Overlooked or Underrated Romances: Bodice Rippers

overlooked romances

Let’s Give These Old Skool Romances Another Look

In this series, we will focus on some underrated or overlooked romance novels. As I love them so much, we’re first looking at bodice rippers. Bodice rippers are “old-skool” old-school. These are the historical romances that revitalized the genre with their unapologetic gratuitous nature, be it sex or violence.

You never knew what to expect with these reads. In the 1970s–the early years of the modern romance era–it was a bit like the Wild West in that there was no absolute authority. Anything could happen. The main characters could be separated for almost the entire book, while the heroine could have another lover besides the hero. Or, a prospective hero could be killed off midway through–or even after the ending!

Some of these bodice rippers are not as well known as others we have previously discussed on Sweet Savage Flame, but we think they are worthy of attention.

edin's embrace
Edin’s Embrace, Nadine Crenshaw, Zebra, 1989, Pino cover art

The List

“Sweet” Bodice Rippers

These are your basic virginal or monogamous heroines with Alpha heroes. The hero may cheat or may not, but he uses the threat of force or actual “forced seduction” on the heroine. These might be among the best bodice ripper romances you might not have read.

“Sweet” Bodice Ripper Romances We’ve Reviewed

  1. Paradise and More – Shirl Henke
    • Set during the age of Columbus in Spain & Santo Domingo
  2. Edin’s Embrace – Nadine Crenshaw
    • Viking romance done right
  3. Rebel Vixen – Dana Ransom
  4. Stranger In My Arms – Louisa Rawlings
  5. Escape Not My Love – Elaine Coffman
Paradise and More
Paradise and More, Shirl Henke, Leisure, Pino cover art

Romances We’ve Read, Reviews to Come

  1. Rose of Rapture – Rebecca Brandewyne
    • During the Wars of the Roses, two families come together in marriage and navigate court intrigues.
  2. Lovefire – Deana James
    • This tells the fictional life story of Joanna of Navarre. I LOVE this book.
Lovefire, Deana James, Zebra, Pino cover art

Recs We Trust

  1. Enslaved – Virginia Henley
  2. The Copeland Bride – Justine Cole (aka Susan Elizabeth Phillips)
  3. Island Flame — Karen Robards
  4. Bonds of Love – Lisa Gregory
  5. Royal Seduction – Jennifer Blake
  6. Embrace and Conquer – Jennifer Blake
embrace and conquer
Embrace and Conquer, Jennifer Blake, Fawcett, James Griffin cover art

“Savage” Bodice Rippers

These bodice ripper romances feature heroines with more than one lover or sexual experience other than the hero. The main couple may be separated for a long period of time. The hero may have other lovers as well.

“Savage” Bodice Ripper Romances We’ve Reviewed

  1. The Golden Sovereigns – Jocelyn Carew
    • A most unusual, sensitive bodice ripper
  2. Raven – Shana Carrol (aka Christina Savage {aka Frank Schaeffer & Kerry Newcomb})
raven ray kursar
Raven, Shana Carrol, Ray Kursar, Jove

Reviews to Come

  1. Beloved Bertrice Small
    • Love in Ancient Palmyra & Rome. Queen Zenobia is taken Prisoner by Emperor Aurelian. She falls for a British-Roman soldier.
  2. Dare to LoveJennifer Wilde
    • A fictionalized version of Lola Montez.
  3. No Gentle LoveRebecca Brandewyne
    • An arranged marriage between Irish cousins leads to continent hopping from England to France to India to China.
  4. Forever My Love – Rebecca Brandewyne
    • Star-crossed lovers from battling Scottish clans find love amidst a bloody backdrop.
  5. Sweet Rush of Passion – Lois Lowery
    • An epic about forbidden, adulterous love set in Russia.
forever my love
Forever My Love, Rebecca Brandewyne, Warner, Elaine Duillo cover art

Recs We Trust

  1. Follow the Shadows – Jocelyn Carew
  2. Sea Fire – Karen Robard
    • The bed-hopping sequel to Island Flame.
  3. Love’s Wildest Fires – Christina Savage
  4. This Ravished Rose – Anne Carsley
  5. This Triumphant Fire – Anne Carsely
  6. The Winged Lion – Anne Carsley
    • Love in Ancient Sumeria
  7. Jemma – Beverly Byrne
    • A woman gets caught up in a spy ring and is married to a husband who can’t consummate their marriage while she yearns for her former lover.
  8. The White Rose – Marcella Thum
    • A White actress poses as a Black slave during the American Civil war to uncover a Confederate spy ring.
this ravished rose
This Ravished Rose, Anne Carsely, Pocket Books, Harry Bennett cover art

The Loco

“Loco” Bodice Ripper Romances We’ve Reviewed

These overlooked bodice rippers are hard to categorize. Do they even qualify as romance novels? Hold on tight because these romances are not for the easily offended–either by derogatory tropes or bad writing in general.

  1. This Ravaged Heart Barbara Riefe (aka Alan Riefe)
    • This–ahem–romance sold 1,000,000 copies. Barbara Riefe is a pen name for Alan Reife. This book is cheekily dedicated to “Alan, with Love.” Highlights: Incest & Demon Sex. Lowlights: Poor plotting & lackluster second half.
  2. Passion’s Proud CaptiveMelissa Hepburne (aka Craige Broude)
    • Yet another million-copy bestseller written by a man. Highlights: The heroine is tossed around from one harrowing and ridiculous sexual adventure. Lowlights: The shame of enjoying it.
  3. Passion’s Wicked Torment – Melissa Hepburne
    • Love in the Age of Prohibition
  4. The Purity Series (3 Books): Purity’s Passion; Purity’s Ecstasy; Purity’s ShameJanette Seymour (aka Michael Butterworth)
    • More male-penned romances that sold millions based on the heroine hopping from one sexcapade to the next. All similar plots. Don’t feel lost if you read out of order; the hero is just a prize.
  5. Emmie’s Love – Janette Seymour
    • More romps like in the Purity series.
purity's passion
Purity’s Passion, Janette Seymour, Pocket Books, Harry Bennett cover art

Recs We Trust

  1. The Rain Maiden – Jill M. Phillips
    • This has been on my personal to-be-read list for ages. I have it on reliable authority that this faux-biographical romance is filled with OTT enjoyment that makes a bodice ripper such a blast.
  2. Passion’s Sweet Sacrifice – Melissa Hepburne
    • Love in World War I
  3. Alyx – Lolah Burford
    • A White man and woman are enslaved on a Caribbean island and forced to mate together to reproduce for their master.
Alyx, Lolah Burford, Signet, cover artist unknown

The Mystery Box

These books sold millions of copies each but are not spoken about much today. Other than a few reviews posted on Amazon or Goodreads and reading the book blurbs, we have no idea what to expect.

  1. Proud Passion – Barbara Bonham
    • This book sold half a million copies in its first six months alone, becoming a blockbuster phenom and helping put Playboy Press on the map.
  2. Storm Of DesirePaula Fairman
    • Paula Fairman was actually Paul, and he wrote a couple of very successful books. Paul died after the first few novels, but the publishers kept his name going for years to great success.
  3. Love’s Avenging Heart & its sequel, Dancer of Dreams – Patricia Matthews
    • (Matthews earned the moniker of “American’s First Lady of Historical Romance” in the 1970s. She sold tens of millions of books and several multi-million-seller books back to back but doesn’t have much of a reputation today.)
  4. Love’s Bold Journey – Patricia Matthews
  5. Love’s Sweet Agony – Patricia Matthews
proud passion
Proud Passion, Barbara Bonham, Playboy Press, cover artist TBD

Your Opinion

Are you a fan of bodice ripper romances, or do you prefer “gentler” old-school historicals? Have you heard of these romances? If so, have you read any of them? As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance!

This entry was posted in Discussion, Romance and tagged on by .

About Jacqueline Diaz

Old-School, retro, and vintage romance reads are my jam, baby! The good, the bad, the cheesy, and the sleazy! I have no shame about it; I love ’em! An auto-didact, amateur historian, and reader of romance novels since 1990, I hope to offer a unique perspective on the genre. As a blogger, you may know me by several names; here, I’m Jacqueline Diaz. I’m also the aspiring author of two works-in-progress, historical romances, The Savage Noble and What She Says with Her Eyes, which hopefully will be released in 2023.

4 thoughts on “Overlooked or Underrated Romances: Bodice Rippers

  1. Kes O'Rear

    Underrated are my favorite recommendations! I only have one offering from my collection of underaged romances and that’s THE ROPE DANCER by Roberta Gellis. This book is a sweet bodice ripper with a touch of loco thrown in and it’s not just one of my favorite romances, but one of my favorite books period .

    – one of the best “charming rogue” alphas of all time. He also is the nurturing type who doesn’t really force anything on the heroine after he learns of her past abuse ( this of course involves rape, but nothing graphic ).
    -This is a medieval romance where the hero and heroine aren’t lord or ladies. Both of them are players and while the hero does have a rich family they don’t have quite the wealth of most medieval romance characters
    -A little person as an important secondary character. He is the hero’s best friend and he’s fully fleshed out ( with a few mellow dramatic moments here and there, but nothing too terrible ). He even gets a love interest of his owns.

    Basically This is a really good book that I cannot recommend enough .

    1. jacquelinediaz

      Hello Kes,

      Roberta Gellis was a stellar author and I can’t get enough of her medievals. I’ll be posting a review of one of my favorites, Fire Song, soon.

      I remember The Rope Dancer, or at least parts of it. It’s one of those reads I regret not finishing, as it was lost in the great book purge of the late 1990s (My parents tossed out all my books when I went to college. What a loss!) I agree, the non-nobility factor was quite intriguing.



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