Welcome back to Setting Smackdown, where two different romance settings brawl it out for first place in our hearts! (If you missed our first Smackdown, Georgian vs. Victorian, you can find it HERE!).

This edition of Setting Smackdown: France Vs. Italy!

Yes, it’s the Battle of the Latin Lovers, as the lands of two Romance languages duke it out to be the favorite of Romancelandia. Will it be Paris, the City of Lights, or Venice, the Floating City? A Provençal lavender field or a Sicilian vineyard? Pasta or patisserie? Bring it on!


ROUND ONE: Contemporaries!

Harlequin sends Italy out swinging with its inexhaustible supply of Italian tycoons, condés, and vineyard owners. Try Liz Fielding’s Flirting with Italian, for a charming tale of a teacher who falls for a man who is all three. Does that seem a bit lightweight? Katrina Jackson lands a heavier punch with The Hitman – a jilted bride taking a solo honeymoon discovers her neighbor is an assassin for the mafia.

France isn’t going to stand by on either count. In Karina Halle’s dark romance Discretion, the heroine finds herself recuperating from a mugging in a hotel room paid for by a French fashion heir who is keeping secrets. And Laura Florand gives us two beloved French contemporaries: A Crown of Bitter Orange takes us into the perfume industry in Provence, and The Chocolate Thief highlights… uh, chocolate. Right. France also has a strong YA contender, as Stephanie Perkins gives a wonderful Parisian boarding school setting in Anna and the French Kiss.


ROUND TWO: 19th CENTURY

Italy: A heroine unlocks her musical talents in Venice in Kate Noble’s Let It Be Me

France: See the dawn of the age of cinema in Dance by Judy Cuevas!

Italy: Meet lusty writers in Lessons of Desire by Madeline Hunter!

France: À votre santé! Enemies-to-lovers spirits manufacturers try to win customers in Adriana Herrera’s A Caribbean Heiress in Paris!

Italy: A courtesan has treasonous letters in Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase.

France: Where would we be without Joanna Bourne’s Spymasters


ROUND THREE: The Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Time for those knights in armor to shine! Let’s lead with France. Susan Wiggs’  The Mistress of Normandy earned a rare A+ here. Or try Shelly Thacker’s time-travel story, Forever His.

Italy’s response? Tasha Alexander’s Death in the Floating City (part of the Lady Emily mystery series) includes both 19th century and Renaissance Venetian settings. For a pure medieval, Laura Kinsale’s Shadowheart will break your heart with its truly tortured hero Allegretto. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin, while largely set in Cambridge, stars protagonists from the diverse medieval medical school in Salerno.


WAIT! From behind, it’s A SURPRISE ATTACK! The French Revolution has entered the ring!

A Rose at Midnight by Anne Stuart stars a chef out for revenge. Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series has multiple French Revolution-set stories. And what’s the French Revolution without its archetypal hero, the Scarlet Pimpernel? Try Surrender to a Stranger by Karyn Monk for an original Pimpernel hero!

BUT ITALY IS NOT OUT. With one more ace up its sleeve – or rather, tucked in its toga – Italy retaliates with Ancient Rome! If you swooned for Russell Crowe as Maximus Decimus Meridius, then these romance novels might be your personal fields of Elysium. Carla Capshaw’s retired gladiator falls for his Christian slave in The Gladiator, and Michelle Style’s not-retired gladiator falls for a Roman lady in The Gladiator’s Honor! (We do love us a gladiator).

So what say you, readers? Who is the ultimate champion of Setting Smackdown: France Vs. Italy?

~ Caroline Russomanno

(You can also find this survey here.)

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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.