We were super tickled by this request sent in by Anna:
This might be a vague question, but it’s for a library patron! I am looking for books with a similar relationship dynamic to Howl’s Moving Castle (not necessarily in a fantasy setting!) where the woman is plain, pragmatic, and reserved and the man is flamboyant, charismatic, and more conventionally attractive (same-sex pairings and queer and non-binary characters with similar dynamics welcome, just not straight pairings where the woman is fanciful one). Any leads?
A ) The hero is a bi cross dressing duke, and while there are some Plot Inconsistencies I think the dynamic would work here. And wouldn’t The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune also work for this request? I think so, but I’m going to ponder more.
Claudia: Yeah, I feel there are a good amount of books showing this dynamic but immediately coming to mind is Mary Balogh’s Heartless. The book is a little dated, fair warning. Oh, another one would be K.J. Charles’ A Fashionable Indulgence, which has My Fair Lady overtones — long-lost frumpy heir and chic dandy tasked with making him into a gentleman fall in love.
Sarah: Yes. Also, I love this request – this is a fun one!
Catherine: Ooh, I love this request, and this dynamic but can I remember any books that fit it? Not so much…
Speaking of Balogh, what about A Summer to Remember? Lauren is the quiet, conventional well-behaved one, and Kit is definitely flamboyant and charismatic.
I wonder if The Duchess War or The Countess Conspiracy, by Courtney Milan, would fit here? The dynamic for both of these novels certainly starts that way, though it doesn’t entirely finish that way, especially in the Countess Conspiracy.
The upcoming Olivia Dade novel, All the Feels, looks like it will have that dynamic, too. I am absolutely positive I’ve read more books in this category recently but I just can’t think of them…A | BN | K | G | AB ) Gwenvael the Handsome falls in love with Dagmar Reinholdt aka the Beast. Dagmar is described as plain (but brilliant) and Gwenvael definitely thinks his looks will let him get away with anything.
Susan: This library patron knows what’s good and I respect them for it
Jeannie Lin has written a couple of these – her recent short story Tale of the Drunken Sword, and her novel The Lotus Palace both have very reserved and practical heroines paired up with heroes who cover their competence with a solid layer of flamboyance.
I feel like T. Kingfisher MUST have written romances like this because I don’t think she’s ever written a female lead who wasn’t sensible and pragmatic – Catherine, do you have any ideas?
Catherine: The thing is, her heroes are also generally sensible and pragmatic, rather than flamboyant. I mean, comparatively, yes, Istvhan is more flamboyant than Clara in Paladin’s Strength (and he certainly plays that role well at the end), but yeah. I don’t think flamboyant heroes are Kingfisher’s style.
Susan: Ah, that’s true!A Crown of Bitter Orange – Tristan being the flamboyant, charming, extroverted perfumer and Malorie being the contained, quiet accountant.
Susan: Apart from that, possibly Jordan L. Hawk’s Hexbreaker – it’s a historical shifter romance with soulmates, and I believe the protagonists are a beat cop trying to keep his head down, and a cat shifter who’s incapable of not being the centre of attention. Or maybe Silver in the Wood, where the protagonist is content to be a Wild Man in the woods not talking to anyone about his past or any magical goings-on, and a love interest who really would LOVE to talk to him about all of those things.
Which titles would you suggest? Let us know!
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I really like this dynamic but I feel like I’ve suddenly forgotten everything I’ve ever read (luckily I have a list of the books I read last/this year on my phone). The first thing that comes to mind is Mary Balogh’s “Only Enchanting”. I’m not sure if I would call Flavian flamboyant but Agnes is definitely the reserved one in the relationship and even prefers dressing plainly. I also think Sam and Alva from Diana Biller’s “The Widow of Rose House” could fit for this. Minerva and Colin from Tessa Dare’s “A Week To Be Wicked” also have this sort of dynamic although Minerva changes a bit throughout the novel (Colin definitely stays the flamboyant one though). If we’re also including mangas I would recommend “Mizutama Honey Boy” by Junko Ike which also plays with gender roles (the heroine is leader of the Kendo club and the hero likes to sew and bake and occasionally wear women’s clothes).
How fun! Off the top of my head, Think of England by KJ Charles, where Archie is very much the straightforward pragmatic one and Daniel really leans into his flamboyance. Also, in Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas the heroine comes across as coldly pragmatic (outwardly) and the hero is the charming, good-looking golden boy.
Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian featuring a non binary “heroine” for want of a better word.
An Unsuitable Heir by KJ Charles is the 3rd of a fabulous trilogy.
Plus the Marysburg books by Olivia Dade
Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible comes to mind
Oh and of course, my forever recommendation, Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
I second Untamed by Anna Cowan and throw in Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt and Rise by Karina Bliss
+1 for Rise, Elizabeth is the best.
Two more KJ Charles books that might work are Jackdaw and Gilded Cage.
I’ll also add Miranda Neville’s The Ruin of a Rogue.
Enjoying all the suggestions (and surprised by how many I’ve read? Would not have thought of this as my catnip/a trope I particularly liked.)
A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian also fits the bill I think.
I feel like A Week to Be Wicked might fit. I don’t know if Colin is best described as “flamboyant” but he definitely has swagger.
I immediately thought of Eloisa James’ A Duke of Her Own. I don’t think the heroine, Eleanor, is all that plain or pragmatic, but the hero is definitely described as flamboyant.
Those who mentioned Mary Balogh reminded me of another one of hers which seems to fit the description quite nicely: The Famous Heroine. The heroine initially believes the hero to be gay because of his colorful clothes. It’s also one of her older works, but I thought it was a fun, quick read.
What a great dynamic. I love Cat Sebastian’s Ruin of a Rake! There’s a wild (but very sweet) Byron-esque rake and a man who’s good with numbers and wears his social propriety like armor. One of my very favorites!
And there’s Jordan Hawk’s Widdershins series – quiet museum employee, convinced he’s unattractive and generally not worth anyone’s time (never been kissed, even) meets a handsome, charismatic Pinkerton agent who falls for him.
Seconding (Fourthi-ing?) a Week to be Wicked, and also putting forth KJ Charles’ latest The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting. I also think Jeremy and Chloe from Courtney Milan’s The Duke Who Didn’t also fits this one.
What a great rec!
Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane’s romance? This actually encompasses several books (by Dorothy L. Sayers), starting with Strong Poison, and ending (depending upon taste) either with Gaudy Night or Busman’s Honeymoon.
Throughout, Harriet is presented as sensible, not terribly self-confident, and rather plain; Lord Peter is brilliant, neurotic, and gorgeous (“fair and Mayfair”).
In one respect “not romance” (the novels are deliberately within the classic mystery genre, and were all written in the twenties and thirties), but … yeah, naw. Works for me as HEA (and particularly if you add the post-honeymoon short stories).
Mary Balogh’s Someone to Love has this dynamic. Avery is described as flashy and beautiful, always covered in bling. Anna is plain, quiet and dignified.
From the above it looks like Mary Balogh might have a lot of these pairings!
Friends and Foes (Jonquil Brothers #1) by Sarah Eden has this.
The heroine has mobility issues (which are NOT magically cured by WUV) and the hero embraces being called a popinjay.
Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase. Hero cultivates fashionable persona, heroine more focused on running family estate.
I don’t think anyone has recommended Kylie Scott’s Play yet but it definitely fits the description. It’s 3rd or so in the series and by absolute favorite.
I second Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt – love it! – and will add that she used this template a couple of times before that one in The Serpent Prince and (arguably) To Seduce a Sinner
Saint Vincent and Evie from Devil in Winter. He is a flamboyantly beautiful rake, she is a shy wallflower. He becomes more responsible, but still remains a volatile dandy.
PLAY by Kylie Scott features Mal, a man-child rock drummer, and quiet romance reader Anne.
Sherwood Smith loves a good flamboyant hero who cloaks his competence in foppery. For this dynamic try Crown Duel and Sasharia en Garde.
She’s created a really wonderful fantasy world and I particularly love that her books feature different races and gender pairings as a matter of course rather than a big deal.
Come to think of it, does The Scarlet Pimpernel work for this? I can’t remember much about the heroine, but the hero is the defining “competent fop”!
What about Eve Dallas and Rourke in JD Robb’s [Nora Robert’s] In Death series?
Maldynado and Yara in Emporer’s Edge by Lindsey Buroker.
Josette Dupree and Lord Bernat in the Signal Airship series by Robyn Bennis
If I might mention one of my own: C’s Comeuppance. Heroine Jemma is no nonsense and the backbone of her family. Hero Eddie C uses his rock star persona to be the center of attention.
Tiger’s eye by karen Robards. It’s late 80s early 90s if I remember correctly. Isabella I a society lady who goes on the run with Alec who is king of the London underworld. Be warned, that Isabella is married but there’s a story to that. I remember loving it back in the day. Isabella is kind of quiet and unassuming and Alec isn’t . I remember really loving it.
For a contemporary take, there’s Rise by Karina Bliss. Nerdy biographer is hired by a rumored-to-be-wild rock star to write his memoir.
I’ll suggest Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt and second Mary Balogh’s Heartless.
I feel like I should have lots more suggestions for these, but I second Elizabeth Hoyt’s Scandalous Desires and Tessa Dare’s Week to be Wicked! Valerie Bowman’s Unlikely Lady is similar, and I have to mention the first of Julie Ann Long’s Pennyroyal Green series the Perils of Pleasure with Colin Eversea!! For a contemporary, Sarina Bowen’s Loverboy features a divorcee focused on running her business while the hero posing as a barista in her coffee shop is flirtatious and initially incompetent. Totally enjoyable.
Anything I thought of is already mentioned, I definitely recommend KJ Charles. Thanks for a number of TBR additions as well.
I think Julia Ross’ The Seduction fits the description. And also wonderful Sherry Thomas’ The Luckiest Lady in London. Enjoy!
Married By Morning by Lisa Kleypas is a great fit. Leo and Catherine are one of my favorite couples.
So many good suggestions! I like this dynamic a lot.
I’m wondering if So Forward by Mina V. Esguerra would qualify. Ex hockey player heroine who’s very no nonsense and pragmatic, ex figure skater hero who’s charming and enjoys posting shirtless selfies. She’s reserved with her emotions but not quiet, shy, or plain though.
I feel like Cotillion by Heyer starts this way with Kitty and Freddy though by the end Kitty is fashionable but not to the same level.
I’m not completely sure this would fit but possibly Miles and Ekaterin from the Vorkosigan books. He thrives off attention and while his dress isn’t always over-the-top, he is.
Chrestomanci and Millie would also fit this idea as its a trope that Diana Wynne Jones enjoys.
Moist von Lipwig and Adora in Going Postal and Making Money, he’s definitely the over-the-top one.
I think one of the couples in the Cecelia and Kate books fits this, the one in the first book in London. I think that might be Kate, haven’t read them recently.
Another Mary Balough, Slightly Scandalous, which I’m re-reading now. Freya Bedwyn, jilted former fiancee of the aforementioned Kit from A Summer to Remember, uptight, practical and no-nonsense, and Joshua Moore, handsome and outrageous rake.
The mention of Howl’s Moving Castle immediately made me think of Spinning Silver. Many people on Tumblr have commented on the parallels between Howl and Mirnatius (vain, really into clothes, has issues with a fire demon) and Irina and Sophie—both plain and pragmatic women who get things done. Irina is a bit more ruthless than Sophie though.
@KEW — yes to The Scarlet Pimpernel! And by extension, Sherry Thomas’ His at Night (my fave Sherry Thomas)
Jeaniene Frost’s Night Rebel trilogy. Veritas is practical and (for the most part) conventional. Ian is an over-the-top irreverent libertine.
Mhairi McFarlane‘s If I Never Met You. It’s not fun though. The heroine has a lot of crappy stuff going on.
Definitely Hoyt’s “To Seduce a Sinner” and Elisa Braden’s “The Truth About Cads and Dukes”, “My Lady Notorious” by Jo Beverly, “Her Christmas Earl” by Anna Campbell and “The Scandal Before Christmas” by Elizabeth Essex. The last 2 are novellas. “The Last Rogue” by Deborah Simmons fits perfectly, but unfortunately it’s an older books and I don’t think there is an e-version.
I love this trope!
I definitely second A Summer to Remember. Not only does it fit the request nicely, but it’s one of my all-time favorite romances.
I will also second Married By Morning by Lisa Kleypas (which I love), and Someone to Love by Mary Balogh (which I liked.)
Re EC Spurlock’s rec, Slightly Scandalous by Mary Balogh, I have to say that Freya is hardly uptight or conventional in her behavior. Quite the contrary — she’s hot-tempered and often outrageous! And she’s not plain, either; although she is described as ugly, she comes across as vividly attractive because of her personality. So while it may be a fit for plain heroine, handsome hero, the rest of the original request doesn’t really fit. It is, however, a delightful book in its own right.
Now I need to jot down all the rest of these titles…
Another vote for Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt in the Maiden Lane series.
This is such a fun Rec League! When I saw the headline (but before reading any further), I immediately thought of Howl’s Moving Castle. 🙂 The other title that comes to mind for me is Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer — the hero, Dominic, is a wild and melodramatic rake, while the heroine, Mary, is very calm and practical.
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