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Freewheeling in the Regency
As for the historical romances set in the Regency, basically anything goes both as to content and cover. As long as the story is set in the Regency, the writer and artist can seemingly do whatever else they want to do. Thus, there are many books set in this era which often have nothing else but the era in common with one another. Many of these novels Austen and Heyer themselves wouldn’t believe were inspired by their own works. They’d be right.
One example of this freewheeling attitude of the publishers is Marsha Canham’s Pale Moon Rider. Her publisher was quite eager to put a colorful storyteller renowned for other eras into the very hot, highly salable historical romance set in the Regency market. The hero is a highwayman, as written by an author known for lusty, swashbuckling pirates and “when men knew how to be men” medieval warriors. Canham’s heroes number amongst my favorites and her Prince of Darkness in The Last Arrow was to die for. If any writer had to have a highwayman as a hero in the refined Regency, it was Canham. She puts in some great satire though by having him appear as a civil servant Regency fop by day as his disguise. This novel received strong reviews and positive reader response. Canham will be releasing a second novel set in the Regency.
Canham’s cover is very good and doesn’t really try for any aspect of Regency society. The front is stars and a cutout of a sliver of the moon whereas the step-back is a portrait of cover model Cherif Fortin as the highwayman with his horse in a field, waiting for a promising victim to come along. You can see Cherif’s face on the front cover through the slivered moon cutout, a nice touch. Other artists might consider using such a peekaboo effect too since it gives readers at least a part of their hero right up front. Did I open the cover to look at the rest of Cherif? Ask yourselves as you look at his image shown here! I would have liked even more of the step-back painting of Cherif to be of him but the cover designer had the task of lining his image up with the cut in the slivered moon so that showed through to the front. The image of Cherif, therefore, was forced over to the extreme right rather than having him dominate the step-back space as would normally be done when using this expensive a cover model. In using cutouts, the designer and artist of the step-back would have to work more closely together to avoid this situation’s reoccurring.
Is there any story too outlandish to be set in the Regency? Ask Dara Joy, who must be enjoying some good laughs on her way to the bank. Joy wrote Rejar, which features an alien hero from the future (way beyond our time) who transports himself in sci-fi style to Regency London. Upon arrival, he transforms himself into a cat and hops into the heroine’s carriage. This is one of his many abilities as an alien. Rejar becomes her cat but can also appear as a man at will and does so both in society and in her bed. To top it all off, he also has extraordinary sexual ability beyond that of the human male. I enjoyed Rejar tremendously but I doubt I’d want to read imitations of it.
Fittingly enough, since the star of this story is Rejar, it is Rejar himself who is on the cover. He is a great looking, dark-haired hunk who poses in a languid slouch in his Regency bedroom wearing only pajama-looking rippling pants. His loose, long hairstyle is probably not authentic to being out and about in Regency society either but I doubt many of Rejar’s fans cared. Romance readers grant a lot of artistic license when a great looking hero is given to them. We’re back to the blatantly suggestive cover here and Joy is another writer who writes a lot of explicit sexual scenes in her books, closer to Johnson’s style than other authors mentioned, so the cover fits the book perfectly. Rejar is a best-selling book that just went back into print because reader demand for it was so high. It is part of the Matrix of Destiny series and, so far, is the only one set in the Regency.
To answer my original question, I don’t think there is any story too outlandish to be included in a historical romance set in the Regency. Here is what I would include as the minimum requisites for both contents and cover:
- Set the story in the Regency realizing there is also some flexibility to include the years leading into and out of it as well;
- Put in a hero and a heroine with a plot that revolves around them;
- Must have a happy ending where hero and heroine end up together
- Must have sex scenes ranging from a couple of explicit scenes to almost-too-numerous-to-count sex scenes;
- Usually have to work some aspect of the wars with France into the story, if only in passing reference; and
- It is wide open as to what can be used for a cover image. If a hero or hero and heroine’s /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages are used, there is limited effort by the publishers to make them look authentic to the Regency and maximum effort to make them look ready for amorous activity. Sometimes high sales seems to correspond to those books with particularly gorgeous cover heroes, but it is hard to separate out what percentage of buying is attributable to a specific title, the author, the contents, or the cover. Some readers have admitted to me that they hold onto books with a beautiful cover hero even if the novel itself is not a keeper.
Which covers of all of the above covers were the most successful? All I can tell you is that I bought every book pictured except for Heyer’s and Kelly’s. True, some of these were authors whose books I always buy such as Beverley, Putney, Balogh and Canham. Their attractive covers didn’t hurt making the sale, however. I wasn’t grimacing as I walked to the register as I’ve done carrying so many other romance covers. More importantly (to me), I wasn’t embarrassed later to be seen carrying them around with me when I was reading them. However, that factor doesn’t seem to bother me when I’m actually in the bookstore and looking at sexy covers for purchase, which is what interests the publisher. As for Ashworth, Johnson and Joy, I definitely was attracted by their covers. In the Ashworth and Joy books the stories also attracted me. I may not have picked up the Johnson without its Pino Dangelico cover since its sexual allure was more beguiling than its story. As for the Austen, I own two copies of the novel, each with different covers, plus the A&E video series with Firth. Had I not already been familiar with this novel, the Firth cover is the one that would cause me to pick it up and buy it.
I’d like to close by thanking the members of the AAR Listserv and the RRA-Listserv who so generously shared their information on both sub-genres of romance set in the Regency. This was a much more complex topic than I originally thought it was and they prevented me from going off in radically wrong directions numerous times. Specifically going above and beyond the call of duty to make the two sub-genres of the Regency accurate were the following devotees-ardent readers of this era: Robin Uncapher (an AAR Reviewer), Mary Lynne Nielsen, Vivian Campbell Goussios, Anne Hayes Cleary, Kassia Krozser, Ann Kerbs, Shelley Dodge (an AAR contributor), Sandi Morris, Anne Marble (an AAR reviewer), Gail Brodeur, Kitty Vickers, Lisa Harrell, Darlene Krogel, Karen Wheless, Linda Welsch, Linda Hurst, Eileen Wilks, Ellen Micheletti (an AAR editor), Donita Lawrence, Margie B. Wilhelm, Sheryl Tribble, and Terry Chronister.
Even with their assistance, I’ve nevertheless drawn conclusions of my own in this article which no one else may share and which many of you may think are dead wrong. I look forward to hearing your reactions.— Carol Irvin
with technical assistance from Sandi MorrisReturn to previous page