Last updated Jan 22, 2023 | Listicle |

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As much as the historical fiction genre is rage-fuelled warfare and political intrigue, there’s also a significant place for romance. It’s often what fuels conflict, bolsters character development and heals our protagonists’ wounded outlook upon the world. What’s more, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing a stoic main character go wobbly when they meet that special someone.

From the rule-bound Regency era to legendary tales from ancient Greece, below is a beginner’s guide to the historical romance genre, encompassing beloved classics, favourite tropes, big hits and quirky must-reads.

1) Indigo by Beverly Jenkins

Jenkins is a beloved icon within the romance writing community, whose detailed research reveals stories “forgotten” by history, concerning awe-inspiring Black women, slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. Indigo introduces us to Hester, a member of Michigan’s Underground Railroad, who helps African Americans escape slavery in the South. The risks are high, and grow higher still, when she agrees to hide an injured man wanted by the law. Jenkins offers a masterclass in characterisation, teamed with a simmering romance and a compelling pace.

2) Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

The reader is entrenched in a Dickens-esque plot upon delving into Fingersmith. This novel takes place in a Victorian setting, where two women with opposing backgrounds find themselves bound together. Sue, an orphan from a London slum, is roped in to con a wealthy gentlewoman. However, she soon finds herself falling for the very person she’s meant to swindle. Waters’ work is not a conventional romance, for it teams Gothic elements with raw sensuality and an unforgettable ending.

3) Outlander/Cross Stitch (Outlander series) by Diana Gabaldon

Historical romance novels with a time-slip element can be a wonderful introduction to the genre, with the Outlander series leading the charge (partly due to its popular television adaptation). Claire, an experienced WWII nurse, falls through time and finds herself in 1743. Her fate – and hand in marriage – is soon tied to a Scottish outlaw called Jamie Fraser, despite the husband she left behind in 1945.

4) The Good Knight (The Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mysteries) by Sarah Woodbury

If you like your romance with some mystery, Woodbury has you covered. After a gruesome murder threatens to destabilise the 12th-century Welsh court, Gwen, a bard’s daughter and Gareth, an honourable knight, team up to uncover the truth. When blame lands in Gareth’s direction, Gwen is left to save the day (as well as the man she’s grown attached to). Woodbury has an accessible writing style that has earned her a dedicated readership, who regularly hold meet-ups in the Welsh countryside.

5) Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer

Delving into a Heyer romance is akin to sipping hot chocolate on a storm-filled night. The author penned her novels during the Blitz and said: “It’s unquestionably good escapist literature, and I think I should rather like it if I were sitting in an air-raid shelter or recovering from flu.” Friday’s Child combines tender affections with a sharp wit and wicked fun, all in a Regency setting. Our tale begins when foppish Lord Sherry vows to marry the first woman he sees, in order to claim his inheritance. Indeed, he does exactly that, saving a naïve Hero from her tedious future as a governess. Mistakes are made, comedic chaos ensues, and the Ton is rife with talk as a marriage of convenience takes a turn towards real love.

6) A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove series) by Tessa Dare

For a guaranteed “happy ever after” look no further than Dare. Her Regency stories champion themes such as communication, mutual respect and sexual freedom without shame. A Night to Surrender begins her Spindle Cove series, revolving around a coastal retreat for refined young ladies, run by the ever-determined Miss Finch. There isn’t an eligible man in sight (exactly as it should be) until the militia, led by the Earl of Rycliff, set up camp. The pair instantly clash and the battle lines are drawn, resulting in a blush-worthy read that blends humour with heart.

7) The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge by Elisabeth Hobbes

Hobbes writes action-adventure medieval romances with a historian’s passion for details, and The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge is a prime example. Constance is captured by lawless Saxons and, in the process, is reunited with her first love, Aelric. The sweet and caring youth she once knew is replaced by a vengeful brute who believes Constance abandoned him years ago. Now, Aelric is out for blood (Norman blood, to be exact) and nothing, not even Constance, will stand in his way.

8) My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas

Victorian England meets Chinese Turkestan when former lovers, Catherine Blade and Captain Leighton Atwood, are reunited. Deceit and espionage force the duo together once again in My Beautiful Enemy, where trust has to be earned and love reignited. Thomas delivers a thrilling read, where well-crafted characters meet truly emotive writing.

9) A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby (Rogues and Remarkable Women series) by Vanessa Riley

Patience lost everything after her husband’s unexplained suicide, including her son. Thankfully, destiny provides her with a position as a nanny to the Duke of Repington’s new ward. And who would that ward be but Patience’s own child? She’s risked everything to gain access to her son and now risks losing her heart as she navigates an uncertain world and complicated feelings for her hoodwinked employer in this Regency romp.

10) The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Miller’s poetic prose creates a captivating read in The Song of Achilles. A young Greek prince called Patroclus is exiled to King Peleus’s court, where he meets the golden-haired demi-god Achilles. The pair form an aching bond that begins in boyhood and continues as they grow together, sharing in joy, woe and inevitable love, as war – and a terrible prophecy – threatens their happiness.

11) A Virtuous Ruby (Migrations of the Heart series) by Piper Huguley

After bearing an illegitimate child and shouldering unearned shame, Ruby is determined to fight the injustice that reigns in her small US Georgian town in 1915. This decision launches her into the path of Adam Morson, a doctor who has so far managed to hide his mixed-race heritage. Activism, tenacity and courage battle against horrifying prejudice in a faith-filled tale that begins a compelling series.

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12) The Shogun’s Queen by Lesley Downer

Downer takes us to 1850s Japan in The Shogun’s Queen, where we meet our heroine, Okatsu. She is ordered to leave her home among the Satsuma Clan and enter Edo Castle, where she takes on a new title: Princess Atsu. Conspiracies plague the palace, embroiling Okatsu in a plot that pulls her head – and heart – in torturous directions.

13) The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite

Science and sensuality combine in The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics. In this delightful Regency tale, a heartbroken Lucy and recently widowed Catherine find themselves united by a shared interest in astronomy. “We thought we were separate satellites, but we aren’t,” writes Waite. “We’re stars, and though we might burn separately, we’ll always be in one another’s orbit.”

14) Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin

Wealth and power reign in China’s Tang Dynasty. Ai Li learns she is betrothed to a man who seeks to plot her father’s death. She flees with hired mercenaries and finds herself drawn to one in particular; a blue-eyed barbarian with his own tumultuous past. In this action-packed novel, Ai Li’s husband-to-be will not give up his bride so easily, forcing our lovers on a thrilling adventure that blends lavish court intrigue with breath-taking passion.

15) Banishment (The Daughters of Mannerling series) by Marion Chesney

This tongue-in-cheek Regency tale pokes fun at all our favourite Austen tropes, for a quick, light-hearted read. Isabella’s father loses the family fortune – and their estate – after a bad night playing cards. Our heroine hatches a plan to win back her home by seducing the new owner, only to find her efforts thwarted by the arrival of a dashing Irish aristocrat. You may recognise Chesney by another name, MC Beaton, of Agatha Raisin fame.

16) An Extraordinary Union (Loyal League series) by Alyssa Cole

An Extraordinary Union is the first in a series set during the US Civil War. Elle, a former slave, ventures back into the South to spy for the Union Army. During her mission she meets Malcolm, an unknown ally seeking information about a rebel stronghold in Virginia. Atmospheric prose, rich details and well-timed suspense have earned Cole impressive accolades that are thoroughly well-deserved.

17) Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

In Frenchman’s Creek, the unapologetic Lady Dona flees the Restoration Court and holes up in her husband’s Cornish estate. While exploring her scenic surroundings, she meets a rugged French pirate. At last, our unlikeable heroine has the adventure she’s been craving, all thanks to a roguish criminal. This novel is one of du Maurier’s lighter works, with a commercial tilt that is a good introduction to the author’s atmospheric style.

18) Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown

Adventure calls on the high seas in 1819, when a famous chef is kidnapped by Mad Hannah Mabbot. The fearsome pirate captain orders him to cook her a gourmet meal once a week and, in return, she’ll let him live. Salt-drenched battles, unflinching bloodshed and a slow-burn romance make Brown’s story a captivating read with a delightful twist: “It is no great secret that cooking is, in essence, seduction.”

19) The Duchess War (The Brothers Sinister series) by Courtney Milan

Minerva’s scandalous past threatens to unravel her quiet life in The Duchess War, when the Duke of Clermont looks her way. This light-hearted novel set in 1863 also touches on deeper issues relevant to the era, challenging the peerage system and women’s roles in polite society. Milan is a romance-writing force and for good reason, balancing keen insight with sparkling sensuality.

20) Katherine by Anya Seton

Katherine depicts the famous 14th-century romance between Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. Noble knights and forbidden passion take centre stage in this classic novel, based on a true story, which has spellbound readers since its first publication in the 1950s.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this list of 20 of the best historical romance novels, compiled by editor Rebecca Ferrier. Happy reading!

For more historical fiction book suggestions, take a look at our list of 30 of the best historical fiction books.

Looking for your next unforgettable read?

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Let us take the hard work out of it. Get curated book suggestions tailored to your genre preferences. Sign up now to get started – it's free!