Since the Netflix adaption of Bridgerton hit our screens in December 2020, the world has been on the hunt for more historical romance drama - and why not? The decadent balls and fabulous fashion allow us to travel back to a more glamorous time, while the stolen glances and the steamy action between the sheets are pretty exciting too!
Bridgerton isn’t anything new though - there are countless novels focusing on love in different periods in history, from Regency-era bodice-rippers and brooding Victorian tales to stories of forbidden desire set in 17th century Scotland. We’ve searched the internet to bring you the best of the bunch, with books about charming pirates, possessive alpha males, and strong female leads among our recommendations. Don't be shy, take a look at our list!
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Since historical romance is a genre that's incredibly popular, almost everyone is giving it a go - but how do you choose which book to pluck from the shelves? In this section, we'll give you a few pointers to help you narrow down your search.
One of the best things about the historical romance genre is the insight it gives you into life in the past. Picking an era and location that you're already interested in means you'll be much more engrossed in the storyline and won't put the book down until you've reached the very last page!
There are many periods to choose from - it all depends on where you want to be transported to while reading. If you want to experience the trials and tribulations of high society life in London, opt for a 19th century English romance. For raw passion and bloody battles, go for a story set in the Scottish Highlands during the 17th century. Essentially, it all comes down to preference!
You already know that you're after a steamy historical romance, but what about the plot? Some readers want to delve into the love lives of rich royals courting at extravagant Regency-era balls, while others would prefer a romance blossoming in a simple countryside farm on the misty moors.
Many readers relish novels focusing on relationships with traditional gender roles, following a helpless female character as she falls for a hyper-masculine hero. Others will enjoy reading about an LGBTQ* romance or a courageous feminist heroine who dreams of changing the world instead.
The sub-genre is important too - novels may focus exclusively on pirates, with romance taking place on the stormy seas. Time travel might also be incorporated, following the story of star-crossed lovers fighting to stay together. Pick a plotline and a set of characters that speak to you and you can't go wrong!
Historical romance novels can usually be split into two categories: contemporary and classic. Contemporary novels are typically page-turners that you'll fly through in a day or two. They're full of sex scenes, racy conversations, dramatic discoveries - basically, loads of "oh my God" moments!
The classics, on the other hand, aren't meant to be devoured poolside in one afternoon. They should be poured over, as there are often hidden messages between the lines such as criticisms of society. In fact, these kinds of novels are often on the reading list for English lit courses. This doesn't mean they lack sensuality or excitement though - the pages are usually full of passionate gestures!
Now, awards aren't everything, and you shouldn't discredit a novel just because it hasn't got the critics' stamp of approval. Still, if you're completely new to a genre, an award-winning book is generally a great place to start.
Books like this will usually tick all the boxes when it comes to genre conventions and are bound to provide an interesting read - essentially, an award makes a book a safe bet. Once you've read a few though, you can start to figure out your preferences and you may find yourself steering away from critically acclaimed titles towards more niche stories.
Lastly, you need to decide on a format - each has its benefits but some may be better than others when it comes to your lifestyle.
Many book lovers prefer a traditional hardback or paperback that they can physically hold while reading. Hardbacks are more durable and look good on your coffee table but do cost at least a few more quid than paperbacks. On the other hand, paperbacks are more flexible and can easily be thrown into your bag to read on the go.
Then, you have eBooks and audiobooks. Their digital format provides a convenient way to keep thousands of books in one place, making them perfect for travelling and saving space if you don't have room for a bookshelf. Plus, audiobooks are handy for listening to while walking, commuting, or cleaning the house.
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Pride and Prejudice
The Original Regency-Era Romance
A Wholesome Tale From an Acclaimed Author
Charming Pirate Meets Kind-Hearted Widow
A Week to Be Wicked
A Fake Elopement Leads to Real Love
Danger and Desire in the Scottish Highlands
A Classic Love Story About Two Rival Families
Against All Odds, the Captain Falls for his Servant
Mine Till Midnight
A Seductive Story That'll Keep You Reading All Night
The Soldier's Scoundrel
Opposites Attract in This Steamy Romance
Something Like Love
A Handsome Outlaw Steals Our Heroine's Heart
Even if you're completely new to the world of historical romance, you've probably heard of Jane Austen. Although she didn't receive a single award during her lifetime, she's one of the most renowned female writers in the world. This particular novel, which is set in Regency-era England, is a cornerstone of British literature and continues to captivate readers to this day.
Pride and Prejudice explores the turbulent relationship between middle-class Elizabeth Bennet and wealthy aristocrat Mr Darcy. Elizabeth insists on only marrying for love, while Darcy can't see past Elizabeth's low social status. Over time though, they begin to realise that they can't seem to shake the strong feelings that they have for each other. Will love triumph over all? You'll have to read this novel to find out!
A list of the best historical romance novels wouldn't be complete without an offering from Georgette Heyer as she practically created the Regency sub-genre! Her stories are known for being full of wit, comedy, and astute observations about love (without any sexual content) - and this one is no different.
In The Corinthian, Richard is forced into a loveless marriage by his family. One night, he encounters Penelope, who is in the process of escaping from her own unwanted wedding. The pair decide to run away together and eventually fall head over heels in love while encountering all sorts of troubles on the road. Light-hearted and charming, this is a wholesome read that you should definitely add to your library!
Scandalous Desires follows kind-hearted widow Silence Hollingbrook, who desperately seeks help from charming river pirate Mickey O'Connor. Mickey vowed to protect Silence and her daughter years ago, but his ruthless temperament means that he'll step on anyone and anything as he claws his way to the top rank of society. Will his love for Silence push him to give up the reckless pirate life for good?
This is a story of passion that keeps building between two people who refuse to admit their feelings - until they can't deny it any longer! Thanks to their charisma and incredible chemistry, we reckon you'll be rooting for the main characters right until the very last page.
In A Week to Be Wicked, devilish Lord Payne and spinster Minerva Highwood convince their families that they're in love and fake an elopement to Scotland. On their journey, which involves sharing a bed every night, they run into a number of troubles but always manage to escape. Along the way, their feelings towards each other grow until the reader begins to wonder - could it be that they've fallen in love for real?
One of the top-rated historical romance novels on Goodreads, this is undoubtedly a book that ticks all the boxes! It has likeable characters, hilarious dialogue, a plot that'll keep you guessing, and a whole lot of intimacy - precisely what you'd expect from this genre.
After reuniting with her husband, Claire walks through a mysterious stone circle and is catapulted from 1946 back to 1743, where a young Highland warrior takes her hostage. What follows is a slow-burn romance between Claire and her protector Jamie - a relationship that's full of fire and danger due to the enemies pursuing them both.
Having been developed into a chart-topping Netflix series, Outlander has stolen the hearts of people of all ages. The mix of time travel, passionate characters, and an unpredictable plot makes it a fantastic historical romance novel!
Emily Brontë is one of the most famous authors in the historical romance genre, and Wuthering Heights is an absolute classic. It follows Heathcliff, who is reduced to a servant by the Earnshaw family but returns to the moors as an educated rich man seeking revenge. However, his deep feelings for Catherine Earnshaw complicate matters.
The conflict between the two families, as well as the two women who fall in love with Heathcliff, makes for a gripping ride. This is a tale of heartache, doomed romance, and social disparity that you simply must read at least once in your life!
Desperate to return home to her lover, fearless Georgina sneaks onboard a boat to America disguised as a male servant. The captain of the ship, James Malory, is a handsome ex-pirate who swears that he will never marry. As these two hot-headed characters spend more and more time together, their attraction eventually becomes undeniable.
This is the third book in the Malory-Anderson series, but it works well as a stand-alone and readers describe it as the best out of all three. The story is flirtatious, hilarious, and heartwarming, with the main characters fitting together so perfectly that it's simply a joy to read!
Mine Till Midnight is the captivating story of the explosive relationship between a wealthy aristocratic man and a sweet yet strong-willed woman. Cam is mysterious, seductive, and excites Amelia beyond her imagination, instilling a fire in her that cannot be put out. They are, after all, each other's destiny.
Lisa Kleypas has written several books in the historical romance genre, many of which follow Cam through his endless trials and tribulations. This novel is definitely one of her best - each kiss will leave you breathless, longing to know what happens next!
Jack grew up in the desolate slums of London, leading a life of crime due to desperation. He helps people in need with Robin Hood-style crimes but steers clear of the nobility, whom he deeply distrusts. All of this changes when he meets Oliver, a dashing soldier born into the upper class. These two men couldn't be more different, but they're inexplicably drawn to each other.
This novel is packed full of emotional turmoil, cheeky banter, and steamy scenes as our heroes go from enemies to lovers - it's got everything you could possibly want from this genre!
Best-selling American author Beverly Jenkins has delivered a truly enchanting historical romance with Something Like Love. Protagonist Olivia has big dreams and is desperate to escape her arranged marriage. While fleeing her hometown, her train is robbed by a handsome outlaw, sparking a dramatic love story like no other.
We love the fact that societal roles are reversed in this tale with the woman taking the lead - Olivia is not a woman to be messed with! A total page-turner that you can easily read over a couple of days, this book is fun and thought-provoking.
Historical romance is quite a broad genre but is typically identified as one where the romance takes place before 1950. Novels in this genre aren't as light in tone as chick-lit though - instead, they tend to dive deep into character exploration and provide a real insight into a specific time in history.
The style of writing found in a historical romance novel is profoundly descriptive and punctuated with witty prose, dramatic conversations, and bolshy characters. Scene-setting is one of the most important aspects of the genre, so authors often cover every small detail, in order to make the reader feel like they've travelled back in time to live amongst the people that they're reading about.
Want to spend the weekend exploring another world from the comfort of your sofa? We've got more recommendations for brilliant books that you should add to your reading list - see the links below!
We hope our buying guide and top 10 list has provided you with plenty of best-selling books to add to your reading list. Pick up one of these exciting historical romance novels and settle down with a cuppa!
Author: Roxy Pratley
No. 1: Jane Austen｜Pride and Prejudice
No. 2: Georgette Heyer｜The Corinthian
No. 3: Elizabeth Hoyt｜Scandalous Desires
No. 4: Tessa Dare｜A Week to Be Wicked
No. 5: Diana Gabaldon｜Outlander
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