What do you know, I’m writing reviews again. And even more surprising, I’m reading— romance.
A couple months ago I was flopping listlessly around the living room, dissatisfied with the books I currently had on my nightstand. “I want to read something that’s really a character study, where the all the plot comes from the people, not deux ex machining its way from outside,” I said to myself, curiously displeased with my normal dragon-and-jetpack books. “But ugh, all the ‘literary’ character-driven stuff is focused on infidelity and dissatisfaction. I want something that I know will end happily ever after. Heh, happy ever after sounds like a romance.
So I have tiptoed carefully into the genre, and it has been my great good luck to light upon Rose Lerner. She writes Regency romance, and her current series is all set in a small english town named Lively St Lemeston, during the Napoleonic war.
I know enough about the era to be able to see when people have done their research and when people have just taken tropes and slotted them into place. You can tell Rose Lerner has done her research, and that she loves the era. Historical tidbits ranging from fashions to superstitions pop up everywhere. She’s done a fantastic job of drawing a historically accurate, diverse, and compelling setting. And a note about the diversity? There are people who aren’t white. There are people with depression. There are people who are gay. It reminds me of the small towns I’ve lived in. It feels real in a way that a lot of historical settings haven’t. *rolls around in the historical accuracy*
I have so many feelings about Lively St. Lemeston now, you guys. Will Lord Reeve step up and take his seat in the House of Lords? Will Mary be successful in her hat-making position, and will her sister be okay? Will the Vicar’s finally find a decent Curate? Will Mr. Dymond get in trouble because of his editorials about the treatment of soldiers during the Peninsular war? And these are just the side characters.
And then the main plots. *giggles*
In True Pretenses, Lydia Reeve needs access to her inheritance for her charity work, but she has to be married first. So she agrees to marry a con man, fully knowing he’s a con man, and they can split the money. Now she has to work together with him to convince everybody that they’re madly in love. But both of their pasts are coming back to bite…
In Listen to the Moon, Sukey Grimes and John Toogood both need a job. But the only decent place available is for a married couple. They like the looks of each other enough to make it work, they figure, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that being married to your staff—or to your boss— is tricky.
(A word of warning; these are pretty explicit. The books use period-appropriate language, but it’s pretty clear what’s going on, anatomically speaking. Despite skimming those parts, I learned some interesting new terms. )
Nothing comes out of left field to fix the plots. They are just that simple, and just that complicated. Class differences and age differences and perfectionism and meddling brothers and responsibilities and character histories cause real problems they have to work through in a real way. The plots are self-aware enough to know they’re a bit absurd, (marriages of convenience all around!), but also enough to treat them seriously, as though real people were living through them. I feel like I should go through the books with a highlighter to learn how to characterize.
tl;dr: I would definitely recommend Rose Lerner’s books if you’re looking for a historical character jaunt. Now to try that Georgette Heyer everyone is talking about…