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model fabio

Romance Cover Model: Fabio Lanzoni

model featured on many romance novel covers fabio

Fabio Lanzoni: A Controversial Romance Icon

When one thinks of old-school romance books, often the first name associated with them is the male model Fabio and “cheesy covers.”

The granite-jawed male model was featured on many romance novel covers in the 198s and 1990s. “Back in the day,” Fabio Lanzoni posed for hundreds of romances–to the delight of many readers.

Fabio was often painted by artists such as Sharon Spiak, Melissa-Duillo Gallo, and her mother, Elaine Duillo. She discovered Fabio, leading to his fame skyrocketing after he appeared on her covers for Johanna Lindsey.

Like bodice rippers of yesteryear, model Fabio Lanzoni has been unfairly maligned and mocked by many modern romance readers. There’s a sentiment of contempt displayed at the old clinch covers, with some even declaring that they, along with Fabio, represented a low point in the genre.

the conqueror duillo
The Conqueror, Brenda Joyce, Dell, Elaine Duillo cover art.

As a fan of Fabio and old-school romance, I cannot emphasize how wrong I think these detractors are.

The painted covers of vintage romances were created by talented artists who used beautiful men and women as models. The covers were works of art, despite–or perhaps because of–their gratuitous sexual nature.

Fabio, More Than Meets the Eye

Lovers of romance should embrace that period in history. They fail to understand that model Fabio Lanzoni was supposed to be over-the-top and outlandish. He was advertising an exaggerated fantasy that we all knew was a bit ridiculous.

fabio lanzoni model on many romance covers
Fabio is in the shower

In trying to defend their beloved books, some fans take them too seriously. The romance novel industry has always been outrageous and irreverent by its nature, which is part of the fun.

We romance readers in the 1990s were far savvier than our contemporaries give us credit for. We were in on the joke. It was about all of us enjoying the show. Fabio always laughed along with us, embracing his beefcake status.

fabio lanzoni model featured on many romance novel covers
Master of the Heart, Terri Valentine, Zebra, Franco cover art

The Beginning

Early Life

Fabio Lanzoni was born in Milan, Italy, on March 15, 1961. His father was Sauro Lanzoni, a mechanical engineer and owner of a conveyor-belt company. Flora Carnicelli Lanzoni, his mother, was a former beauty queen. He was raised in a loving family with siblings. As a child, Fabio was even an altar boy.

Fabio grew into a handsome young man. His large, muscular figure made him natural for the camera.

fabio Lanzoni
Fabio looking fab

His career began at age 14 when he was discovered by a photographer who asked him to model for Italian Vogue magazine.

Following a stint in the army, Lanzoni came to the United States to further develop his career. He moved to New York City to become a fashion and catalog model and signed with the Ford Agency.

Fabio Lanzoni cover model GQ
Fabio Lanzoni, GQ Magazi

Early Career

During the early part of his modeling career, Fabio obtained many jobs in print ads, magazines, and books. He also posed on video game covers.

model on many romance novel covers

Fabio made his first appearance on the cover of a romance novel in 1987. He posed on the back of the Bertrice Small bodice ripper, Enchantress Mine, as the ironically and unfortunately misnamed villain, Eric Longsword.

Legendary artist Elaine Duillo discovered Fabio through photos. She thought there was something unique about him that would make him a natural fit for her colorful work.

fabio meodel on many romance novel covers
Enchantress Mine, Bertrice Small, Elaine Duillo cover artists
fabio model enchantress mine back
Enchantress Mine, Bertrice Small, Signet, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art (BACK COVER)

When Duillo designed her first cover for Johanna Lindsey, she used Fabio as the hero. This was the 1987 Viking romance Hearts Aflame. It was a smash hit, reaching number 3 on the N.Y. Times bestseller list.

Duillo would continue to paint Lindsey’s covers for the next decade until she retired in the early 2000s. She used Fabio as her primary male model for Lindsey’s books.

fabio johanna lindsey cover
Hearts Aflame, Johanna Lindsey, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art

The Covers: Part I

Some Fabio covers:

A Romance Sensation

Fabio was not Duillo’s official muse as a model. Even so, no other artist captured Fabio’s look better than she did. However, Elain and Fabio only worked together on fewer than twenty books. Duillo painted other models— female and male– much more than that, including Chad Deal. (40+ vs. 19).

Other artists, such as Elaine’s daughter, Melissa Duillo-Gallo, Sharon Spiak, Max Ginsburg, John Ennis, and Pino, also painted his form. Fabio’s face is so unique that he looks different from cover to cover, depending on the artist.

Mystic Rebel VI, Ryder Syvertsen, Pinnacle, cover artist TBD

Fabio posed solo for a couple of Laura Kinsale’s books. The first and most notable was The Prince of Midnight. This romance was a roaring success. This was not just because of the fine quality of Kinsale’s writing.

prince of midnight
The Prince of Midnight, Laura Kinsale, Avon, Steve Assel

Editors found that Fabio’s image boosted book sales. All the major publishers were eager to use him. Avon, Bantam, Dell, Dorchester, Harlequin, Warner Books, Kensington (Zebra), and others had him pose as their leading men.

Model Lianna Loggins was undoubtedly one of the female models who appeared on most romance novel covers with Fabio: at least a hundred.

romance novel covers female models
Dark Whispers, Marylyle Rogers, Avon, 1992, Elaine Duillo

Pop Culture Status

By the early 1990s, Fabio was fully entrenched as a romance genre staple. The now-defunct Romantic Times had him as their centerfold in 1992. Fabio appeared at numerous conventions, to the delight of his many fans.

Fabio’s fame grew more prominent in the cultural zeitgeist after being made the official face of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! He starred in a series of campy commercials that were enormously successful. 

fabio
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Ad

Later, he was a spokesman for the American Cancer Society. This was personal to him, as he lost a sister to the deadly disease.

Eventually, Fabio made his way to screen and television, such as in the daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful and in movies like Dude, Where’s My Car?

bold and the beautiful
Fabio & Darlene Conelly on The Bold and the Beautiful

Fabio, the Romance Author & Modelling Legacy

As time went on, Fabio even wrote a few novels himself. He published several books that–naturally–featured him on the cover. Fabio came up with an overall plot and gave dictation for dialogue.

Journey-woman Eugenia Riley ghostwrote most of his books for Avon. He also wrote three more books in collaboration with Wendy Corsi Staub that Pinnacle Books published.

model featured on many romanc novel covers
Rogue, Fabio, Avon, Elaine Duillo cover art.

As a model, Fabio was featured on many romance covers, posing for 466 novels (or more).

Fabio officially retired in the late 1990s, except to pose for the books “he” wrote.

Nevertheless, some of his photos from previous assignments were recycled into new covers. Elaine Duillo used the sketches from the shoot for Rebecca Brandewyne’s Swan Road stepback to transform them into a new stepback cover for Johanna Lindsey’s Joining.

swan road duillo
Swan Road, Rebecca Brandewyne, Warner, 1994, Elaine Duillo cover art

Joining, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1999, Elaine Duillo cover art

Fabio Today

Fabio became a U.S. citizen in 2016.

He still maintains a grueling workout regimen to keep his body in tip-top shape. Fabio also purportedly sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, which he says “Helps reverse the aging process.”

Now in 2021, Fabio is still as handsome as ever at the age of 61.

To this day, he remains a bachelor. However, the word is out he’s finally looking for a lady to settle down with. So there is still hope for that special someone!

Fabio lanzoni
Fabio today

Final Thoughts on Fabio

Fabio was not the first, and likely, he won’t be the last superstar cover model. During Fabio’s reign as “King of the Romance Covers,” other sunning men like John DeSalvo and Steve Sandalis achieved acclaim.

After his retirement, Rob Ashton, Cherif Fortin, and Joe Anselmo rose to stardom. All of them had long hair like Fabio–although they were brunets. (So is Fabio, naturally. He dyed his hair blond.)

A few male cover models who came after gained huge success, like Jason Baca, who appeared on almost 500 covers. You can read about him here: The Male Model Who Has Appeared on More Romance Novel Covers Than Fabio.

But though he may have his imitators, there was one and only one Fabio.

fabio in loin cloth
Fabio in a loin cloth

I always considered Fabio easy on the eyes. He certainly was pleasing to look upon. Even so, I never pictured him as my ideal hero.

Regardless, I treasured his charm, his ultra-macho yet sensitive aura, and his ability for self-deprecation. Fabio embraced who he was: a romance icon.

Plus, above all, he loved his fans. In turn, Fabio’s fans adored him for who he was!

Fabio haters, please go and enjoy your favorite hunky models in peace. We Fabio lovers will be here to have a good time smiling over his hundreds of beautiful covers.

The Covers: Part II

CLICK TO GO TO THE NEXT PAGE FOR MORE FABIO

the sheik

Classic Romance Review: The Sheik by Edith M. Hull

 classic romance
The Sheik by Edith Maude Hull
Rating: five-stars
Published: November 10, 1919
Illustrator: N/A
Book Series: Sheik Duo #1
Genres: Classic Romance, Contemporary Romance, Bodice Ripper, Harem Romance, Forced Seduction
Pages: 296
Format: eBook, Hardcover, Paperback
Buy on: Amazon
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Classic Romance Review: The Sheik by Edith M. Hull

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

The Sheik by Edith M. Hull, published in 1919, is as influential to the modern romance genre as Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps, more so.

The salacious book was a blockbuster of a success, despite its many detractors. While some modern readers may cringe at its depiction of women, sexual roles, and racial attitudes, The Sheik remains a compelling read one hundred years after its publication.

the sheik

The Sheik: The Grandmother of Bodice Rippers

“Shall I make you care? Shall I make you love me? I can make women love me when I choose.”

This year, 2022, is the 50th anniversary of Kathleen E. Woodwiss’ the Flame and the Flower, the first “modern romance novel.” The roots of modern romance go back further than 1972, however.

Although Pride and Prejudice and other works by Jane Austen were critiques of manners and social mores, the love stories were at the heart and center. For that reason, her books are considered both as literature and among the first romance novels.

As far as I’m concerned, Jane Austen and all her imitators–Georgette Heyer included–didn’t influence the modern historical genre as The Sheik did.

Oh, I liked the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy just fine. I don’t obsess over it as many do. Charlotte Bronte’s tale of Jane Eyre was far more to my liking, anyway. Jane Eyre, however, is more of an ancestor to Gothic romance.

the sheik grandmother of the bodice ripper.

The First Modern Romance Novel?

“What I have I keep, until I tire of it–and I have not tired of you yet.”

For the kind of romances I enjoy, their roots lie with Edith Maude Hull’s masterpiece, The Sheik. It is the grandmother of the bodice ripper. If not for the closed-door bedroom scenes, this book would have fit right in with the romances penned in the 1970s.

In 1921, the silent film adaptation of the novel starring Agnes Ayres came out. It catapulted Rudolph Valentino’s career into movie stardom. I recall watching the film as a teen and practically swooning over the fantastic tale.

Decades later, I finally got around to reading the novel.

the sheik

The Characters and the Plot

He had seen her, had wished for her, and had taken her, and once in his power it had amused him to break her to his hand.

British-born Diana Mayo has it all: fashionable looks, wealth, and a multitude of male admirers. She’s young, thoroughly modern, and fiercely independent. If someone tells her not to do something, she considers it a dare.

Filled with boredom, the wild Diana travels to Algeria to seek adventure.

And she finds it in the powerful Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, who kidnaps her and whisks her off to his desert oasis.

Between the two will be fierce, passion-filled clashes filled. Diana is a contemporary-minded woman who demands equality from her peers. Even so, she cannot resist the allure of the savage, almost primitive male who seeks to dominate her.

When first published, there was nothing like this book.

the sheik

Intriguing Gender Dynamics

Some historians have noted that during “conservative” eras, the idealized feminine form becomes more “traditional.” Typically, in times of social transformation, she is perceived to be more fluid.

In the 1960’s natural hair, short skirts, and slim figures, a la model Twiggy or Mia Farrow, reigned.

In the 1980s, the style was big hair, full lips, and 36-24-36 figures like Kelly LeBrock and Cindy Crawford.

The 1920s was a post War society with women in politics and the popularization of the motion picture. Ideas of sex, gender, and sexual mores were radically changed from the rigid Victorian/Edwardian and Gilded Age Eras on both sides of the Atlantic. Hair was bobbed, hemlines were raised, and large breasts were out-of-fashion.

The Sheik is a product of its time, with Hassan noting:

But the emotion that this girl’s uncommon beauty and slender boyishness had aroused in him had not diminished during the months she had been living in his camp.

The omniscient narrator constantly refers to Diana’s boyish figure and her as a splendid example of a “garcon manque,” a French term for tomboy. That was the old-fashioned term for girls who “behave” like and hang around boys.

It made for a fascinating sexual dynamic that was only flirted with and never really delved deeply into.

the sheik

The Sheik, A Controversial Novel

To say this is a controversial book is an understatement. Because it was such a phenomenal hit, critics could not ignore it, and they were divided in their opinions. Unlike, say, Fifty Shades of GreyThe Sheik cannot be dismissed for lack of quality.

The New York Times labeled the book as “shocking” but written with “a high degree of literary skill.” It was considered “salacious” and “tawdry.”

“What do you expect of a savage? When an Arab sees a woman that he wants he takes her. I only follow the customs of my people.”

If there was contention about this book 123 years ago, it’s practically obscene today and viewed as problematic. It has been accused of promoting part of rape culture, and it reeks of colonial attitudes.

There may be merit to discussing those arguments, as nothing exists in a vacuum. Nevertheless, I say, “Yes. And?” Fiction demands the freedom to write from any perspective. If it is a story worth telling, the story will be told.

the sheik

My Opinion

“If he killed me he could not kill my love!”

From its initial publication continuing to this day, The Sheik remains scandalous. It was an immediate bestseller, yet it received no respect from critics. The novel was labeled “poisonously salacious” by the Literary Review. It was even banned from some communities.

And it was a huge sensation, launching a subgenre of desert romances, several sequels, film adaptations, and Rudolph Valentino’s career.

The influence of The Sheik on romance is undeniable. For many readers, it still strikes a chord today. Despite Diana’s position as a kidnapping victim, there is a strong theme of female power and independence.

Even so, The Sheik gives a picture of the social order of its time. It captured the contemporary attitudes toward colonialism. Perhaps worse, The Sheik portrayed sexual dominance as a means to love.

the sheik

Final Analysis of The Sheik

E. M. Hull’s desert epic made me feel like a 12-year-old young girl discovering romance. For me, The Sheik was a thrilling experience! It’s pure entertainment, a rush from start to finish. I loved the film; the book was even better.

Without this romance, I don’t know if bodice-rippers or Mills & Boon romances, or the Harlequin Presents line would have ever existed. As stated, The Sheik is grandmother of the bodice ripper.

As for the naysayers?

Perhaps it’s good advice not to take fiction so seriously.

The Sheik is unreality. A dark fantasy. An erotic nightmare. Perhaps a little of both.

Rating Report Card
Plot
5
Characters
5
Writing
5
Chemistry
4
Fun Factor
5
Cover
4
Overall: 4.7

Synopsis:

Diana Mayo is young, beautiful, wealthy–and independent. Bored by the eligible bachelors and endless parties of the English aristocracy, she arranges for a horseback trek through the Algerian desert. Two days into her adventure, Diana is kidnapped by the powerful Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, who forces her into submission. Diana tries desperately to resist but finds herself falling in love with this dark and handsome stranger.

Only when a rival chieftain steals Diana away does the Sheik realize that what he feels for her is more than mere passion. He has been conquered–and risks everything to get her back. The power of love reaches across the desert sands, leading to the thrilling and unexpected conclusion.

THE SHEIK BY EDITH MAUD HULL
Savage Bliss

Cassie Edwards: A Formula For Success (and Controversy)

Cassie Edwards, “Queen of Indian Romance”

into the west
Kerri Russell and Jay Tavare,
Into the West, Dreamworks, 2005

In a previous post, I wrote about one of my favorite authors, Cassie Edwards. Before plagiarism allegations ended her career, she was billed as the “Queen of Indian Romance.” In this post, I will write about the formula Mrs. Edwards used to become a New York Times bestselling author of Native American romances.

This is gleaned from reading Mrs. Edwards’ Native American romances. The terms “Native American” and “Indian” will be alternately used throughout the article.

The Heroine

close up of partially shirtless woman
Photo by Ekaterina Nt on Pexels.com

Mrs. Edwards’ beautiful, innocent, naive, and sweet heroines also have at least one of the following characteristics:

  • She is white.
  • The heroine is multiracial (half-white/half-Indian or half-white/half-Black) and knows it. 
  • She is white, but discovers during the book that she’s also half-Indian.
  • The heroine is full-blood Indian but raised by a white family after her parents are killed when she is a child.
  • She is full-blood Indian, and she is raised by her Indian family.
  • The heroine is Mexican.

During the course of the book, our intrepid heroine will meet:

The Hero

adam edwards
Adam Edwards, Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale, Walt Disney Pictures, 1994

Mrs. Edwards’ heroes are handsome, muscular, noble, and brave–no pun intended. They also have the following characteristics:

  • The hero is a full-blooded Indian.
  • He is sometimes multiracial (half-Indian/half-white) and knows it. (Unlike her heroines).
  • The Indian heroes are ALWAYS the chief (or the son of the chief, and therefore heir apparent to the chief) of the Tribe of the Book.
  • There are two exceptions to these rules. Two of Mrs. Edwards’ heroes are white. One was raised as an Indian (after his older white sister married an Indian), and the other is a white man raised in a white society. 
  • They usually speak good English (there are a couple of exceptions).
  • They are well-endowed–-if you know what I mean, and I think you do!-–and they are VERY skilled at lovemaking. 

The circumstances where the hero and heroine meet vary, but they meet, become attracted to each other, make passionate love with each other, and plan their future together. 

However, that future could be thwarted by a society that disapproves of interracial relationships and three villains, all of whom appear in every one of Mrs. Edwards’ books. These villains are: the Evil White Man™, the Evil Indian Brave™, and the Evil Indian Woman™.

The Evil White Man

Image by tegawi from Pixabay

The villain that appears most frequently in Mrs. Edwards’ books is the Evil White Man. (occasionally, there is more than one in each book).

The Evil White Man has the following characteristics:

  • He’s white (well, duh).
  • He lusts after money, power, and the heroine, not always in that order. (Sometimes, the Evil White Man doesn’t lust after the heroine).
  • This man is a virulent bigoted racist who hates Native Americans with a passion and makes frequent derogatory statements about them (while twirling his mustache and cackling evilly).

The Evil White Man discovers that the heroine is in love with the Indian hero. He takes action to hurt the couple. These efforts will ultimately fail, but the Evil White Man will cause pain to the hero and heroine before getting his comeuppance. 

The Evil Indian Brave

brown and white stallions running in a field
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Appearing less frequently is the villainous Evil Indian Brave.

His characteristics:

  • He hates the hero because the hero is better looking, thus more successful with women.
  • He hates the fact that the hero has more power (The Evil Indian Brave is not a chief of his tribe).

These factors cause the Evil Indian Brave to be consumed with anger. Once he disapproves of the hero’s relationship with the heroine, he tries to destroy the woman. The Evil Indian Brave’s efforts will fail like the Evil White Man’s.

The Evil Indian Woman

Appearing less frequently than the male villains in Cassie Edwards’ books is the Evil Indian Woman. This character has the following characteristics:

  • She’s the hero’s former lover.
  • She wanted to be the hero’s lover, but he didn’t reciprocate her feelings.

Acting alone or in cahoots with the Evil Indian Brave, the Evil Indian Woman also tries to destroy the hero and heroine. Her fate will be the same as the male villains. 

Conclusion on Cassie Edwards

dreamcatcher native american

I once wrote during a review for one of her books (slightly paraphrasing): “Reading a Cassie Edwards book is like going to a fast-food restaurant chain anywhere in the country. No matter where you go, you always know what you’re going to get.”

Clearly, many readers-myself included, as I own all of her Native American romances–are quite happy with the knowledge that when we buy and read a Cassie Edwards novel, there will be very little surprise regarding the content of the book. 

There is a lot of mockery in this article, and it may seem that I’m making fun of Mrs. Edwards’. I am, a little. However, I also have great respect for her work, despite the allegations that she may be a serial plagiarist.

She was one of the few authors to write Native American romances and one of the few to actually care about doing research into the tribe of the book, their culture, and their language. And for that, she will have a lifelong place in my heart.

Cassie Edwards Native American Romances We’ve Reviewed

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15 Old School Historical Romances That Revolutionized the Genre

list of best 15 old school bodice ripper novels

15 “Best” Old-School Historical Romances

Best Bodice Rippers or Just Old School Romance?

Sweet Savage Flame has compiled a list of “the best romance novels/ bodice rippers,” demonstrating the genre’s evolution in the last third of the 20th century. These are 15 old-school historicals we consider to be must-reads for those who wish to understand the roots of the romance industry.

Detractors of these novels may disparage them as mere bodice rippers. To us, a “bodice ripper” romance is a term of endearment. We embrace it without shame. Moreover, we appreciate how pivotal that (unfairly maligned) subgenre was in the era’s early years.

There are books on this list that, indeed, are “hardcore” bodice rippers–i.e., romances where the hero forces himself on the heroine. Such was the nature of the early years of the old-school romance era. But as the list goes into the late 1980s and the 1990s, they have disappeared.

This List Has Only Some of the Best Romances; There Are Many More

Sweet Savage Flame’s position on such controversial matters is never to shrink away from the past. We look back head-on and try to investigate, analyze, reflect, and understand.

Most of our picks are seminal works that transformed the industry’s evolution. A few are so notable or unforgettable we feel they merit special appreciation.

Links to our opinions and ratings are provided in the descriptions, but five of the fifteen listed are yet to be reviewed by our staff. We have read all of these and consider them essential reads. We aim to review all books on this list in the upcoming year.

Please note this is not a complete compilation of essential works. This is just a small sample of relevant texts from the thousands of paperback romances published from 1972 to 2000.

The List of 15 Romances to Read, in Chronological Order

#1 The Flame and the Flower

best romance novel flame and flower

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss radically transformed the concept of the romance novel with The Flame and the Flower. Before its 1972 publication by Avon, romantic novels with happy endings never included “explicit” sex scenes between protagonists.

After the hero of The Flame and the Flower, Brandon Birmingham, mistakes the heroine, Heather, for a prostitute, he forces himself upon her. Too late, he discovers the girl is–was–a virgin.

Throughout this doorstopper of a book, Brandon violates Heather several more times before they mutually consent to make love. This is due to Brandon’s transformation into a kinder, more decent man, all to be worthy of Heather’s love.

Contemporary perspectives would consider Brandon’s behavior to be criminal. Nevertheless, fifty years ago, millions of readers were drawn to this love story, viewing the actions as part of the fantasy of “forced seduction.” This was ostensibly a plot device that allowed unmarried virgins to be sexually active without guilt.

The closed-door love scenes for “good girls” were now relics of the past. Although today we categorize The Flame and the Flower as old-school, it marked the start of the “modern era of romance.” The bodice ripper was born.

And the romance genre–and books overall–would never be the same.


#2 Sweet Savage Love

best bodice ripper  novel sweet savage love

Capitalizing on the success of The Flame and the FlowerRosemary Rogers first book ratcheted up the melodrama and sexiness to a new level of extreme. Rape, forced seduction, multiple partners, cheating, and violence were prevalent parts of the story.

Women couldn’t get enough of it, catapulting Rogers to fame and riches.

Sweet Savage Love sold millions and millions of copies, resulting in several sequels and spinoffs.

This revolutionary Western told the tale of Ginny Brandon and Steve Morgan. Here, Rogers’ depicted a heroine who could enjoy sex with men besides the hero.

Inevitably, it seemed this type of ultra-sexual romp would mark the course of historical romances for the foreseeable future.


#3 Moonstruck Madness

best old-school romance novel moonstruck madness

Moonstruck Madness was Laurie McBain‘s second outing. This novel cemented her status as an Avon “Queen of Romance.” (Although–supposedly–McBain co-authored her romance novels with her father.)

This swashbuckling old-school historical romance was a huge best-seller and the first in a popular trilogy about the Dominick 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.


#4 The Silver Devil

best bodice ripper novel the silver devil

The Silver Devil’s Duke Domenico is possibly the most extreme anti-hero ever to appear in an old-school romance novel. 

Over 45 years after its publication, many readers frequently discuss this book still highly-talked about and consider it one of the best bodice rippers ever written. Teresa Denys’ first-person-POV romance with an Italian beauty is a gripping read from the very first lines.

The powerful and megalomaniacal Duke sees the heroine Felicia at her window, desires her, and soon purchases her from her brother. Domenico’s obsession over her reigns supreme; he goes into murderous rages at the slightest hint of jealousy.

The prose in The Silver Devil is magnificent. The scenes of violence and brutality are intense. The hero is…a complicated man. The novel ends with the typical HEA. Even so, it’s hard to see a happy ending lasting beyond the pages of this book.

If you’re fortunate enough to find the Ballantine edition with the H. Tom Hall cover, it could cost you up to several hundred dollars.


#5 Fires of Winter

fires of winter

Johanna Lindsey‘s third novel, Fires of Winter, was a Viking romance about a captive Welsh woman and her Nordic owner. Marauders raid Lady Brenna’s home, kill the men and enslave and ravish the women. They spare only Brenna from ravishment and violence as the Viking leader has plans for her. She is a valuable prize that he plans to gift as a slave to his youngest son.

Just over 300 pages long (half the length of Woodiwiss’ and Roger’s fat epics), Fires of Winter is a lean, action-packed lean, bodice ripper.

The theme here is all about the battle between the sexes. Although there is forced seduction/ rape, this romance has no cheating. That made quite a difference to many readers looking for monogamous love stories.

However, the couple does argue–a lot. This was a common trait of many of Lindsey’s earlier works.

Johanna Lindsey cemented her status as one of romance’s top best-selling authors with this bodice ripper. The Robert McGinnis romance novel cover design is legendary, featuring the first naked man on a romance cover.


#6 Skye O’Malley

skye o'malley

Skye O’Malley is “The Queen of Erotic Romance,” Bertrice Smallpiece de resistance–her magnum opus. She wrote over 50 novels, and this is her finest work.

In this Tudor-era romance, the beauteous Irish lass Skye O’Malley amasses numerous husbands, lovers, children, and enemies.

And many true loves.

This is the lustiest of bodice rippers. Skye experiences the most rollicking adventures any heroine in Romancelandia could only dream of.


#7 Savage Ecstasy

savage ecstasy

Janelle Taylor’s Savage Ecstasy wasn’t the first historical bodice ripper published by Zebra books. It wasn’t even the first best-seller out of Kensington’s flagship imprint. It was, however, the one that firmly marked the largest US independent publisher on the map as a major player. 

In the decade that followed, Zebra would be a dominant force to be reckoned with in the romance field.

Savage Ecstasy sold over a million copies, as did its sequel, Defiant Ecstasy. It spawned a long-running series that told the love stories of Gray Eagle and Alisha and their children and their spouses.

Savage Ecstasy was one of the first publications of the enormously popular Native American romance subgenre. Readers consumed these romantic novels in droves until well into the 2000s.


#8 Stormfire

old-school best romance novel stormfire

Christine Monson’s Stormfire is perhaps one of the genre’s last hardcore bodice-rippers. Stormfire made some romantic novels of the 1970s appear tame in contrast.

This tale of vengeance is extreme in its brutality. Set in Regency Era England, Ireland and Napoleonic France, it keeps hitting the reader with action and insanity.

From the moment the heroine is kidnapped and violated by the hero, we can see this is not a romance for the faint-hearted.

Like The Silver Devil, Stormfire transcended its seemingly sordid content through thoughtful, superb writing and intense characterization.

Like that other romance, this is considered one of the best bodice rippers ever. Plus, it, too, is hard to find and expensive if you do!


#9 Whitney, My Love

regency romance novel whitney my love

Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught is the story of a gawky, coltish girl in love with a charming young man who barely notices her.

She goes off to finish school and returns a beauty. Then Whitney Stone finds herself forced into marriage with the dark Duke of Westmoreland. After a tumultuous beginning, they slowly learn to love one another.

Whitney, My Love is a beloved classic to this day. It reinvented the Regency romance by making it more sensual and increasing the page length and scope.


#10 A Knight in Shining Armor

old-school best romance a knight in shining armor

Jude Deveraux‘s A Knight in Shining Armor is a tear-jerker of a travel romance. Take note of the book’s cover. It was not Deveraux’s typical stepback or clinch cover but a simple design showing an encircled gauntlet holding a flower.

This was a sign of “respectability” for Deveraux, signifying that she was one of Pocket Books‘ most successful authors. A Knight in Shining Armor had been released in a hardcover edition in 1989 before being printed in paperback, extremely rare for romance writers, who had always been associated with with “pulp” genres.

The heroine, Douglass, is transported back to Tudor-era England and falls in love with an Elizabethan knight. Things take a twist when she returns to the future.

And so does the hero! But now he doesn’t recognize her.

The pair fall in love both in the past and the present eras. Will they ever find their forever somewhere in time?


#11 Gentle Rogue

best bodice ripper romances gentle rogue

Yes, Johanna Lindsey appears twice on this list–for a good reason.

Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue might not be historically accurate as for a Regency romance. Yet it’s so whimsical, romantic, witty, and the best of her Malory series; it’s a gem!

James Malory is an absolute cad. The tables are turned on him when he falls in love with a beauty disguised–quite poorly–as a cabin boy. Then Georgina abandons him at a port.

He’ll have to deal with the wrath of her five older brothers to get things straightened out.


#12 Outlander

best bodice ripper romances outlander

Although Diana Gabaldon has said that Outlander is not a romance novel, it does qualify as one–if you consider it a standalone.

It has the two elements required for the genre: a central love story that ends HEA. Although the subsequent books in the series would separate the lovers through time and space, the first entry is pure romance.

Outlander–or Cross-Stitch as it’s known elsewhere–is, at its core, a historical romance that features time travel. The married-in-the-future heroine, Claire, comes off as improbably perfect (in one scene, she fights a wolf and kills it with her bare hands!).

Jamie Frasier, however, is a favorite hero of many romance readers.

Outlander has been adapted into a popular television show, introducing new fans to this already successful novel.


#13 Flowers from the Storm

best bodice ripper romances flowers from the storm

Flowers from the Storm by the talented Laura Kinsale is an absolutely unusual yet stellar romance. Kinsale’s writing is superb. Romance is at its intellectual best here.

The plot is this: a disreputable rogue of a man succumbs to a stroke.

The Earl of Jervaulx is mainly paralyzed and incapable of speech. A prim Quaker mathematician takes on the daunting task of rehabilitating him. Soon, they discover that he has a secret baby from his married mistress when the child is dropped off at his home.

How can such two disparate people be happy together?

This emotional, exquisitely written book is one of the 1990s best romance novels and deserves a look.


#14 Dreaming of You

best romance books DREAMING OF YOU

Although we prefer its predecessor, Then Came You, the Regency-era romance Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas is a monumental book that catapulted the author to superstardom.

Readers adore the hero, Derek Craven. The sexy, snaggle-toothed London rough pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He now runs a gaming hall and brothel.

Craven falls for a curious, bespectacled young woman named Sara. She turns his entire world asunder with her wondering innocence.


#15 Lord of Scoundrels

best romance novels LORD OF SCOUNDRELS

In Loretta Chase’s old-school Regency-era romance, Lord of Scoundrels, The Marquess of Dain was abused as a child for his ugliness and grew up thinking himself worthless. So he now engages in a life of debauched chaos.

Dain meets his match in Jessica Trent, who initially seeks vengeance against him. She then changes course and fall in love.

However, after he dishonors her, Jessica shoots Dain. This makes Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels a controversial romance in some eyes and a must-read in others.

While the rippers of the 1970s were now a remnant of the past, the power dynamics between males and females remained paramount in the genre.


Your Opinion

Again, this is not a complete syllabus of the best historical books in romance. We could have made this list much longer, but we settled on only 15 books. Now we want to hear from you.

What old-school historical romance do you think we left off this list? Do you agree or disagree with our choices? Do you think any of these books rank as the best in romance?

How do you feel about bodice ripper romances? If you were creating a list of best contemporary romances, which books would you choose?

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance!