I missed a lot of the old school historical romances the first time around, but starting in college, I began to discover them in used bookstores. There are definitely some aspects of Ye Olde Romance that are best forgotten (such as A Pirate’s Love and similar rapefests), but the older books had their good points, too. Roberta Gellis has long been a favorite of mine, and I remember how her stories could span years of a couple’s story, taking them through all manner of places and conflicts.
And does anyone else remember Valerie Sherwood? My memories of her books include some things that don’t entirely pass the giggle test and she had some tales that went into rapetastic territory as well, but I also recall big, sweeping historical events and again – stories that spanned years and often travel over great distances. In the Song series, beginning with Lovesong, she actually started with the heroine’s Colonial childhood and gave readers a story that went through her being sent away to school in England, and then into the Caribbean and all manner of romantic adventures. It’s been years since I read these books and as I recall, they definitely have some creepy and cringeworthy scenes, but there’s also a huge canvas and lots of action drawing one in nevertheless.
When I think of older romances, I could go on and on with names of authors who wrote big, sweeping sagas. Most romances I read now stick to much smaller worldbuilding. I like a good “love at first sight” story or even the “Let’s fall in love and head for HEA inside of a week” tale – after all, there are authors who do it well – but I miss the larger than life stories. While they don’t always have that sweeping feel to them, Kaki Warner’s westerns do tend to cover longer time periods than many historicals I encounter. For instance, Pieces of Sky discusses the changing months and seasons at least in passing, so readers cannot help noticing that time passes while Jessica and Brady fall in love. While it had its flaws, Laura Navarre’s By Royal Command also lingered in my memory because it covered a longer span of time and it did have that old-style saga feel to it, complete with several hero choices for the heroine and a story that covered multiple locations.
However, aside from rare books like this, I encounter relatively few sagas in historical romance. I know Bertrice Small wrote big sagas such as Skye O’Malley back in the 80s and even though she’s not an author I normally read(one of her books actually put me off romance briefly in law school), I know she’s still writing. However, I can’t think of many other big saga writers off the top of my head. I can think of plenty of forced/contrived marriage or “Let’s come up with a reason for the heroine to live in hero’s house for a week and watch them fall in love,” stories, but not much that’s big and sweeping.
They do still exist in historical fiction, though. Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ Morland Dynasty series is a favorite of mine. The books definitely have that sweeping feel to them and Harrod-Eagles’ female character tend to be strong. These are historical fiction rather than romance, so be warned: While the books are filled with love stories, some end happy and others do not. If I could find a good romance equivalent to the Morlands, I would be a happy reader indeed. There’s just something about seeing the sweep of years listed on a cover, or the promise of mind travel to exotic times and places that captures the imagination in a different way than the narrower focused books can. I love both, and with great big stories being harder to find, I miss them. If I could find big, sweeping tales without the rape-to-romance storylines that used to be popular, I’d be a happy reader indeed.
What about you? Would you like to sink your teeth into a great big story that spans over years and/or locations? Better yet, have you read a good one lately?
– Lynn Spencer