My favorite of all the Special Title Lists is the Special Settings List. I can’t begin to say how many times I’ve scoured through that list looking for books to read in different exotic locales, paying particular attention to the Europe and the Middle East and Africa sections of the list.
I’ve written here before about my fondness for romances set in Greece. But in reality, I’m a sucker for romances set in any exotic or unusual location. Sure, like many of you, I love romances set in the U.K. But as a travel lover — both armchair and in real life — I long for variety in settings. Four years ago, Rike wrote a Letters to the Santa of Romance post that included many of our requests for romance. Mine was:
Could you please arrange to have some romances — contemporary romances with not a trace of suspense — set in some different parts of the world? I’d love to see a romance set on Santorini or Crete. And how about one set on Malta? What about Berlin or Amsterdam? Oh, and Mexico City might be nice as well. But please, Santa of Romance, in addition to no suspense, could these books also include no billionaires, no secret babies, and no sheiks?
That request still holds. It’s possible I’ve missed them, but I certainly haven’t read any new contemporary romances set on Malta, Santorini, Crete, or any of the other settings I wished for in the last four years.
What do I look for in a setting? First and foremost, I want to feel as if the characters are actually in the setting. Simply having a romance “set” in an unusual locale isn’t enough. I want to feel as if I’m there, see something other than the inside of the heroine’s office or restaurant, or a hotel room. Throw in an interesting location or two – be they historical monuments, museums, or neighborhoods – and I’m happy. I still want the focus on the characters and the romance, but I want the setting to shine through. I also don’t want to notice any obvious inaccuracies about the setting.
Some of my favorite, older romances have led me to do research on a locale. After reading the following passage in Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Breathing Room(2002), I spent considerable time doing research on San Gimignano and have now added it to my list of places I would like to visit:
“The city of San Gimignano sat like a crown on the hilltop, its fourteen watchtowers dramatically outlined against the setting sun. Isabel tried to imagine how the pilgrims on their way from Northern Europe to Rome must have felt as they caught their first sight of the city.”
I had been to Paris several times before I first read Lord of Scoundrels. But after reading the shooting scene by the Palais Royal, became fascinated with that place. Although I had walked through the Palais Royal several times I had no idea of its history. Since reading LOS, each trip I’ve made to Paris has included a visit to the Palais Royal, and I see it very differently thanks to LOS.
Not surprisingly, given my love of the Amelia Peabody mysteries, one romance with an unusual setting that stands out for me, and that has been a frequent reread, is set in Egypt. In Connie Brockway’s As You Desire (1997), the Egypt of the 1890s comes alive. It’s not any particular scene that brings the setting to life; the entire book makes me feel as if I am in 1890s Egypt with Harry and Dizzy. Yes, Dizzy showed the annoying Lord Ravenscroft the pyramids, and yes, she was taken from a market. But more importantly, they moved effortlessly in the society of the day, giving me a real feel for the time and the place. Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible is another favorite historical romance, also set in Egypt. The setting never takes away from the characters; they’re still firmly the focus, as in the following passage:
“Daphne was only dimly aware of the pyramid, one of the world’s wonders. All she could see was the man, and far too much of him: the shirt taut across the broad shoulders, the thin fabric almost transparent in the harsh light, revealing the contours of muscular arms and back.”
But as a reader, I’m still very aware of the setting.
While India isn’t my favorite setting for fiction, two newer books have brought historical aspects of the country to life for me and caught my interest. Deanna Raybourn’s Dark Road to Darjeeling and Lauren Willig’s The Betrayal of the Blood Lily are personal favorites from the past two years. I wasn’t convinced I would like either one, but the combination of fantastic characters, great plots, and vivid settings sucked me in, and has placed both on my DIK shelf.
As it happens, the Special Settings list is currently open for submissions and we would love to add some more to our list. And about those special settings, is there someplace you would love to see more romances set?
– LinnieGayl Kimmel