Here’s a roundup of my favorite historical romance novels, novellas, and short stories. Hope you find something to enjoy in the following list. (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)
I originally posted this list in 2017, but it’s been refreshed and expanded in 2023 after I re-read many of the books here to make sure I was still enthusiastic about recommending them. However, please let me know via my contact form if you find something yikes in a book I recommend.
Quiet, interesting historical polyam romance novella set in New York just after the Civil War. Jack served in the U.S. army with Everett and they became lovers. After the war, though, Jack moved to the city to pursue art, while Everett took over a print shop in a small town… and then married his sweetheart Sophie. Hurt but not wanting to lose Everett completely, Jack manages to find a balance until he, too, falls for Sophie and things get complicated.
It’s a story about people being human and making mistakes (none of which are cheating), but Jack, Everett, and Sophie all care for each other a great deal so they keep trying. They slowly untangle what it is they want, and how it can work. I quite enjoyed it.
Warm M/M romance novella set in a post-Civil War Western boomtown, where wandering tracker Aaron Byrne meets Oxford-educated astronomer Jonah Mann, currently serving as the town’s schoolteacher. Aaron’s been brought in to end a reign of terror perpetrated by some local bandits, but while he’s doing that, he and Jonah are also circling each other like “Who are you? Might there be a thing between us?” Aaron is used to traveling freely about the country, and any attachment growing between the two men has some competition from his tendency to wander.
Soto takes us to an HFN with promise, not a permanent HEA, but I thought that was appropriate for these guys. I also adored the revelation of why the sheriff, Aaron’s friend, is so down on Jonah. So funny.
Overall, a very satisfying tale of two people finding something special in each other, though on the surface they appeared to have little in common, and choosing to see where it may lead.
Content warnings: (1) A dude we’re supposed to like says something to a domestic abuser dude that is accepting of a certain level of domestic violence. To me, it was clear that this was an attempt to manipulate the abuser into backing off from further violence, but this is a heads up, because some folks might come upon that unaware and be stung by it anyway, and that would be so valid. (2) References to sexual assault committed by the bandits.
Attraction, secrets, and delicious banter are the main ingredients in this historical romance set on a fictional Hispanic Caribbean island circa 1910. Emilia Cruz supports her sister and their alcoholic father by secretly writing a racy serial under a pen name. Ruben Torres is a serious novelist who writes a gossip rag on the side, also under a pseudonym, in which he writes scathing takedowns of Emilia’s serial and threatens to unmask the author’s identity. This isn’t quite enemies-to-lovers, but it’s close, because these two get off on a very wrong foot. Two people with such a passionate interest in literature can’t stay apart for long, though…
Unfortunately, people with secrets are vulnerable, which means the growing relationship between Emilia and Ruben is on shaky ground. I loved the setting, both main characters, Emilia’s unapologetic passion for her writing, the many distinct and interesting secondary characters, and as previously mentioned, the clever banter between Emilia and Ruben. The plot gets a little wander-y later in the book, but it all gets tied up in the end, and I enjoyed the dialogue and setting enough to make up for it.
I’d read San Andres’s novella The Infamous Miss Rodriguez before I read this, and the cameo by Graciela Rodriguez here was a delightful surprise. Here’s hoping that San Andres keeps writing, because the romance genre needs more diverse stories like this.
“A reporter has come to Wyoming to do a story on doctors for his Black newspaper back east. He thinks Colton Lee will be an interesting subject…until he meets Colton’s sister, Spring. She runs her own ranch, wears denim pants instead of dresses, and is the most fascinating woman he’s ever met.
But Spring, who has overcome a raucous and scandalous past, isn’t looking for, nor does she want, love. As their attraction grows, will their differences come between them or unite them for an everlasting love?”
“Magistrate Li Chen harbors a secret. One that could destroy his hard-earned reputation, as well as his growing passion for the talented courtesan, Song Yi.
Li Chen’s duty to his family and the Emperor must come before the desires of his heart, but when a stranger to the city is found dead near the House of Heavenly Peaches, where Song Yi is indentured, the complicated nature of their relationship becomes the least of his troubles.
For Song Yi, Magistrate Li’s gentlemanly, late night conversations provide a welcome change from the games of courtship she is accustomed to, but his reserved attention won’t pay the bills. When one of her courtesan-sisters goes missing at the same time a stranger is killed in the pleasure quarter, she and Li Chen embark on an investigation as well as a passionate affair. But the riddle they uncover goes deeper than they could have imagined, and mysteries from their pasts may shatter any hope for the future.”
Aspects of this sapphic historical romance that made me happy:
– childhood friends reunited… but it’s complicated
– gal science enthusiasts
– “No thank you to marrying a dude, I am otherwise occupied. Like, forever.”
– it’s gentle with its characters
And their HEA is perfect for them. Good stuff.
“Lady Sarah Lark has never had much interest in any of the suitors that surround her. Winifred and Sarah used to be best friends, but after Win married Sarah’s cousin and moved to London, their friendship fell apart. Neither Win nor Sarah are happy about being underneath the same roof, but after settling her late husband’s debts and being left with almost nothing, Win doesn’t have much choice other than to play nicely with the Lark family. The more time they spend in each other’s company, the more they wonder if friendship is all they feel. Still, even if they admit their feelings, to each other and to themselves, Lady Sarah’s parents are determined to see both young women married to suitable gentlemen. Win and Sarah’s newfound love might be over before it even begins.”
Gorgeous, lovely, wonderful polyamorous romance set in 1906 London. The main love story is between Aubrey Fanshawe, second son of an earl, and Lucien Saxby, working-class journalist. If you’re a fan of historical romance that engages with feminism, class and power differences, political struggles, etc. (think K.J. Charles and Courtney Milan) then you should give this a try. I loved watching these two guys – and various other characters – work so hard to love each other, make mistakes, hurt people they care about, apologize, and try to do better, and I loved how their stories were so carefully built within their historical setting. Lucens does an amazing job of having characters talk things out with each other, sometimes at length, while maintaining the character voices and the feeling of engaged conversation rather than people suddenly giving dramatic speeches.
I also appreciated the diversity here of various kinds. Aubrey is in a long-term committed romantic and sexual relationship with his childhood friends Lord and Lady Hernedale. Lord Hernedale is somewhere on the asexual spectrum, which doesn’t bother his wife or Aubrey, but which sadly is a source of profound insecurity for him. Lucien has a casual ongoing sexual relationship with his friend Ben, a bisexual married working class man of color. Lucien has a wealthy acquaintance who has an unlabeled long-term disabling chronic illness. This is historical romance on the realistic end of the spectrum, not the fairy tales of balls and castles, and I am 100% here for it.
There’s one minor tweak I would have wished for: a bit more of something to establish the meaningfulness of Ben to Lucien, to better support some of Lucien’s personal-growth-related realizations about relationships late in the book. I originally also felt like Henrietta, Lady Hernedale, needed at least one more speaking appearance after various male characters have realized that her agency has been taken away. I needed that to feel like the book wasn’t also overlooking her. EXCEPT after I finished writing this review, I read an interview with Lucens on Corey’s Book Corner that said this was a deliberate decision not to take more away from Hettie by having her story told through a man’s eyes. The next book in the series will be hers. I am 100% happy with that.
There is a related/prequel short story to this, Gutter Roses, that I also 100% recommend, but you don’t have to read it first.
Ever wonder what happens to those alpha-soldier-secret-agent heroes in romance novels when they get older? If it’s 1893, they become like the snooty Duke of Olympia, in his 70s and wishing he could be done with all this faffing about, but also bemoaning the lack of skills in the current generation of operatives, since it requires his presence on the SS Majestic during a cross-Atlantic voyage to find a dangerous anarchist and retrieve stolen information that mustn’t fall into the wrong hands.
On said ship, the Duke makes the acquaintance of 50 year old American Mrs. Penelope Schuyler, a clever widow who lives on the not-quite-kindness of relatives, and sparks fly. Well, conversational sparks anyway. The Duke would like more than that, but Penelope is unconvinced that she wants to be anyone’s mistress, no matter how drab and uninspiring her penniless future appears. Also, she may have a secret or two that she has zero desire to reveal to His Grace.
Watching these two smartypants characters verbally fence was absolutely delightful. The Duke’s appreciation for Penelope’s mind and capabilities is endearing.
Finally, I really appreciated how the Duke is well over six feet tall and EVERYONE NOTICES ALL THE TIME. Unlike in most romance novels where all these 6’5″ guys are walking around and there’s zero bystander reaction. That is not reality.
An inter-racial medieval Highlander romance! Loosely based on a true story, it’s an incredibly well-constructed short story about an African woman in Scotland, part of the court of King James IV. Agnes, known as Agnes Moor, serves as an “exotic” but also an advisor and informal diplomat. When the King organizes a tournament where the prize is a kiss from Agnes, she can’t help but hope and fear the Wild Knight who enters is a certain Highland laird. Spoiler alert: it is. Agnes’s awesomeness hit Gareth like a freight train when he met her, and he’s not going to let anything stand in the way of marrying her.
There are only about five events, and one of them is a flashback, but the storytelling is so effective that by the end I was entirely won over.
I also enjoyed and recommend Cole’s Let Us Dream, set in 1917 Harlem.
A slow-burn Regency era small-town British romance between Lydia Reeve, a spinster heiress struggling to maintain her recently passed father’s legacy of politicking, and Asher Cohen, a Jewish con man who grew up in poverty and passes as Christian to avoid prejudice.
It’s so detailed and multi-layered, the writing is lush, the main and secondary characters are complex, and Lerner does an amazing job showing how both main characters are hurting – Lydia from the loss of her father, and Ash because the brother he’s raised and protected is abandoning him. That pain is what sometimes makes this hard to read, in a good way. It’s real, and it’s unsolvable. You can’t bring someone back from the dead, and you can’t keep someone with you who doesn’t want to stay. On top of that, Ash has been a con man so long that he struggles to find his authentic self, which complicates his growing attraction to Lydia. What makes it work is that Ash and Lydia both need someone to see them, and to honor their pain and sacrifices, and they’re able to give that to each other.
If you’re looking for something heartwrenching and real, give this one a try.
If there was an award for Sweetest Couple in a Romance Novel, Clem Talleyfer and Rowley Green in this Victorian romantic suspense novel might win it. Clem is a mild-mannered illegitimate half-Indian son of an English lord. He runs a lodging house in a diverse neighborhood on the sufferance of his his jerky titled step-brother. Rowley is his lodger, a local taxidermist with an artistic bent who’s long wanted more than friendly cups of tea with his cute-as-a-button landlord Clem. It’s a slow burn between two introverts, Clem hesitant because most people get frustrated with his (what we would now label) dyspraxia, and Rowley nervous because he’s submissive and previous lovers haven’t been exactly delighted by that.
While all of this is developing, one of Clem’s lodgers is found tortured and murdered. This sets off a chain of dangerous events that heightens both Clem’s family conflicts and Rowley’s well-earned fears of anger and conflict. Charles draws in a wide variety of interesting secondary characters, including Clem’s found family of other gay men, and gives the reader plenty of mystery and action along with a more accurate look at London’s diversity in this era than one typically finds in historical romance.
The full resolution of the mystery requires the two following books in the series, neither of which clicked for me as well as this one, but Clem and Rowley will always have my heart. They are so damn adorable.
I also very much enjoyed Charles’s Unfit to Print, so you can check that out too.
“Clockmender Hannah Croft’s friend Molly has been arrested for her connections to a Jacobin club. In the tumultuous political climate of 1790s Britain, being in the wrong place at the wrong time is enough to land Molly in gaol. Hannah’s one hope to free her lies in the testimony of housemaid Lucy Boone.
Lucy has spent her entire life moving from one household to another, never forming a true connection with her fellow servants—nor with her occasional lovers. She prefers it that way. When you can rely on yourself, why would you need anyone else? But when Hannah Croft asks for help, she cannot say no.
Working together to free Molly, the two women don’t try to ignore their growing attraction. For Hannah, Lucy is a beacon of hope at a difficult time. And Lucy finds herself loving her new life, made welcome by Hannah and her friends.
But their situation is fraught with danger. Rumours abound of an informant in their midst, and a sinister man from the magistrate’s office dogs Lucy’s steps. One wrong move could land them in gaol—or splinter their new relationship from within.”
Stunning, layered trilogy that tells the story of two very different gay men falling in love in Scotland during the early 1800s. David Lauriston was raised by a deeply religious farmer and is clawing his way up into the middle class as a barrister. Lord Murdo Balfour is rich nobility, son of a politically ambitious jerk. The conflict between Balfour and Murdo (that takes three books to resolve) is historically appropriate during the Enlightenment: will God rightly damn you for having a homosexual relationship?
I liked how it didn’t feel like a modern discussion pasted onto a historical setting. David has managed to get clear of his religious and cultural programming enough to fight for both commoners’ and women’s rights in significant sub-plots over the course of the series, but allowing himself his own gay happiness is much more difficult. David has very little information, no role models, and limited support available to him outside of Murdo, who clearly has a dog in the fight over whether David’s going to accept himself. Murdo also has a hard time being sympathetic to the deep and very real pain David experiences, especially when David goes to visit his family. Chambers managed to get me sympathizing with many nearly-opposite things simultaneously: David’s fear of judgment, Murdo’s impatience, David’s resistance to Murdo’s impatience, and Murdo’s fear that David will leave him for good.
Both characters are complex and imperfect, and for quite a long time they don’t actually fit each other very well, but with great effort love does eventually prevail. Very well written.
Emotionally turbulent M/F romance in 1867 England between two characters who are trying to hide in plain sight. Jane Fairfield is an heiress who can’t get married without leaving her younger sister unprotected, so she pretends to be absolutely horrible hoping that no one will ask her. Oliver Marshall, the bastard son of a duke, has chameleon-ed his way into the social circle of nobility, hoping to make a career in politics so he can push reforms to benefit common people. They are wildly drawn to each other… but having Jane as a wife would wreck Oliver’s career, and marrying would put Jane’s sister at risk.
What struck me the most about this book: Milan’s passionate engagement with political and social themes; the pain of knowing that someone exists who really understands you, and not being able to be close to them; the resilience of women; the respectful depiction of the true diversity of England at that time. Tremendously well-written, made my heart ache in a good way, and I especially liked the secondary romance between Jane’s sister, who has epilepsy, and an Indian immigrant lawyer. They are both adorable.
I also super-adored Milan’s After the Wedding, an interracial romance between a biracial black businessman and a bi white woman reduced from nobility to working as a maid. Great dialogue and some lovely secondary characters.
This Regency M/M romance between servants, set on a country estate, cracked me up so many times. It’s lighter on the romance than I usually prefer, because the central problem is that valet Clement Adair is so overwhelmed by his job that it’s threatening his chance for a relationship with stable groom Hugo Ogden. If Clement’s going to spend all his time trying to manage the household of his eccentric aristocratic employer, Hildebert Devereaux, there won’t be enough left for romance!
What kept the romance part on the back burner for a while, though, is exactly what I loved about it: the personalities and antics of Devereaux, his wife, and the various servants from the estate and the ones newly arrived from London. All are trying to cope with the transition from the estate being an empty vacation spot to the full-time residence of a noble couple used to having all of London to entertain them. Clement’s tact, practicality, formidable intelligence, and diplomacy are taxed to their limit as Devereaux engages in various leisure pursuits, some of which threaten life and limb (amateur chemistry lab, anyone?). There’s servant conflict, economic unease, and a garden party to host. It’s superbly entertaining. And overall, it’s a remarkably gentle and feel-good story, with two sweet guys who finally do manage to connect… once Clement learns a valuable lesson about prioritization.
Marlowe also has a novella about another interracial couple called Lord Loxley’s Lover that I enjoyed, though it felt more like a fairy tale as opposed to a realistic historical depiction. Nothing wrong with a good fairy tale now and again, though.
And that’s the list!