Like so many, I inhaled Bridgerton on Netflix pretty much immediately after its release. I loved the sets, costuming, and the score, and it made me very wistful for all things Regency. Although the show has drawn some valid criticism for its representation of race, consent, and representation (Jess and Trisha do a great job of discussing this on the latest episode of When In Romance), I do hope that it opens the door for more own voices Regency-set YA novels (and adult novels, too!). As of this writing, I couldn’t find any YA Regency-set books by authors of color, and that’s pretty upsetting. The following list of YA books like Bridgerton includes two great Regency-set YA books by white authors, and one excellent novel set a little later in history by an author of color that I think will still appeal to fans of Bridgerton.
Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen
Set in 1817, this fun mystery/romance/adventure mash up is about Lady Victoria, the younger daughter of an earl who is more than content to spend her time helping her father run his estate in between London seasons. Her older sister is happily married, and Victoria doesn’t feel the pressure to marry…until her older sister returns home after fleeing her husband’s abuse and manipulation. Victoria’s parents refuse to send their oldest daughter back to her husband, but sheltering her and securing a separation from her husband is a legal and social mine field. Suddenly, Victoria needs to find a husband, and fast! And on top of that, someone is sabotaging their family’s estate. Victoria must draw upon the pluck and courage of her favorite Austen heroines in order to guide her. I loved that this book deals with some of the darker issues that Regency romances tend to sweep under the carpet, but still manages to have a mostly upbeat and adventurous tone, with a nice friends-to-lovers romance.
The Season by Sarah MacLean
One of the first YA Regency novels I remember ever reading was Sarah MacLean’s debut novel! MacLean, who is more well-known in the adult romance sphere, wrote her first novel about Lady Alexandra Stafford, a young woman embarking on her first London season with her two best friends, Ella and Vivi. As they are swept through the glamour and excitement of their introduction to society, Alex is drawn to Gavin, Earl of Blackmoor, who is a friend to her older brothers and grieving the recent death of his father. As the two develop feelings for each other, they begin to question who is responsible for Gavin’s father’s death…and they walk straight into a dangerous plot!
The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
If you liked the ahistorical twist in Bridgerton of Eloise’s independence, and her investigation into the identity of Lady Whistledown, then you’ll likely enjoy this series. It’s set during the Victorian era, and it’s about a young orphan named Mary who is rescued from peril on the streets and brought up in a finishing school. When she graduates, Mary learns that the school is a front for a super-secret all-female espionage agency, and the headmistresses would like to recruit her. Mary agrees, even though she worries that her most closely guarded secret of being biracial could result in her dismissal. The first book follows Mary on her first solo case and introduces a young engineer who suspects there is more to Mary than meets the eye. This series is generally more concerned with more working class characters (although they brush with the nobility and even royalty in later books!), and the romance is a wonderful slow burn, but this is a great series if you want to read a historical series that challenges your assumptions about gender and people of color living in London during the 19th century, plus the descriptions of historical London are absolutely riveting!
For more books set in historical England by authors of color, I recommend checking out These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas (Victorian era), and Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed (Edwardian era).
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