15 Old School Historical Romances That Revolutionized the Genre

These 15 historical romances published before 2000 are must-reads. They either caused radical changes in the romance novel industry or they are so pivotal and unforgettable, they merit a review.

Please note, we at Sweet Savage Flame haven’t reviewed all these books yet. However, we recognize their importance to the genre. Our aim is to review all books on this list in the upcoming year.

The List

Your Opinion

We want to hear from you. What historical romances do you think we left off this list? Do you agree or disagree with our choices? If you were creating a must-read list of contemporary romances, which books would you choose? As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance!

7 replies »

  1. Thanks, Jacqueline. Interesting list.

    Much as I love vintage contemporary romances, I wouldn’t presume to compile a comparable list. I doubt my favorites would be on anyone else’s list. Or vice versa.

    W. H. Auden once wrote, “Pleasure is by no means an infallible critical guide, but it is the least fallible.” I take this to mean that a reader should go by what she’s already enjoyed in determining what to read next and in what to recommend to others. Not what made literary/publishing history. Or sold best. Or won prizes. Or attained the most prestige. Or influenced the writing of other books.

    But not every reader agrees with me. So here are your recommendations. As for mine, well, follow your heart!

    • Oh, Mary Anne, I agree! To a certain extent, however. If I had made a list of my personal favorite 15 historical romance novels, some books from this list would be included, but most others would not be. It would be a list tailored to my peculiarly personal tastes, probably 90% featuring blond heroes, lots of historical authenticities, heroines true to their times, and most set during the medieval era.

      In an attempt to show no favoritism, I compiled this list, as it features books “an academic” studying the genre might want to be familiar with. Or possibly, give a novice to the genre a place to start.

      I plan on making more lists, none of them definitive or absolute, but to encourage discussion.

      If you’d ever like to post a list of your favorites, in no general order, just for fun, that would be great. It doesn’t matter how personal, obscure, or whatever, I’m truly interested in what different books strike different readers’ fancies and why. If a reader likes a book or not, that opinion is as valid as the critics’ or bestseller lists.

      These lists are just that: lists of books that may or may not strike interest. I think they merit some talking about. For example, I put Flowers from the Storm on this list, as it’s such a game-changer in that it made the hero basically an invalid for the entire book who could barely speak. The heroine uses her resourcefulness to help rehabilitate him. It begins with him knowingly impregnating his mistress. A hard character to like and root for. But it’s a book I’d like to hear other people’s opinions about.

      I enjoy talking about the romances people love and why, even if I differ in opinion.

  2. I’ve been reading romance since the early 80’s and my first was Flame and the Flower. The romance genre would not be what it is without these pioneering authors who had the vision to understand that romance needed to evolve.
    You hit on a trend with what I call the epic novels. The romance sees the hero and heroine through out many years with devastating separations and other partners. The Black Swan (sadly I cannot remember the author) as an example.
    Really enjoyed you list and to have a chance to talk about books.

    • The author of The Black Swan is Day Taylor. One of the best HR I’ve ever read. It’s no longer in print. I’m so thankful I still have my copy.

  3. Just read A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux. My sister recommended it to me and she said it was the only book she ever rereads. I love HR. Not this one. I was pulling my hair out! The constant crying really made me lose it.
    Others on the list I enjoyed and recommend today. Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm is excellent as are some, not all, of her others. Lord of Scoundrels. Yessss! Love her writing.
    Tried Woodiwiss but couldn’t get into.
    Appreciate the list.

  4. Love’s Tender Fury by Jennifer Wilde was from the 70’s and 80’s and actually written by a man, Tom E. Huff. It was the first in a trilogy series about heroin Marietta Danver. The story brings us from the Newgate jail cells of England to the New Orleans and the old plantations in America. Then the pirate islands of the Caribbean and ending with a trek through the wilds of Russia and the court of Catherine the Great. Marietta goes through many lovers but Lord Derek Hawke and Jeremy Bond are the heroes switching back and forth and one does not really know which man she will be with at the end of the Trilogy. Rosemary Rogers called it her kind of book, bold racy and exciting- couldn’t put it down. She was right!

Please drop a comment and let's talk romance!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.