Romance novels outsell all other fiction. Though women are the assumed target marketing group, many are also read by men. Even books that aren't specifically romance novels usually contain elements of romance. Romance is often combined with another genre giving us Romantic Suspense, Western Romance, Historical Romance, Fantasy Romance, and even tie ins to Science Fiction. In the past couple of years a branch of Historical fiction known as Regency Romance has gained stunning popularity with LDS readers. Edenbrooke, a Regency Romance by Julianne Donaldson was awarded top honors at the last Whitney Awards Gala.
Over the past month or so, I've read three excellent romance novels that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a good story. They're not the kind of mush that turns off many readers when romance is mentioned. They're two regencies by two excellent authors who have become well known and a medieval romance by another superb storyteller. Because I review LDS themed novels for Meridian Magazine, I try not to review novels with no LDS connection very often there, so I've chosen to discuss these three novels here.
Sarah Eden's Glimmer of Hope is based on a misunderstanding which is generally a no-no in Romance fiction. In this case, however, it works. A young husband with strong political ambitions, who is still too dependent on his parents, leaves his bride for a trip to London. She was to have gone with him, but at his father's urging, she is left behind. An emergency arises and she sets out for her grandfather's estate. Their correspondence with each other goes "astray" and they are both convinced the other has abandoned their marriage. Imagine their surprise when they find themselves three years later unexpectedly sharing a house for Christmas. What begins with a great deal of antagonism and mistrust slowly evolves into a glimpse of what the other has gone through in the years they've been apart and the realization of how they've been betrayed. Eden does an excellent job of slowly revealing the dreadful loss this pair has suffered and of painting a glimmer of hope for their future.
Eden draws her characters against a well-researched backdrop of the politics, the class distinctions, and the customs of the regency period in England. The plot is developed well. The characters are believable, though I found Carter, the young husband, a little spineless at first. Fortunately he matures a great deal. I couldn't help wondering if the couple reunited, what the repercussions of a future pregnancy might be.
In an era with an emphasis on manners, she finds herself a social outcast because of her parents. Her father is a drunk and her mother is a tramp. She has several sisters who all take after their mother. Her mother and sisters embarrass her at every turn. Since childhood Kate has turned to a neighbor her age and the friend's older brother. He saved her life when she jumped into a river to save kittens someone tried to drown and that was the beginning of her awareness that she was in love with Henry, the heir to Blackmoore manor and estate. Knowing Henry's mother has made certain he will lose his inheritance if he marries her, Kate vows to never marry and instead longs to accept an aunt's invitation to accompany her on a trip to India. It has always been Kate's dream to visit Blackmoore and when Henry invites her against his mother's wishes, the visit is more nightmare than dream. Her mother coerces her into an agreement that if she receives and turns down three proposals while at Blackmoore, she'll stop trying to force Kate into an unwelcome marriage and allow her to go to India. Watching Henry with the young woman his mother has chosen to be his bride and struggling to obtain the three proposals fills Kate with a great deal of misery.
Donaldson has a way of making the reader see and feel the moors and the ocean and ache for a young girl with no choices or options in her life. Not only does she give a strong view of the way of life in England during the Regency period, but she makes a strong social statement on a way of life that offered women and those of a lower social rank a bleak existence.
This story takes place many years before the Regency period during a time when feudal lords ruled and fought for supremacy. Lily wants desperately to know more of life and have a better chance at marriage than is granted her as the daughter of the village "witch." She's really a midwife and herbalist. Her uncle begins a journey with her to a cousin who has agreed to sponsor her, but they encounter difficulty and become separated, leaving her to flee for her life. She encounters a young knight from a rival land and though she doesn't trust him, they join forces to protect the ruling family and her own relatives, though her family long ago turned their backs on her and her mother.
The characters in this book cover a broad spectrum of personalities. Their prejudices and religious beliefs play a strong role in their actions and motives. Conquest and force are part of their way of life with its attendant cruelties and abuses. Lily begins as a victim of her family and her village with narrow goals and a great deal of resentment toward her mother and everyone else. As the story progresses she discovers her own strengths, acknowledges her love for her mother and her uncle, discovers she isn't who she thought she was, and learns to trust her own strengths and intelligence. It's a very well told story of a period of history shrouded in darkness and superstition.