The Best F/F Historical Romance Novels and Novellas
It used to be that when someone said “romance novels,” those two words conjured up images of mass market paperbacks displaying illustrations of straight white couples from a vaguely historical time period clutching at each other. These days, romance novels have expanded from the classic clinch covers, and we’re seeing loads of diversity when it comes to characters, time periods, and settings in romance. Most notably, the last five years have seen an explosion of queer romance in traditional publishing, and that’s really encouraging, even if my insatiable taste keeps demanding MORE.
While it’s true that finding queer (particularly f/f) romance novels isn’t as difficult as it used to be, it’s interesting to note that there are far more contemporary queer romances than historical queer romances, particularly in traditional romance publishing. I have some thoughts on why that might be, although none of it is particularly scientific. Historical romance takes a bit of research (even when you’re playing fast and loose with historical detail). Real instances of queer happily ever afters aren’t as mainstream or easily accessible, because history has obscured a lot of those relationships. And, more insidious, there seems to be this idea that queer couples in history can’t have the same sort of happily ever afters that their straight counterparts have because of the challenges presented to queer people, and women get the double whammy of homophobia and sexism. While it’s true that writing in a historical context might provide more of a challenge in terms of dealing with the realities of homophobia, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get creative and still come up with some breathtaking f/f romances!
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find full-length historical romance novels starring female characters falling in love with each other in mainstream publishing (it’s getting better!), but there are a fair number of novellas. I think that novellas are sometimes seen as less of a risk than a full novel, and a few were independently published by established romance writers on their own dime and time. But slowly we are seeing more full length novels, and more romances written by and about women of color, which is encouraging. Many are part of an established series with straight couples starring in other books, but I only included books that can be read as standalones, because who has time to read a bunch of straight romance when you want to just dive into the good stuff?
These historical f/f romances, many Regency-set, prove that you can be queer and have your happily ever after, no matter the time period.
F/F Historical Romance Novels
The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite
Catherine St Day is a widow whose greatest wish is to see her husband’s scientific paper translated and published, and then she plans on a quiet life. But when Lucy, a young woman who aided in her father’s scientific pursuits and now wants recognition of her own, shows up wanting the job, Catherine is taken aback. Lucy convinces Catherine to give her the opportunity, but as they spend hours and days together, they soon find themselves falling for each other. If you love this one, don’t miss the companion novels, also f/f historical romance: The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (the cover is terrible, but the book is excellent) and The Hellion’s Waltz.
An Island Princess Starts a Scandal by Adriana Herrera (May 30)
Manuela del Carmen Caceres Galvan is looking forward to one last summer of freedom in Paris at the World Fair, before she must return home and marry. Cora Kempf Bristol is a duchess and businesswoman, and when she sees her chance to secure her future, she seizes it — even if it means relying on Manuela. Manuela is willing to help, but for a price: one summer of extravagance on the duchess’s dime. As they spend their summer together, they begin to fall for one another. It can’t last…not without causing a scandal. This is another book that’s part of a series, but doesn’t have to be read in order.
The Perks of Loving a Wallflower by Erica Ridley
Thomasina is an investigator and mistress of disguise, but when her newest case puts her in the path of Philippa York, her mask falls away. Philippa is determined to save an old manuscript for a man who wants to claim the work as his own, and she’s loathe to accept help from a man, until she realizes that Tommy is no man…and sparks fly. This is a part of a series, but can stand alone.
Her Duchess to Desire by Jane Walsh
Anne is a duchess with a reputation for being cold, thanks to her loveless marriage to a duke who’d rather live abroad than on the same estate as her. Anne decides that she’s had enough, and resolves to take a lover — a female lover. When Leticia, an aspiring interior decorator, arrives on the Hawthorne estate to redecorate, she’s hopeful that this could be the break she needs. The last thing she expects is to fall for the Duchess herself. And the last thing either of them expects is for the duke to return home unexpectedly…
Pembroke Park by Michelle Martin
This is an unconventional pick, and it is unfortunately out of print, but you can find used copies online. Published in 1986, it’s largely credited as the first published lesbian Regency romance. Lady Joanna Sinclair is a recent widow who is drawn to Lady Diana March and her eccentric social circles, even though Lady Diana is considered mannish and unconventional. When Joanna’s brother orders her to cease all contact with Lady Diana, Joanna must decide if it’s worth risking what she holds most dear in order to find a second chance at love with a most unconventional lady.
F/F Historical Romance Novellas
That Could Be Enough by Alyssa Cole
Mercy is a maid to a widowed Eliza Hamilton, who is bent on preserving her husband’s legacy. Mercy has seen enough heartbreak in her time to avoid any possibilities of love, but when Andromeda Stiel arrives in her grandfather’s stead to be interviewed by Mrs. Hamilton, Mercy finds herself opening up to the possibility of love once more.
A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian
Alice is a prim and proper lady’s companion who can’t seem to keep her eyes off of Molly, a lady’s maid with a past as a thief. Although Molly intends to not do anything to risk her position, she can’t help but be drawn to Alice. But when a house party produces someone from Alice’s past that could wreak havoc on her life, Molly steps up to help Alice out a very scandalous position. This is also part of a larger series, but it stands on its own.
Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan
Mrs. Bertrice Martin is a widow who has no intention of capitulating to men, and wants nothing to do with anyone else’s drama. She has a Terrible Nephew she particularly can’t stand, but when Miss Violetta Beauchamps shows up on her doorstep with the news that the Terrible Nephew is a boarder at her rooming house and she needs him gone, Bertrice thinks that maybe it wouldn’t be a terrible thing to get involved in some drama, just this once. If it teaches the Terrible Nephew a lesson, and makes Violetta happy. This one is part of a series, but it’s not necessary to read the other books to be delighted by this book.
A Restless Truth by Freya Marske is an Edwardian fantasy romance starring two young ladies who fall for each other, but one really must read the first book A Marvellous Light (which is gay and honestly a delight!) in order to follow this one. I recommend them both, but you’ll be really confused if you pick this book up first.
Lady Like by Mackenzi Lee has recently been announced, but it doesn’t have a release date yet. It’s a Regency-set novel about two young ladies who both decide they want to marry the same eligible bachelor, but in the course of their competition to win his hand they fall for each other instead. I can’t wait!
And if you need more romance recs and aren’t picky about genre, check out these amazing f/f enemies to lovers fantasies!