Feminist romance novels are everywhere. With so many options and so little time, sometimes it’s nice to have a list like this as a starting point. This is going to be a very fun list of delicious feminist romance books that you must pick up and read, but before all that, we must discuss the feminism of it all.
For the sake of this article, I am following Mikki Kendall’s approach to feminism in Hood Feminism. The idea is that committing to intersectional feminism that includes trans women, women of color, and disabled women means understanding feminist issues are inherently variable and not always immediately recognizable as feminist issues. Kendall explains, “A one-size-fits-all approach to feminism is damaging because it alienates the very people it is supposed to serve, without ever managing to support them” (3). So, while feminism is about the promotion of gender equality, that is just an element of feminism. The role of active feminists is to be aware that more than just a person’s gender impacts their access to rights and services. While I would also recommend reading bell hooks and other excellent feminist writers, I appreciate Kendall’s explanation here.
Feminist literary critics have also looked at how romance can talk about the complexities of feminist issues within their story framework. Avidly Reads Guilty Pleasures by Arielle Zibrak understands the ways romance novels are a source of feminine media culture some associate with shame and censure, reflecting that the Western world often diminishes feminine interests and pursuits. All that is to say, romances have been praised for centering feminist interests and issues like love, job security, equal partnership, and reproductive rights.
All Romance is Feminist: A Breakdown
The reason I say romances rather than romance is there is an ongoing debate about whether all romance is feminist. There are two major problems I have with this tagline. First, I don’t believe all romance is inherently feminist. Second, I don’t believe reading romance is an inherently feminist act. Essentially, I cannot confirm that every romance ever written promotes gender equality and the interconnected issues that inhibit the achievement of that equality. So then, what makes a feminist romance novel?
I think a feminist romance novel follows protagonists facing gender-related inequities and looking to change them. The contemporary and historical feminist romance novels here do follow women who are expressly feminist like suffragettes. These romances also focus on people breaking down their internalized misogyny or building a career or advocating for housing security or trying to claim the life they want to live free from the expectations of others.
Building a Feminist Romance Novel Book List
Feminists do write feminist romances and feminist readers read them. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have collected a list of 15 feminist romance novels for you all to read. The topic of feminist romance novels can be a complicated one. I could easily have written a much longer list and an even longer explanation. For the sake of time, I hope these 15 feminist romance novels are enough to get you started.
Feminist Historical Romance Recommendations
The Rakess by Scarlett Peckham
Content Warnings: miscarriage, addiction, animal death, sexual harassment, misogyny, kidnapping
Seraphina Arden retreats to her abandoned countryside home to finish a scandalous memoir revealing the events leading up to her ruin in order to raise money for a woman’s college. Unexpectedly, she encounters an adorably alluring widowed architect, Adam Anderson, the practical father of two children, who’s allured by her proposal to begin a single-month noncommittal relationship. It helps that she is so kind to his children. Even though it may cost Adam’s professional reputation and Seraphina’s commitment to rakess-dom, if they topple their lives they could build a relationship that saves them both.
Rebel by Beverly Jenkins
Content warnings: racism, enslavement, attempted sexual assault
In the 1860s American Reconstruction period, a teacher attempting to educate recently emancipated children in New Orleans flees her vandalized school when her safety is threatened. Valinda Lacey finds refuge in the family home of Captain Drake LeVeq, an architect from an old New Orleans family who is equally committed to rebuilding their city. But, when Valinda’s father demands she comes home to marry a fiancé she doesn’t love when he returns from France, she finds herself reluctant to leave. She has to decide if she wants to marry Drake, the man she might actually love, or live the life that was set out for her with a man she does not.
The Devil Comes Courting by Courtney Milan
Content warning: racism, misogyny
An inventor discovered a way to reduce the cost of telegraphic transmissions in 1870 China and Captain Grayson Hunter will not stop until he hires them. He didn’t expect to find Amelia Smith was the inventor in question, but succeeding as a Black American businessman has always meant he hired talented people like her. As the adopted Chinese daughter of English missionaries, Amelia has always been out of place, but she finds when her brilliance is given the full backing of a dedicated and kind man like Grayson, there is nothing she can’t achieve. Who would blame them for falling just a little bit in love over the course of their business together?
A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore
Content warnings: parental abuse, emotional abuse, misogyny
Lady Lucie has raised the funds to buy part of a publishing house with her fellow suffragettes, but her attempts to spread a scathing account of marital abuse across England are thwarted by the veto of the co-owner. Her childhood friend and current nemesis Lord Ballentine will not allow her to destroy the publishing house’s reputation with the report. At least not without a price. He wants a night with her before he gives his approval and she believes she can handle his charm, but the secret poet has a heart up his sleeve that may sway her own.
The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite
Hive removal and relocation have always been simple enough tasks for Penelope Flood, but when print business owner Agatha Griffin asks for her help, their resulting correspondence evolves into a new emotional complication she doesn’t know how to handle. Agatha reveals she has struggled in the wake of her husband’s death to keep their once-shared printing business afloat and their rebellious son on track. In turn, Penelope reveals her struggle waiting for a husband lost at sea and her love for her hives. But when Penelope’s husband unexpectedly returns, her growing love for Agatha pulls her away from the man who once offered her safety. The question is, will they drift safely apart or stick stubbornly together?
A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall
Content warnings: ableism, suicidal ideation
When you think you let your best friend die in Waterloo, it is only natural to blame yourself. Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood, is absolutely miserable and everyone can tell, especially his younger sister whose correspondence to a family friend is his latest call for help. Viola Carroll was fine losing her station, wealth, and best friend when she was presumed dead because it meant she could live the life she needed. But, when she learns Justin is still lost in grief, Viola knows she must go help her former best friend, even if he cannot discover her identity. As they develop new desires for one another, Viola cannot deny their past if they want a new future together.
Daughters of A Nation: A Black Suffragette Historical Romance Anthology by Kianna Alexander, Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, Piper Huguley
Content warnings: racism, sexual assault
Leading up to the 1868 election, a determined woman sets out to educate and register Nebraskan freedmen to vote. In the summer of 1881, a substitute teacher for the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary helps her students protest their mistreatment as Black washerwomen. A pastry chef returns home to her small town in 1881 to spread her passion for women’s suffrage. In 1917, a cabaret owner advocates for women’s suffrage in NYC. You can read about these wonderful women and the people they love in this Black suffragette historical romance anthology from four excellent romance authors.
Feminist Contemporary Romance Recommendations
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Content warnings: parental and sibling death, anxiety, sexism, racism
Danika Brown is a Black bisexual wiccan academic perusing her PhD in sociology who is done with romance. But when Zafir Ansari, ex-rugby player and quiet building security guard from her university, saves her in a fumbled fire drill and her rescue goes viral, they both see an opportunity to lean into the public love for their non-existent relationship. The interviews are a great place to promote Zafir’s rugby charity for kids breaking down their internalized misogyny and Dani is all for a casual relationship. Just two problems: Zafir is a hopeless romantic who doesn’t do casual and Dani is starting to catch romantic feelings the longer they pretend.
How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole
Content warnings: misogyny, emotional abuse
Becoming queen should’ve been the perfect culmination of her years of careful study and planning, but after Shanti Mohapi’s wedding, she finds herself more lost than ever. King Sanyu doesn’t want her political advice and her subjects still consider her an outsider. At first, Shanti doesn’t realize her new King is anxiously following the advice of his council and his late father, but as their attraction grows, she convinces him to listen to her thoughts on the government in private. But no marital bliss can endure private unity and public separation, and when Shanti leaves, Sanyu must decide if he can become a new kind of king for the queen he loves.
Knot My Type by Evie Mitchell
Content warnings: ableism, past abusive relationship
An acclaimed sexologist and accessibility podcaster reaches out to a local rigger and carpenter with questions about accessible rope play for a listener and discovers an instant connection. As a podcast host, Frankie uses her degree and experience as a wheelchair user to help listeners with intimacy questions all over the country. When she meets Jay, the expert in question, she feels a connection she knows she won’t pursue. Frankie only does relationships and Jay is not a relationship kind of guy, but their feelings become tied up in knots and neither wants to break free.
Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail by Ashley Herring Blake
Content warning: emotional abuse
Astrid Parker knows how to succeed. At least she used to. After a failed engagement, her increased focus on her interior design business has only resulted in decreasing profits, but the Everwood Inn’s televised renovation could turn it all around. The only person standing in the way is Jordan Everwood, the lead carpenter on the job and granddaughter of the inn’s owner, who she keeps arguing with. Luckily, the producers love their on-screen tension, but when their animosity turns amorous, they will quickly discover if their new relationship was built to last or fall apart.
D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding by Chencia C. Higgins
After landing a spot on the latest season of Instant I Do, all D’Vaughn and Kris have to do is convince their loved ones they are getting married in six weeks and they will win a cash prize of $100,000. D’Vaughn Miller is using the reality TV show to come out to her mother. Kris Zavala is an influencer using the show to grow her platform. Their chemistry is immediate, but neither expected to fall for the person they were fake engaged to on camera. This season could have the first real “I do’s” the show’s ever seen, that is if they can get past the show’s challenges before their walk down the aisle.
Pride and Protest by Nikki Payne
Content warning: death of a loved one
In this Pride and Prejudice retelling, Liza B, a D.C. housing reform activist and local radio host protests the acting CEO of the property developer looking to gentrify her neighborhood, Dorsey Fitzgerald, and ends up in a viral rivalry. Dorsey is the adopted Filipino son of a wealthy family who worked in the PEACE Corps prior to the death of his parents and older brother. Now he has to take the reins of the family business, even when he disagrees with their shareholder-first actions that run counter to his conscious. The more Liza encounters Dorsey at events, bars, and dinners, the more she falls for the man behind the corporate façade.
A Thorn in the Saddle by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Content warning: abusive ex-partner, sexual harassment
Growing up as a Black girl in a small California town with vitiligo was never easy for Lily-Grace Leroux, but the quiet Jesse Pleasant always defended her. Jesse now co-owns the family ranch, but handling his professional and familial responsibilities is overwhelming. When Jessie’s latest angry reaction lands his grandmother’s new boyfriend, Lily-Grace’s father, in the hospital, he begins a reflective journey taking the advice of therapists, his family, and an angry Lily-Grace who realize something has to change. The only reason Lily-Grace is home confronting Jessie is that neither the tech company she worked for nor her ex-partner took her side in a sexual harassment case. Jessie and Lily-Grace are at turning points in their lives, but their thorny path to love will need pruning before a real partnership can begin.
Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni
Content warning: homophobia
When Nar rejects her non-Armenian boyfriend’s proposal for marriage in a room of San Francisco tech bros, she knows she wants a change. That change might not be her mother’s spreadsheet of eligible Armenian men for her to date, but she is willing to try. Nar doesn’t believe in her mother’s methods, but her dates put her on the path of her enigmatic wing woman Erebuni, who she cannot help but love. Nar is not out as bisexual, but she will have to decide if she can come out to embrace her new appreciation for her culture and the woman who helped her fall in love with it.
So Many Feminist Romance Novels, So Little Time
Feminist romance novels really are everywhere. There are so many books that recontextualize the way feminists consider the breadth of feminist issues they can connect with and understand. Romance is just one great place where that can happen. In the process of the HEA/HFN (Happily ever after/ Happy for now), protagonists often discover what they want in romantic, familial, and professional parts of their lives. Romance centers a journey where people discover the ways they connect with gender and sexuality and interact with the world. So yes. While not all romance novels are feminist there are many feminist romance novels out there. I hope this list gives you a place to start.