Early romance novels didn’t begin as the loving stories that we now call “romance novels”. Many of those early novels contained highly moralistic themes critical of the weaknesses of women and recommendations for punishment of those miscreants. Hardly the material for a “best romance novel” rating!
Still, the popularity of romance novels grew, especially as more and more women became literate. The romance novel evolved through various styles from the society-mocking novels of Jane Austen, damsel-in-distress novels of the early 20th century, and the rise of both historical and contemporary stories that dominate today’s romance novel market.
Just as there is an age definition for what qualifies as an antique, so there is a time frame for historical romances. Historical romances are set before World War II. And within the historical romance genre are sub-genres such as Regency romance, Dark Ages, Middle Ages, Tudor, Elizabethan, Georgian, and Victorian. There are also regionally specific sub-sub-genres based on such themes as western and native North American romances.
No matter the setting, the best romance novels with historical themes have specific characteristics:
- Characters – The best romance novels of the history genre have believable characters who behave in realistic ways. Some or all of the characters may be fictional, a blend of historic and fictional characters, or a fictional character based on an actual person.
- Setting – The historical setting is the most important element. Authors who write the best romance novels in historical settings do a considerable amount of research and fact checking to ensure that the settings, language, attire, and accoutrements of daily living are as accurate as possible.
- Plot –Typically, an historical romance plot is based on real and fictional events. The problems are concerns or situations appropriate to the time period and are resolved at the end of the novel.
- Descriptions – Characters, places, and things are clearly described, augmented by historical information to give the reader as full an historical context as possible.
- Dialogue – A skilled historical romance writer knows how to deftly incorporate the phrases and colloquialisms of the time without overwhelming the reader with “foreign” terms.
- Conflict–The main characters follow the romance format for conflict – there is a conflict or dilemma, realistic to the historical period that must be overcome.
The skilled historical romance author crafts a tale that calls the reader to set aside the smartphone, suspend message checking, and ignore the noise of the commuter train ride. The historical-themed best romance novels successfully draw the reader into a totally unfamiliar time and setting and make the reader feel a part of that time. Finally, there is the delight of reading a romance that unfolds in a time that can only be imagined.