I’ve learned that when it comes to regency romances, the negative reviews on Amazon are always right. Now, sometimes the negative review is something you can live with: “Predictable. It feels like you’ve read this story a million times already,” because often when you’re reading a regency you’re not reading it because you want something original, but because you want something comforting. Or sometimes, “Occasional use of anachronistic language!” or “Plucky heroine acts nothing like a regency miss would.” Pah, it must be taking place in an alternate universe then, fine by me. But sometimes the negative review says something like, “Hero won’t take no for an answer, which is creepy,” and it indeed, turns out to be creepy even if the 64 positive ratings didn’t think so. Or occasionally, “Hero and heroine are just unlikeable, and the story was boring.” That also turns out to be true, even if the remaining 23 five-star ratings don’t seem to find that to be a problem.
We’ve read a lot of regencies recently. Some of them have been real duds, but some of them have been pretty good. And the occasional find is better than a few (of the worse) Georgette Heyers. (Heyer’s better novels are like a fully stuffed Italian Wedding Cake– full and deep and exciting… a few of these make it to a decent chocolate cake status. Good and tasty, but without quite so many layers.) You know, if Heyer had sex scenes.
Candice Hern [who seems to be on kindle sale] was a first foray into non-Heyer territory. Her work is highly mixed– some clean sweet Heyer-like novels, some deeply sexy and entertaining novels, and some stuff that’s just not that good (often with heroes who won’t take No for an answer– for shame!). A Proper Companion is as good as some of the reasonably good Heyers, so is The Best Intentions. An Affair of Honor isn’t too shabby, nor is Miss Lacey’s Last Fling (though unlike Heyer, this one has an actual fling in it) though it gets a bit silly. Her short stories/novellas aren’t bad. Sexier winners include The Merry Widows quartet, four books about a group of wealthy widows who swear to take lovers, but, of course, end up losing their hearts in the process. Bonus: In some of the books she discusses 19th century birth control methods (because don’t you wonder?). Duds (generally in Hern’s case because the hero does not allow the women full agency) include A Garden Folly and The Bride Sale. The series about women running a magazine is ok for library checkouts but not worth owning. We haven’t read her entire oeuvre yet.
Most regency writers seem to have only one sex scene (sometimes repeated multiple times in the same novel), and one that’s totally female wish-fulfillment (and not necessarily the kind the virgin in question would be looking for). It’s formulaic. Mary Balogh doesn’t. Her sex scenes both are more realistic and actually add to the plot and character development. She goes into detail when the details matter. It’s a refreshing change from the other books with their same generic hero-introduces-virginal-woman-to-the-joys-of-sensuality (which Sarah MacLean does well, see below). It feels a bit less like boring porn added just to titillate, and a bit more like art and commentary on life. More than a Mistress, by Mary Balogh, is an excellent example of the use of sex as character development. Unfortunately its companion book, No Man’s Mistress, was a dud. The third book (or maybe the first– time-wise it is set before the other two), The Secret Mistress, was delightful, especially if you’ve ever wondered what was going on in the minds of the seemingly silly chatterbox characters who appear in some of these novels. Simply Perfect by Mary Balogh, is the fourth of a set of four (but the only one the university library had; we haven’t read the first three). It was wonderful (except for a 2-3 page scene ripped from the pages of Arabella, which would have been fine if I hadn’t been thinking, “Hey, I read this already”).
Shameless by Karen Robarts was another book from the library. Unfortunately it sounded promising, but had lots of repetition with long boring passages, and… the main character doesn’t enjoy sex with the hero. I skipped large chunks of the book and then was irritated– who writes a fun romance novel in which the heroine’s thought after her first time with the hero is, “Glad that’s over with, hope we never have to do that again.”???
Of course, not all regencies have sex (Heyer, of course, has none). Kathleen Baldwin is fun, rated PG. We both enjoyed Mistaken Kiss and are looking forward to the third book coming out on kindle. One of these days one of us will get the first book and tell the other if it’s worth the kindle price despite its lower reviews.
The Gentlemen Next door series by Cecilia Gray was also fun. She has four $0.99 short stories that are each a smaller delight with lovely unconventional heroes and heroines. I wish she had some longer stuff that wasn’t
retreads re-imaginings of Jane Austen.
Barbara Metzger is another big author in this genre. Unfortunately the uni library has none of them and the local library doesn’t have her highest rated stuff. So far I’ve read The Duel and A Perfect Gentleman. Both were ok. Oddly they had very similar plots, complete with serial killer. They both concurrently dragged and went too fast. Lots of boring stuff and suddenly they’re in love and it doesn’t really make sense. But some entertaining bits. I’m sure her higher rated stuff is better, but I’m not yet willing to spend $5.99 or even $3.99 to find out via kindle. I may get to the other library branch at some point, which has a few more of her titles.
Lost in Temptation by Lauren Royal: I enjoyed it so much! Thanks to #1 for giving me this book; I’m going to get the second one post-haste.
Sarah MacLean’s fantastic series: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake; Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord. We both enjoyed these, though Ten is nowhere near as good as Nine. Eleven is supposed to be better than Ten, but neither of us has read it yet. #2 was introduced to this author via several podcasters who love her, and then spread the love to #1.
MacLean’s other series is the Rules of Scoundrels, which is about 4 scoundrels who run London’s most notorious gaming hell, The Fallen Angel: A Rogue by Any Other Name (excellent!), One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (great!), No Good Duke Goes Unpunished (not as good as the first two, but introduces what will happen in number 4, which I’m exited about). #1 is a bit more luke-warm on these. She thought the first was pretty good, but not great. Nine Rules, OTOH, was truly fantastic.
Among the best non-Heyer there is!
Has anyone kept reading this far? You certainly have got some summer reading to do! Got suggestions for us? Where do you stand on sex scenes? Yay, nay or it depends?