As a reader I’m a big believer in variety and, as a student of history, I know there are a ton of settings and time periods ripe for generating the romantic dramz. I love the 19th- and early-20th centuries (that was my focus in grad school), but what about the other million-ish years of human history? Here’s a short list of some of the historical settings I’d love to see more of in romantic fiction:
Colonial or Early America
When I was a young’un, it seemed like there were a lot of novels set in the American colonies or around the time of the American Revolution. Laura Lee Guhrke’s The Charade, for instance, was a fun spy novel; and Barbara Michaels’ Patriot’s Dream dealt with interracial romance and the struggle for equality. The colonial era is a great setting because you have a society that’s still in transition with a bunch of different cultures interacting, and there numerous resources available for research, both online and in museums. It was an exciting time period when people actually had the chance to make history! So why aren’t there more books with this setting being published? Idk…
Admittedly, prehistory can be a hard sell, because despite what I’ve heard some archaeologists say (coughRandallWhitecough), we don’t really know that much about it. Bronze jewelry, standing stones, and a frozen dude or two does not a complete picture make. Which means studying this time period is challenging—if you’re writing nonfiction. But fiction? You could do anything! Speculate wildly! Include actual magic, gods and goddesses, epic warfare, even take a page out of the History Channel’s book and add aliens. It’s like the Doctor Who of historical settings.
I am a big, big fan of Jade Lee’s Tigress series, which is set in 19th-century China. Lately there have been a few more historical romances set in China, like Jeannie Lin’s Butterfly Swords, but we need more books that take place here! China’s history is long (going back to the Paleolithic, over 1.3 million years ago) and fascinating, and eras such as the murky Xia Dynasty, the Warring States Period, and the Qin Dynasty offer plenty of unsolved historical mysteries to inspire writers.
Some of the greatest tragic love stories ever written were by Russian authors, from Anna Karenina to Doctor Zhivago. So why not twist that formula up and write a happy Russian love story? (I know, since they’re Russian no one would believe it. But Ninotchka has a happy ending and that’s a really good romantic comedy, too.) Tsarist Russia has everything: snow, fur hats, insane—and insanely—wealthy aristocrats, a strict class system. It’s the perfect recipe for drama and glamour, like Gossip Girl but set in Moscow.
How can you go wrong setting a book in the same place as the Iliad and the Odyssea? YOU CAN’T. Ancient Mediterranean (or AnMed) could include anything from Pompeii to Greece to Ancient Egypt and Carthage. Heroines could include the Delphic Oracle, a Vestal Virgin, or a nomadic tribe woman. Heroes could include anything from actual heroes, a la Achilles, to barbarian warriors or pharaohs. Plus it offers plenty of opportunity for metaphors of modern life and the course of civilization. Also! Like Colonial America, there are a ton of resources for learning about the setting and time period.
What different settings would you love to see in historical romances? Do you have any book suggestions for romances set in usual time periods?
Biography: Tasha B. is a freelance writer, art historian, and bibliophile who blogs about books at Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books. She will work for champagne and then tweet about it: @heidenkind. She can also be found at Book Bloggers International, Project Gutenberg Project, Liquid Persuasion