more about Scottish romances. Beautiful brawny men wearing skirts, yet still somehow managing to be the most masculine men in romance. Of course romances featuring the Scots is diverse and can incorporate some of the other troupes I have mentioned above. Only with an extra dose of a verra sexy Scottish burr, aye lass?
Why UTC loves Historical Romance
Personally, it’s one of my favourite genres. I don’t know what it is about historical romance which I adore so much, but I do. Maybe I’m English enough to enjoy the concept of a dashing titled gentleman courting his lady. Although, that can’t be entirely it, as us Brits aren’t the only ones who enjoy a historical romance. Perhaps it’s the formality, the old-fashioned romance and manners. To chose to marry in a historical you have to be sure it’s not like you can get a divorce, and as a woman your life is very much in your husband’s hands. Of course in real life it didn’t always end up quite as well, but at least when I crack open the latest historical romance I am excited about I know, for the next 300 odd pages, it will be perfect.
UTC Required Reading List
*rubs hands together* We view all these series as required reading for you to fully immerse yourself into the historical romance genre. If this is a series – which, generally it is – then we will add the first book of that series ready for you to make a start.
What are your favourite historical romances?
Annnnnd I will stop myself there, before I start waxing lyrical about my love of historical romance and fantasy as well; no one needs to know about my elf fantasies. As you can tell, I adore and day dream about most romance genres, and my three big loves are 1) reading about romance 2) writing about romance and 3) talking about romance with my gals. Which, is why I love Under the Covers so much, I get all my bookish needs satisfied and don’t get judged when I talk about my favourite characters like they are real people. Which they are right?