I’m a big fan of traditional historical romance: Regency England, dukes and earls, house parties and balls, the ton and Tattersall’s. But there so many more stories to tell beyond that narrow range. Here’s a rundown of a few recent unusual historicals:
Let it Shine is set in Civil Rights era Virginia. Sofronia “Sofie” Wallis has striven to grow into the proper, respectable black woman her father has demanded ever since her mother suddenly died. But when she attends a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee meeting, she discovers a powerful, political part of herself she had been repressing. Also repressed? Her sexuality. Enter Ivan Friedman, the white Jewish pugilist hero, who joins Sophie in nonviolent protesting, including an eventful Freedom Riders trip. This is a very sweet love story (with some spice) told against a backdrop of ugly times. Although I found Ivan’s portrayal two dimensional, I was hooked by Sofie’s growth during turbulent times thrillingly described. Let it Shine was just nominated for RITA, the Romance Writers Association award for excellence.
Verdict: At $0.99, buy it. Or consider buying The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology, in which this story originally appeared.
I may be cheating a little with this one, because it’s Victorian London with magic (aka Steampunk), but I’ve never read a KJ Charles book I didn’t like. Rag and Bone is set in the same fascinating world as Charles’ A Charm of Magpies series, but there’s no need to have read those to enjoy this romance. Graphomancer Crispin (a gentleman magician who wields a dangerous form of magic) and street paper-seller Ned, are different races and classes. But Ned’s negative attitude towards magic is their greatest relationship obstacle. When a mysterious death plunges their world into chaos, they must work together to survive. Lovely writing and a loving relationship with some hot scenes that don’t overpower the other compelling elements of the story.
Verdict: Buy it, and consider picking up the short prequel, A Queer Trade.
The Dutch Girl is the latest in Donna Thorland’s Renegades of the Revolution series. From her origins as Annatje Hoppe, the daughter of a tenant farmer on a Dutch settlement along the Hudson River, Anna Winter is now an English-speaking school mistress in New York. Like all of the heroines in this series, Anna is strong and capable, a Rebel following in the footsteps of late father. The romance comes in the form of Gerrit Van Haren, whose political views on natural rights and the patroon system contrast with those held by his dissolute brother Andries, also a potential suitor. Intrigue is provided by the unraveling of Anna’s backstory. While Anna and Gerrit’s romance was a little too low-conflict for me, Thorland offers a complex and meticulously researched take on many facets of the American Revolution that are little known.
Verdict: Depends on what kind of romance reader you are. Buy if you like the idea of well-told history driving the romance. Bypass if you prefer high-stakes, angsty romance to historically authentic political intrigue.