I love historical romance…and don’t get me wrong, I adore Regency Romances. Reading my great grandmother’s collection of Georgette Heyer novels was my gateway into the genre. Long descriptions of ball gowns with low cut bodices. Filling up dance cards at Almacks. Reformed rakes. Marriages of convenience. Secret elopements in Gretna Green. I am here for all of it.
Regency London (and the periods right around it) dominate the historical romance market. But there are so many other interesting times in history and places in the world that romance could, and does, explore. History has no shortage of fascinating settings to serves as the backdrop for happily ever afters.
So, while I continue to read (and love) my favorite Regency romance authors, I’ve also tried to expand my historical romance reading lately. Moving further away in terms of geography and time, I’ve discovered some new favorites. I’ve also learned that there is so much room for more of these stories, especially from underrepresented authors.
If you also want to branch out when it comes to historical romance, here are five suggestions of what to read next.
The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin
Tang Dynasty in Golden Age China
The Lotus Palace takes readers back over a thousand years to the Tang Dynasty in China. The romance mystery centers around Yue-ying, a maidservant to an infamous courtesan, and Bai Huang, an aristocratic playboy. When a series of suspicious deaths occur in the Pinkang li (the pleasure district where courtesans live) Yue-ying and Bai Huang are brought together by circumstance to solve the crime. But as feelings between the unlikely pair begin to take root, both wonder what kind of future they could have together. Bai Huang cannot marry below his social class without facing severe consequences. And Yue-ying’s pride keeps her from wanting to become his concubine. Equal parts mystery and romance, the world building in this story is spectacular, and Lin doesn’t gloss over the realities of prostitution and living in the pleasure district.
An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
Civil War Era in Virginia
The first in a series about Union spies during America’s Civil War, An Extraordinary Union follows Elle Burns a former slave who returns to the South to pose as a slave and spy for the Union Army. She is willing to put up with the degradation of her new position to serve a cause she believes in. But her role is compromised by Malcolm McCall, a detective for a different agency fighting for the Union. They have the same goals, but their undeniable attraction to each other puts both of their missions at risk. Aside from interesting historical details and a scorchingly sexy romance, this book is also full of discussions of consent (yay!) and if consent can even exist between a Black woman and a white man during this time period.
Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins
The Old West in Nevada
Beverly Jenkins is how I first learned about the Black presence in the American Old West, both in terms of Black cowboys and predominantly Black towns filled with former slaves fleeing the South during Reconstruction. The inspiration for Forbidden apparently came from a Nevada saloon operated by and for African Americans in the 1860s and 1870s that was discovered because a 2000 archeologic dig found a hot sauce bottle. Fascinating, right? Even without these cool historical details, the romance between Eddy Carmichael and Rhine Fontaine is enough to captivate readers. Eddy was born free and is traveling across the country to follow her dream of running her own restaurant in California. Robbed and left to die in the Nevada desert, Rhine saves her and helps her get a job at a local saloon to save money for the rest of her trip. He is a former slave who’s been passing as a white man. But his attraction to Eddy makes him want to risk telling the truth about his identity so they can be together.
Magnate by Joanna Shupe
The Gilded Age in New York City
With its crazy levels of wealth and prosperity, The Gilded Age is kind of like America’s version of the Regency period. I’m surprised there aren’t more romance novels set during this time period. Joanna Shupe’s Kinckerbocker Club series takes full advantage of the setting. Emmett Cavanaugh grew up in New York’s slums, but has become one of the richest and most powerful men in the city. With a prejudice against high society women, he’s surprisingly interested in Elizabeth Sloane when they cross paths. Elizabeth is a business and math savant. She is one of the most accomplish stock brokers (based on the real Victoria Woodhull), but she needs a man to actually make the trades. Surprised by her intelligence and pluck, Emmett agrees to back her trades and split the profit. But then their business relationship transforms into one of a more passionate nature.
Revolutionary Hearts by Pema Donyo
The 1920s in India
Parineeta Singh has devoted her life to helping to free India from the unjust colonial rule of the British. After her British father abandoned her Indian mother while pregnant, she vowed never to make the same mistakes. And now she works as a maid for an important general to send information to an important Indian revolutionary group. But when her boss is exposed as an undercover spy, she agrees to help the general out of the country. As they plan their escape through the luxurious British expat society and the dense Indian jungles, the attraction between these two characters is undeniable. Parineeta stays determined not to give her heart to an Englishman, but she doesn’t know that her partner’s real name is Warren Khan or that he’s secretly part-Indian. Set against the backdrop of the Indian Independence Movement, this novella is full of adventure and romance.