Updated: Oct 13
Muskets, thieves and outlaws: what's not to love about historical romance? Poldark was my first taste of a book in this genre, and although the series was never classified as a romance, the relationship between Ross and Demelza grabbed me and has never let me go. The sweeping, down-the-generations nature of the epic tales these stories tell, as well as their bird's eye view into past societal rules and customs, turned me into a fan.
I've pulled together five of the best historical romance novels for your perusal. Each one offers a unique perspective on the past, alongside storming characters and compelling stories. Get ready to be transported to another time and place!
The Books I Picked and Why
by Diana Gabaldon
Why this book?
With more than 20,000 5-star ratings on Amazon and 25 million copies sold worldwide, as well as a successful television series, Outlander is among the most popular book series of all time. It has everything: romance, fantasy, history, adventure, violence, sex, druids, kilts, time travel, and unkempt hair.
The book follows the story of a 20th-century nurse who finds herself transported back to 18th-century Scotland. It explores the tension between the two time periods, as well as the forbidden romance between the nurse and a Scottish warrior.
And there's no denying that one of the best parts of this book is the slow-burning relationship between Jamie and Claire that develops into something that sizzles. While Outlander certainly follows the typical courtship story of a romance novel, it is the only instalment of the series to do so. It deviates from this just as often and could easily be described as a work of historical fiction, science fiction or adventure.
By Colleen McCullough
Why this book?
Oh, forbidden romance! What a joy this kind of storyline is (and one that needs its own blog post!). This book has it all: sweeping Australian countryside, forbidden love, family conflict, and, most of all, a struggling girl growing up to find her voice and her strength.
Set in early 20th-century Australia, this novel tells the story of a young girl who falls in love with a Catholic priest. It explores the conflict between love and duty, as well as the struggles of life on the Australian frontier.
The Thorn Birds traces the lives of the members of the Cleary family over the course of three generations. The local priest, Ralph de Bricassart, develops an attachment to the only daughter of the family, Meggie, when she is a child. As Meggie matures, Father Ralph falls in love with her, and she with him. But Meggie convinces herself that she must forget her childish admiration of Ralph and so she marries Luke, only to be treated viciously by him. Luke's attachment to Meggie has more to do with her inheritance than with their relationship.
When Meggie gets pregnant with her second child, she decides to leave her marriage and go home with her daughter, Justine, engaging in a regrettable affair with Ralph, who unknowingly fathers a son with Meggie, named Dane. Ralph learns he has a son only when Dane dies. Meggie insists that Ralph, now a Cardinal, oversee their son’s last rites. After Dane’s funeral, Ralph is overcome, and he dies of a heart attack.
The Bronze Horseman
By Paullina Simons
Why this book?
The second world war is like a third character in this sweeping saga. a page-turner not only jam-packed with historical details, but the romance between Tatiana and Alexander will also keep you turning the pages late into the night.
Set in Leningrad during World War II, The Bronze Horseman tells the story of a young girl who falls in love with a soldier. Two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha, share the same bed, living in one room with their brother and parents. The routine of their hard impoverished life is shattered on 22 June 1941 when Hitler invades Russia.
For the Metanov family, for Leningrad and particularly for Tatiana, life will never be the same again. On that fateful day, Tatiana meets a brash young man named Alexander. The family suffers as Hitler’s army advances on Leningrad and the Russian winter closes in. With bombs falling and the city under siege, Tatiana and Alexander are drawn inexorably to each other, but theirs is a love that could tear Tatiana’s family apart, and at its heart lies a secret that could mean death to anyone who hears it. This is a twisted tale of the impact of war on love and relationships, as well as the resilience of the human spirit, and well worth the read.
The Duke and I (Bridgerton )
By Julia Quinn
Why this book?
No historical romance top five would be complete without Julia Quinn and Bridgerton. The recent superb TV adaptation has been a joy: who didn't fall in love with Rege-Jean Page?
Set in Regency England, Bridgerton follows Daphne Bridgerton as she makes her debut in to Regency London's competitive marriage market. Daphne's prospects initially seem to be unrivalled. But as her older brother begins to rule out potential suitors, the high society scandal sheet written by the mysterious Lady Whistledown casts aspersions on Daphne. Enter the highly desirable and rebellious Duke of Hastings, a committed bachelor and the catch of the season. Despite proclaiming that they want nothing the other has to offer, their attraction is undeniable, and sparks fly as they engage in an increasing battle of wits while navigating society's expectations for their future. It's romantic, wonderful, and SCANDALOUS.
Pride and Prejudice
By Jane Austen
Why this book?
What can I say? Would any list of historical romances be complete without Jane Austen? A character maestro who creates masterful divisions between good and evil, smart and stupid. Characters often transforming from one to another over the course of all twists and turns in her riveting books.
Pride and Prejudice has become one of the most popular novels in English literature, selling over 20 million copies, resulting in many dramatic adaptations and an abundance of novels and imitations.
It is possibly her most famous novel, the unforgettable story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. It was first published in 1813 and the story follows the main character, Elizabeth, as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of the British Regency. The story follows the family of Mr and Mrs Bennet's five unmarried daughters after the wealthy and eligible Mr Bingley and his status-conscious friend, Mr Darcy, have moved into their neighbourhood. While Bingley takes an immediate liking to the eldest Bennet daughter, Jane, Darcy has difficulty adapting to local society and repeatedly clashes with the second-eldest, Elizabeth. It contains some wonderful and famous dialogue and scenes and is one of my all-time favorites.
I hope you enjoy all these! Drop me a line here or on social media and let me know what you think.
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Until next time,
P.s. If you love contemporary romance, I have a series of books with twists and turns aplenty!
I've just launched The Outcast featuring a rebellious hacker with a troubled past. Follow Kate and Fabian's tumultuous journey as they navigate love, danger, and self-destruction. You can find out more information about The Outcast here and buy it here.
If you're tired of reading the same romance tropes and want to see something fresh and exciting, give The Refusal a try. It has been shortlisted for 29 romance book awards and has hundreds of 5-star reviews. You can find it here, and you can buy it here. I know you won't be disappointed.
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