What Makes for a Good Historical Romance Read

Articles by RRM reviewers on 
What makes for a Good Historical Romance Read. 



Francine's reveal: 

Having asked RRM reviewers to reveal what makes for a good historical romance, it occurred to me that I too must reveal the nitty-gritty, so here goes. All in all I have curious nature and throughout life I’ve always wanted to know what makes other people tick, and authors of historical novels– in general– are an intriguing species as are fans of historical novels.

It’s a given readers will time-slip through pages to wild windswept moors, tread through harsh stone mediaeval castle and manor halls, or step to the more elegant domain of royal courts and ballrooms. In reality each historical period has memorable events such as 1066, 1485, 1812, 1815, so on and so forth, but not all authors include major events as a backdrop to their stories. 

Many of the old romances often afford little more than a dateline sub header per chapter to denote time and place, e.g. Yorkshire 1759, or perhaps London 1814, and nothing else beyond the social standing of the characters and all that arises within their immediate circle is provided to latch onto. After all, a red shawl is a red shawl, and it’s up to the reader to determine knitted, woven, or silk etc, according to the character's social standing. Often within old books there was no in depth description of clothes, but the story was no less thrilling. In this instance the novel “Wuthering Heights” leaps to mind, and there are those within literary circles who will declare WH is not a romance, that it is merely a love story because it doesn’t have a happy ever after. I beg to differ, because two people fall in love, conflict arises, and tragedy ensues, just as it did in Romeo & Juliet, as it does in many of the great love/romance stories where the hero or heroine has to turn from the other and walk away. Some of the most memorable novels of loss leap to mind: Gone with the Wind; Frenchman’s Creek; and Brief Encounter. These novels were no less enthralling throughout, the endings somewhat tragic in the emotional sense, though in GWTW it was an open ending – would Rhett return; unable to live without Scarlet?

So you see I don’t believe romance novels have to have an HEA. Romance and tragedy is memorable; sad yes, and yet fulfilling in so many ways. So whatever romance comes my way for review, I can in all honesty say I have an open mind as to what constitutes a good or great romance read, though I do revel in books where emotions run deep, characters reveal their inner self, or the story lines have darker elements at play. Historical accuracy counts too, but please no antique sales catalogue descriptions of items, whether personal or household. Other than that I am a tart for handsome military heroes.








From Nigella's Perspective (Maritime Historian):

When Francine asked would I write a short piece on what constitutes a good romance novel from my perspective as a reader, the overall concept appealed until I sat down to compose the blessed response. If only a keyboard equated to the pleasure factor of a pen’s top pressed between teeth as does a comforter for a child, the words may have flowed with ease. It truly struck me how easy it is to point to the things in romance novels that annoy me, and that would be a big cheat on what Francine asked for. Being that of a maritime historian any adventure on the high seas, sweet or hot romance, whether a pirate captain or British Royal Navy officer hero, those books will be my first choice read over a land based novel. Caveat if you will for maritime plots where dialogue had better not ring heavy with ‘Ooh Arrrrghs’ or the book will be cast aside as stereotypical Hollywood characterisation of English pirates and privateers. Also no quarter will I grant for historical inaccuracies. As to the land based variety of romance novels, the more unusual and as near original as authors can strive toward and avoid reworking tropes of old the better I will like them. To summarise in a few words what constitutes a ‘good’ romance novel is when the end is reached and enjoyment lingers. What constitutes an ‘excellent’ novel is when characters and scenes leap to mind in vivid colour months after the book was put aside - those are the best kinds of book. 





From Charlotte's Perspective:

Give me a historical romance novel and I am in heaven, transported through time to the world created by the author. Although love and romance is the backbone of romance novels, historical accuracy to do with place, time, clothing, and all the other wondrous elements expected of a good romance, for me, the characters must leap from the pages and become real in their own right.

If characters are mere props for the plot they won't hold me entranced, and faux period novels are two-a-penny at Amazon in recent months. The novels to which I refer are so badly researched the characters can be visualised as contemporary novels due to contemporary language and lack of authentic period feel. 

A carriage is a carriage seems to be the mantra and if the book has horses and carriages that sets it in the past. No, a few horses and carriages don't make a historical novel is what I scream. A period novel must set the time and place with events or at least one or two of the characters who enlighten the reader with newspaper items, pamphlets, or some topic of conversation to place the novel within the 18th century or the 19th century. 

To simply say the  novel is set de da de da is not good enough, show me, your reader, you the author know the period in which your novel is supposedly a representation of.  Don't attempt to con me with high praise editorial reviews and inflated NYT and USA Today accreditations.

To date and ten novels read in the last two months more than half of the acclaimed Regency novels fall short on London streets that are said to be grand houses during the Regency era. The most notoriously acclaimed South Audley Street itself consisted of small living accommodation over trade premises. It was never a desirable residential street in Georgian times. Mistakes of that kind deserve two stars for slack research even when the novel is well written. There, I have grumped for the day as a dissatisfied reader.

2 comments:

  1. All of the above. As a research geek, I've never met a shiny fact I didn't like. I want to feel the flavour, but if I wanted a lecture on medical practices in the Napoleonic battlefield, I'll read a textbox. Be accurate, be visceral, but be subtle. Bernard Cornwall said 90% of the research doesn't reach the page. I want to feel that there are unplumbed depths to your background, but I don't want you to bury me in it.

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  2. Like Jude, I'm also a research geek and want all the details including language, behaviour, setting and costumes to be spot on. But the characters also have to be compelling and the plot must grab me and carry me to the end. I've just written my first historical set predominantly in 1850s New Zealand. I was in research heaven spending months unearthing all those wonderful details, but I was also aware that I was writing a novel not a non-fiction account. Finding the balance between your inner researcher and storyteller is the tricky part.

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