The much-loved novels of Georgette Heyer may now be a distant memory but Regency romance has never been more popular.
Across the Atlantic, writers like Mary Balogh, Eloisa James, Stephanie Laurens, Julia Quinn and Gaelen Foley have made this period of history their own with luscious, passion-filled tales of love and intrigue in the highest echelons of England’s misbehaving aristocratic society.
And on both sides of the pond, readers are lapping up the devilish antics of dastardly dukes and the heart-rending dilemmas of damsels in distress.
Mary Balogh, a former teacher who grew up in Wales and now lives in Canada, has over 25 novels under her belt and, to use a very English phrase, is currently knocking her readers for six with the poignant and piquant Survivors’ Club series.
The novels feature a group of young men, all injured in the long-running, early 19th century Napoleonic Wars and all helping each other to return to some sort of normal life.
In The Arrangement, an emotion-filled story of passionate awakening and redemption, we meet Vincent Hunt who has only recently inherited his title of Viscount Darleigh after being blinded by a cannon blast on the battlefield.
Desperate to escape his mother’s well-intentioned matchmaking and meddling, he flees to a remote country village but even there, another marital trap is sprung.
When he is rescued by a stranger called Sophia Fry, a young woman with a captivating voice, her intervention on his behalf has unfortunate consequences when she finds herself unceremoniously booted out of her guardian’s home.
Our hero is compelled to act. Vincent may have been blinded in battle but he can see a solution to both their problems… marriage. At first, quiet, unassuming Sophia rejects Vincent’s proposal but when such a gloriously handsome man persuades her that he needs a wife of his own choosing as much as she needs protection from destitution, she agrees.
But how can an all-consuming fire burn from such a cold arrangement? As friendship and camaraderie lead to sweet seduction and erotic pleasure, dare they believe that a bargain born from desperation might lead them both to true love?
Balogh turns up the heat in this captivating story which centres on the sizzling, slow-build romance between Vincent and Sophia whose personal chemistry certainly sets all the action on fire.
Add an eclectic cast of supporting characters and you have a wistful, enchanting tale that is perfect for all true romantics.
(Piatkus, paperback, £8.99)
Duchess in Love by Eloisa James
Surprisingly for a Shakespeare professor, New Yorker Eloisa James has made a reputation for herself as a writer of escapist Regency romps… with the emphasis very much on love, laughter and lust.
Duchess in Love, the first book in a new Duchess Quartet, has all those traditional ingredients of romance, adventure, heroics and humour but with a soulful twist which adds extra potency to the compelling mix.
Gina was forced into marriage with Camden, the Duke of Girton, at just eleven, an age when she would have been better off in a schoolroom than a ballroom.
Straight after the wedding ceremony, her handsome teenage husband promptly fled to the continent to pursue his studies as a sculptor, leaving the marriage unconsummated and Gina more than a little angry.
Twelve years later, she is one of the best known ladies in London, living on the edge of scandal, desired by many men but still resisting giving herself to anyone.
Finally, ‘Cam the man’ is preparing to return home to annul the marriage that never really was. Gina knows that meeting him again will be extremely difficult, particularly as she won’t ‘know him from Adam’ and has plans to marry another man.
Cam, meanwhile, discovers that his gauche, naïve bride has blossomed into a beautiful woman who is the toast of the town. Before long he finds himself in the most disconcerting position of resorting to the very bad manners of falling in love… with his own wife!
Fresh, witty and high-spirited, James’s light-hearted and entertaining Regency romance is a marvellous merry-go-round of misunderstandings, scandals, hot love and high drama.
Sex and the City with a 19th century twist…
(Piatkus, paperback, £7.99)