Yes to all of this, Caz. Maybe I’ve misread some criticisms of historically accurate HR, but I don’t recall anyone saying there weren’t racially, ethnically, and sexually diverse people in England- at least not at AAR. I would certainly *hope* that misconception wasn’t the case. One of my beefs is when authors push the diversity angle to the point where their stories look like a UN summit/pride parade without sufficiently developing the characters themselves or showing how they could have realistically navigated their particular era. Obviously, this is subjective criteria that has a lot to do with the writing itself.
Take The Vicar and the Rake, for example. I was skeptical from the beginning how the author would do a successful HEA involving a clergyman and a duke in Regency England. Now, I like m/m, but there’s only so much suspension of disbelief I can handle before I say, “This is not in any way, shape, or form ‘historical’ except for some popular tropes and window dressing. This should be classified as fantasy/alternative history.” Granted, I’m well aware that HR has a fanciful “what if” element to enable characters to find happiness even in dire circumstances. But for something with the word “historical” in it, I expect some believable grounding in historical fact. A huge part of the draw of HR for me is watching characters of their time and place overcome obstacles in a period appropriate fashion rather than 21st century time travelers in costumes.
Of course, I’m sure a lot of readers like the 21st century time traveler angle. That’s totally fine! I think there’s room for both kinds of stories. But I think publishers should do a better job labeling the two genres so readers know what they are going to get in advance. It’s kind of like how I don’t like the tendency to mix science fiction, fantasy, and horror in the same anthologies. Yes, they are all speculative fiction, but each form of storytelling is different. Romance publishers separate CR and HR into different sections for good reason; they are different subgenres of romantic fiction. Maybe speculative HR or HR-lite needs to have its own shelf too.