Must-Read Old School Historical Romance
Sweet Savage Flame has compiled a list of 15 old-school historical romances that we think are absolute must-reads for those wishing to understand the genre’s roots. Published before the 2000s, they caused radical changes in the industry.
Detractors of these books may disparage them as mere bodice rippers.
To us, “bodice ripper” is a term of endearment. It’s a pivotal subgenre of romance. Although many books on this list are bodice rippers, some are not.
Most of these picks are seminal works in the genre. Others are so notable or unforgettable, that they merit special appreciation.
Please note, that we at Sweet Savage Flame haven’t yet reviewed all of these. However, we recognize their importance to romance history. Our aim is to review all books on this list in the upcoming year.
The List In Chronological Order
The Flame and the Flower
Kathleen E. Woodiwiss changed the romance novel industry with this book. It included “explicit” sex scenes between the protagonists. Though the hero of The Flame and the Flower forces himself upon the heroine, some readers would now refer to it as “forced seduction.”
In other words, this was a plot device for an unmarried virgin heroine to be sexually active. All the while, she would still be considered a “moral” girl.
The closed-door love scenes for “good girls” were now a relic of the past. Even though we now call it old-school historical romance, the modern era of romance had arrived. The bodice ripper was born. And the romance genre, overall, would never be the same.
Sweet Savage Love
Capitalizing on the success of The Flame and the Flower, Rosemary Rogers‘ first book ratcheted things up to another level. Rape, forced seduction, multiple partners, cheating, and violence were prevalent.
Sweet Savage Love sold millions of copies, spawning several sequels.
This pivotal epic showed the heroine could enjoy sex with men besides the hero. It seemed that this type of ultra-sexual romp would mark historical romances for the foreseeable future.
This swashbuckling romance was a huge hit and the first in a popular trilogy about the Dominic Family. The plot differed from Woodiwiss’ and Rogers’ works in that lovemaking was consensual. There was no bed-hopping and the violence was not gratuitous.
Moonstruck Madness was a kinder, gentler offering with no bodice-ripping in sight.
Fans flocked to the more tender romantic style. It ultimately produced long-term success.
The Silver Devil
The Silver Devil‘s Duke Domenico is possibly the most extreme anti-hero ever written in an old-school historical. Teresa Denys‘ first-person-POV romance about an Italian beauty is still one of the highly-talked-about bodice rippers. She is purchased by the powerful Duke and his obsession over her reigns supreme.
The prose in The Silver Devil is magnificent. The scenes of violence and brutality are intense. The hero is…a complicated man, to say the least. The novel ends HEA. But it’s hard to see a happy ending lasting beyond the pages of this book.
Fires of Winter
Johanna Lindsey‘s third novel, Fires of Winter, was a Viking romance about a captive Welsh slave and her Nordic owner. This bodice ripper is all about the battle between the sexes.
Although there is forced seduction/ rape, there is no cheating, which makes a lot of difference to many readers.
Lindsey cemented her status as one of romance’s best-selling authors with this bodice ripper. The Robert McGinnis artwork is legendary for featuring the first naked man on a romance cover.