I’m grouping everything historical into this post—a mix of historical romance and historical mysteries—which adds up to a smaller list, but everything on it is excellent.
Hollow of Fear is the third installment in Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series and I love the series more with each new book. There’s just so much great stuff going on here. What initially drew me in was the way that Thomas has distributed Holmes & Watson’s canonical skills—like Holmes’s ability to manufacture disguises, Watson’s doctoring—to a wider cast of (female) characters, giving everyone a chance to shine without at all diminishing the brilliance of Holmes.
In Hollow of Fear, Thomas won my heart all over again by tackling the pros and cons of marriage in late Victorian England. She gives both sides a fair hearing—on the one hand, a rich dreamboat who, like Beyoncé, believes that if you like it you should put a ring on it. On the other hand, our heroine is a financially independent woman who understands the law as it pertains to marriage, and can’t quite stomach the thought of giving up so many rights and freedoms. Best of all? It’s a mystery series, and I honestly have no idea which side will win the day.
Indigo by Beverley Jenkins is a miracle of the book—my first of hers, and not the last. It’s a rigorously researched novel about African-Americans in the years leading up to the Civil War, and the subject matter is grim. The hero is wanted by slave catchers; the heroine’s parents were enslaved; injustice and cruelty threaten on every horizon. It’s also as warm, loving, and sweet a romance as I’ve ever read, with a healthy helping of (rigorously researched!) wish-fulfillment on top.
There’s a lovely sense of community in Indigo, of competent and big-hearted people collaborating with purpose, with strong protagonists who appreciate one another’s strengths. The hero and heroine are good to one another at the beginning, when they don’t like one another very much, and they are good to one another at the end, when they’re deeply in love. They’re good people. And over the course of the novel, they work together, play together, save one another—they pave the way for a true HEA.
A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran is one of the best historical romances I’ve ever read. I feel like I ought to stop with that—if you read me, there’s a good chance you’ve already discovered Meredith Duran. If you’ve discovered Meredith Duran, I assume you already love her books. We should all be on the same page.
But just for form’s sake: A Lady’s Code of Misconduct takes one of the oldest tropes in the book, one that really lends itself to silly, over-the-top plotting and authorial cheats—I mean amnesia—and plays it straight.
Before he was hit over the head and left for dead, the hero was a brutally effective, power-hungry, and essentially amoral politician. The gap in his memory covers pretty much his entire political career so he wakes up with a headache and no idea how he became such a terrible person.
The heroine, for her part, knows exactly what sort of man he was. She has a hard time believing the amnesiac version is real, and the more she learns to love him, the more she fears the return of his memory—and his old personality, which she’d feared and loathed.
The whole progress of the book, every twist and turn, has so much intensity and impact. It’s just great. And it’s about amnesia!
The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare is wonderful in all the ways I’ve learned to expect Tessa Dare books to be wonderful: it’s beautifully written, it’s funny, it touches on some serious issues without taking itself too seriously. It dives head-first into Romancelandia’s most well-loved tropes and swims exuberantly through them, maybe adds some underwater ballet.
Dare is an author who’s figured out what she does well and plays to her strengths—and the result is some of the most consistently enjoyable historical romance I’ve read.
A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn is the second Veronica Speedwell book. The series settles into itself here, starts feeling comfortable and confident and the result is that I finished it much more committed to the series than I had at the start. Raybourn is an excellent author and I loved the Lady Julia books, so it’s exciting to get on board with a series that’s still gathering steam.
Start with the aptly titled A Curious Beginning if you want to read about Veronica--a woman who has happily turned her back on polite society and embraced life as an adventurous lepidopterist who does what she pleases, when she pleases, how she pleases, whether or not it pleases anyone else—and Stoker, the irascible natural historian who joins her for witty banter and mystery-solving.