For probably the last ten years, if anyone had asked me what kind of books I read, my answer would often be “anything but historical romance.” Which, when I think about it, is kind of odd. Because historical fiction is one of my absolute favorite things to read. And I do enjoy the occasional romance. Though I did kind of hide that fact for a while because I used to be sort of a book snob. (I know! It’s awful. I’m reformed now, it’s okay.)

Why I Used to Be Anti-Historial Romance

So why didn’t I read historical romance, you ask? There is actually a very simple answer: the covers. You know the ones I’m talking about. Whenever I thought “historical romance” my brain pictured those cheesy covers with a woman swooning in a nightgown that I used to stare at while my parents got money out of the grocery store ATM. Very specific memory, I know. But, as a kid, those covers made me blush. And, as a kid who had to suffer through twelve years of Catholic school and repressed sexuality, those covers also made me pretty embarrassed and uncomfortable. If I couldn’t even look at a book, I definitely wasn’t going to read it.

Then I got a little older and went through a book snob phase where I didn’t read any romance at all because I needed to read “real literature”. If you didn’t read that in a snotty, cringe-y voice, you missed out. Anyway, yes, I was a book snob for a few years. Thankfully I grew up and decided to eschew the asshole tendencies I had been raised with. But, I still couldn’t bring myself to admit that I liked romance novels. So I kind of just didn’t read them in general for a while. And when I did, I hid the fact. Many a romance novel was never added to my read shelf on Goodreads.

But then I discovered how much fun they are and started reading all the romance novels (and not in secret)… but none of them historical. Because, while they seemed like the might be fun, I just couldn’t imagine them being the most empowering books to read. I like books where the woman saves herself, and historical romance just didn’t seem like that kind of thing.

The Book(s) That Changed My Mind

I have been reading more romance over the past few years. Because it’s just really fun, and usually ends up being a nice break from what I read the rest of the time. But I still had not ventured into historical romance. Until I heard about Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore. Which was marketed as… feminist historical fiction. So you bet I was all over that. The main character is actually a suffragette, and I was here for it.

I read it back in March of this year and absolutely loved it! There were just so many great things about this book. The romance was fun, but the fact that it was historical and feminist was really impressive. And that it’s historical romance and feminist is just amazing. Maybe this is just me being close-minded (because I haven’t really explored historical romance at all), but I just didn’t really think that existed.

Just yesterday, I finished the second book in The League of Extraordinary Women series, A Rogue of One’s Own. And it was also pretty great (partly because there are a lot of cats). Both of these books made me want to pump my fist in the air and yell “YES!” But I didn’t, because then people would probably want to know what I was yelling about. And it would be a little awkward to explain. But I did it in my head.

Why They Were Different from What I Thought Historical Romance Was

Honestly, twelve-year-old me would probably still be scandalized by these books (though not the super cute, illustrated covers – which feature fully-clothed characters). But, as an adult woman – who is also a staunch feminist – these books were great. I truly loved the feminism in these books. The frequent mentions of Mary Wollstonecraft just made me smile. (And the second book even made me want to read some Tennyson – he apparently was into strong women.)

I can’t imagine that a lot of historical romances tackle politics – though feel free to prove me wrong on that one – and I think that’s what sets these books apart. They did kind of make me realize that historical romance in general might not really be my thing, because the parts that made me really love these books were the feminist/political parts. The romance was fun, but I liked the love interests so much more because they supported the feminism of the main characters. And it just made me really happy. It’s something I like in contemporary romance, too.

Did These Books Completely Change My Mind?

Honestly, I don’t think so. Because I have only read two historical romance novels, both by the same author. So I feel like I need a wider sample group to actually know for sure. So leave your suggestions in the comments! I would like to read more historical romance, but I definitely want more feminist historical romance. At this point, I think any other kind would annoy me.

Also, I really can’t get past the covers. I know, I know, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. But when it’s cover has a half naked man with a woman in a frilly gown on it fawning over him, it’s hard not to. When the covers make me cringe, it’s hard to feel excited to read the book. It just is.

So I probably won’t be reading a ton of historical romance in the future. But I do plan on continuing on in The League of Extraordinary Women series (there are two more planned). And I am open to reading more now. So I will credit these books with opening my eyes to what historical romance can be, and making me realize that I might enjoy some of it. I’m not writing off the genre anymore. And I’m pretty happy about that.

Now, when anyone asks me what kind of books I read, I can honestly say that I read everything. Seriously, I am currently reading a biography of Ulysses S. Grant, a memoir about the economic history of Africa, and am about to start a novel about the experiences of two black sisters. I read all the things. Historical romance now included!

I hope you enjoyed this post! Please leave your feminist historical romance suggestions down below, because I would like to explore it some more.

And if you’d like to check out Bringing Down the Duke and A Rogue of One’s Own, they are available on Amazon or Book DepositoryA Rogue of One’s Own will be available September 1.

You can also support an awesome indie romance bookstore and get them from The Ripped Bodice (I bought the first book and preordered the second from them). This is totally not an ad or sponsored, but I really love them – the owners are awesome, and it’s such an incredible little store. So, if you’re looking to pick up some new romance reads, please consider supporting them (I get nothing from you clicking the link above, but you get the satisfaction of supporting an amazing indie bookstore). They also have their own line of “trope tea, which I love. Highly recommend “There’s Only One Bed”, which is a really nice Earl Grey.

A Rogue of One’s Own was provided to me by the publisher and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no extra cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

21 thoughts

  1. I am so with you on the covers! It’s difficult because a really naff cover could potentially put you off what’s actually a good book – I know we shouldn’t judge by cover alone but it’s so ingrained!

    I’ve been trying to read outside of my favourite genres this year too – I’ve read more poetry than I at any point since uni and have even enjoyed historical fiction too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! I wonder how many good books I haven’t read because the covers are awful.

      Good for you for reading outside your comfort zone! It’s always something I like to experiment with 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is awesome. I’m going to check out the books you mentioned.

    I have no idea if they are historical romance or historical fiction (I can’t tell the difference — I’m not kidding, I need guidance), but I would recommend to you My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliviera, Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln by Janice Cooke Newman, & The WIndow’s War by Sally Cabot Gunning. x

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I sometimes can’t tell the difference between historical fiction and historical romance when the heroine is a woman. My Name is Mary Sutter has a love story subplot in it. But the doctor quest seems the major story. So it would be historical fiction not historical romance?

        I guess there’s no question Mary: Mrs. Abe Lincoln is historical fiction; it has the love story in as well, but Abraham isn’t depicted as the book’s “hero” or anything. Mary is central, & the story is more about her psychological & physical descent.

        Serious question: is this what makes a book “historical romance” — that the male “love interest” in the story basically has equal billing with the heroine? For example, if Abraham Lincoln was just as important as Mary in Mary: Mrs. Abe Lincoln, & the point of the story was will they or won’t they get together, would it then be an historical romance novel?

        I haven’t actually read that much historical fiction, but it’s probably my favorite genre. I keep picking up books at bookstores (well, when I wasn’t in quarantine, lol) about women in history, expecting historical fiction. These books don’t tend to have a male/female clinging image on the front cover. Honestly, there’s usually a woman’s headless torso on the cover of this kind of book. I start reading it, and two times out of three she falls in love and etc, etc, what we expect. I get frustrated because I want ACTUAL historical fiction.

        That’s why I can’t tell the difference. Is the fact that these women keep falling in love rather than daring fate like Ishmael in Moby-Dick a flaw in historical fiction about women (I realize it’s likely there’s some awesome stuff out there I haven’t found), or are such stories historical romance & being misfiled in bookstores as general historical fiction & given headless covers to throw us off the scent?

        (Possibly you have no answers. But if you do, you should write an informative post. I’d love to know the difference. A friend of mine says that just as science fiction can include “real” science fiction, such as the work of Ray Bradbury, it can also include on the same shelf what is considered more “male fantasy science fiction,” involving sexy female aliens who prance across the book nude (that’s her description not mine but let us all pause & consider this). She suggests there is likely confusion in the historical fiction genre for women as well: real, robust, serious historical fiction featuring women going against the world and realizing themselves, & the drippy kind of historical fiction involving women figures losing hold of the main plot of the story entirely because a man walked by. And it’s all getting muddled together so we just have to look hard. By the way, I don’t have a problem with romance stories. I have a problem with books claiming to be serious stories about women in history falling into the romance trope. I have this problem with them because for scores & scores of years we’ve been taught through literature that our ultimate goal is romance & marriage, & when you go into a book expecting something serious and even the serious heroines seem unable to avoid the overwhelming allure of the alter one wonders if we have accidentally forgotten women also do other things such as exist for whole days and even weeks not thinking about men at all.)

        Don’t judge me for this comment. 🙂 I wrote it fast to explain why I’m confused, but I didn’t take the time to articulate it clearly, partially because I don’t quite know what I mean. I’m just confused and would like women in historical fiction to stop falling over flat and begging a ring when a man walks by. It might just be me. I literally read an “historical fiction” once where it was supposed to be a ghost story set in the twenties with a strong heroine dealing with PTSD from WWI or something, & it started out as one. Then (SERIOUSLY, I AM NOT KIDDING) a man walked by with no shirt, & her every thought became consumed with him. Historical fiction? Romance? The end of feminism as we know it? NO IDEA.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I totally get it! For me, historical fiction can have a romance element (pretty much any genre can). With romance, the romantic plot is the main one (not a subplot). So it does sound like those books are historical fiction (not romance, though they do have a romantic subplot). The love interest doesn’t have to be the hero (in the book I just read, the protagonist herself was the hero). If it helps, romance almost always has a happy ending, so that might be a good way to judge.

          Genres tend to blend together, so I get that it can be confusing. For me, it helps to look at what the main plot is. The sexy female alien books sound awful, but, since they involve aliens, I’d say they’re science fiction (however bad they may be).

          Honestly, that last book you mentioned just sounds like bad historical fiction. I totally agree that I’m fine with romance in books, but cannot stand the women in historical fiction falling all over the men sometimes. Unfortunately, that happens a lot. Hope this helps. You can always check the genres on Goodreads – not always 100% accurate, but a good place to start.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Thanks so much for the tips, Stephanie! That’s a good idea to check the genres on Goodreads. I feel like I want to start a merry list of books that show women from history as rational creatures who do more than stumble & grovel. 😛

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I don’t like historical romance covers as well. It’s first thing that put me off this genre without even trying it but as I started reading Historical romance I loved it. I haven’t read many but I realised there is so much more in these books than just sexy hero or heroine cover in attire of those particular era and sometimes there isn’t anything erotic in book as cover suggests. I want to explore this genre more after my little experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good on you for trying something outside your comfort zone! I totally get being put off by the covers. I try to be open minded and not let cheesy covers keep me away from a book, but I would be lying if I said it never happens anymore! I unfortunately don’t have any recs for you, but I hope you’ll find more books you like in this genre 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I know exactly what kind of covers you mean! I still can’t look at them without rolling my eyes (the same with the semi naked guys on multiple new adult books) 😀

    I love reading challenges and experiments, especially seeing people discover new favorites (books, characters, genres, settings, etc.) ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m just starting to get into reading romance myself (also a recovering book snob!), but a lot of what I’ve read has been historical and all of it has been pretty feminist! As a whole, the romance genre just seems to focus a lot on what women want, is mostly written by women, and has some awesome female characters.

    I highly recommend The Duchess War by Courtney Milan, Season for Surrender by Theresa Romain, and The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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