Harlots is back! The intense, female-driven historical drama about life in 18th century England has returned to Hulu for season two, and the conflict continues to heat up between rival brothel madams Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) and Lydia Quigley (Lydia Manville). When we left these women last season, double-crosses and new alliances abounded on all sides. Margaret’s daughter and rising courtesan Charlotte (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay) had seemingly aligned with Lydia, only to reveal that she plans to topple her mother’s competition from the inside. Meanwhile, her younger sister Lucy (Eloise Smyth) wrestles with whether or not she wants to participate in the family business.
There are plenty of new faces this season two, including actress Liv Tyler as Lady Isabella Fitzwilliam, a courtesan who experiences a lot of the same trials as the other women but operates within a different sphere of influence. In celebration of Harlots’ return, we’re giving you 7 romances you can read to get you in the spirit of this excellent series.
Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt
The first book in Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series, which takes place in about the same time period as Harlots, introduces us to a world remarkably similar to the one on the show. St. Giles, a notorious slum, is home to many memorable characters, bawdy entertainment, and the stark divide between the wealthy and the poor, and against that backdrop we’re introduced to many entertaining romances. Wicked Intentions tracks a blossoming romance between a widowed heroine and a dark hero with some unique proclivities, and has just enough shades of Harlots to remind you of the Hulu series. We’re recommending the first book, but really you should check out the whole series.
A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long
The same can (and should) be said for Julie Anne Long’s beloved Pennyroyal Green series, which offers the same amount of intrigue, scandal, and romance that Harlots does. Featuring an ongoing rivalry between the wealthy Eversea and Redmond families, Long’s Pennyroyal Green books feature characters that bear similar resemblances to those who might pop up in Season 2. Evie Duggan, the heroine of A Notorious Countess Confesses, definitely reminds us a lot of Harlots newcomer Lady Fitz, but it’s her potentially forbidden romance with vicar Adam Sylvaine that calls back to the illicit temptations men often succumb to on the show as well.
A Precious Jewel by Mary Balogh
An early Signet Regency romance by New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh takes place in an infamous London pleasure house between two characters who risk scandal and society’s scorn in order to follow their hearts. Granted, Margaret Wells wouldn’t necessarily refer to her house as a “finishing school,” but it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider that Lydia Quigley’s fine trappings are just a fancy veneer to hide some of her uglier tendencies. Thankfully, the main couple in Balogh’s novel fares a little better than the Season 1 “romance” between Charlotte Wells and George Howard, the man who wants to exclusively buy her affections.
Unbound by Celeste Bradley and Susan Donovan
Frequent romance collaborators Bradley and Donovan merge the contemporary and the historical in this book about the memoirs of London’s most famous courtesan and the museum curator who stumbles across them years later. It’s easy to spot the parallels between the plot of Unbound and all of us watching Harlots at home. In essence, it’s kind of like we’re experiencing these women’s stories firsthand, fictional though they may be. If you love both historical and contemporary romance but want a book that combines both subgenres, Unbound is for you.
A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant
Sharp, seductive women are definitely par for the course on both Harlots and this second novel in Grant’s Blackshear Family series. Heroine Lydia Slaughter is skilled at plenty of games both in and out of the bedroom, but she crosses wits with war hero Will Blackshear and finds herself caught up in a more complicated scenario than she ever could have envisioned. When the two decide to team up, they realize that they may have to start playing a different game. As a “kept woman,” Lydia definitely evokes comparisons to Harlots’ Charlotte Wells, though Charlotte isn’t nearly as savvy with her own money.
Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase
Beautiful and desired courtesan Francesca Bonnard is quite content with her lifestyle choices, especially since they don’t leave her beholden to any man. But she’s also gotten ahold of some particularly incriminating letters, ones that could be very valuable if handed over to the right individual. Meanwhile, spy and thief James Cordier is trying to cozy up to her for those very letters. What will happen when the two of them grow closer than they can afford? Forbidden romance between two pros, combined with plenty of intrigue and complexity, make this a must-read for Harlots fans.
Unclaimed by Courtney Milan
Any book that ends with a duel for honor between characters you wouldn’t necessarily expect is one worth reading in general, but what guarantees Unclaimed a spot on the Harlots-adjacent reading list is the dynamic between the heroine (a courtesan named Jessica) and the male hero Mark, who provides a delightfully refreshing version of the virginal character that isn’t often seen in historical romance. When Jessica is hired by Mark’s enemies to seduce him and learn his secrets for a goodly sum, she realizes that her task might be much more difficult than she initially envisioned.