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.
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.
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