The Rec League: Emotionally Competent Historical Romances

The Rec League - heart shaped chocolate resting on the edge of a very old bookThis Rec League request is from SBTB reviewer, Kiki!

I’ve been stuck in a loop of reading a lot of historicals that can be summarized as “this deeply emotionally traumatized man is actively saying that he is unable to love me/is not nice to me, BUT I love who he used to be/who I imagine him to be SO I’m just going to heal him with my love and there are no consequences for his dumbass” and it has tangibly affected my irritability levels.

If anyone has some favorite emotionally competent historical recs they want to send my way please know that I am frothing at the mouth for them right now.

I’ve read two books in the last month in which the male lead essentially didn’t realize he loved/should be nicer to the female lead until she was almost thrown off a literal tower and I think I would love avoid that ~vibe~ for the rest of the summer.

Elyse: Earls Trip by Jenny Holiday

Earls Trip
A | BN | K
Sarah: It’s extremely purple and some of the plot is WAY out there, but one of the things I love about Devil’s Bride ( A | BN | K | G | AB | Au ) is that the hero, as commanding and autocratic as he is (It was published in 1998) struggles to articulate his feelings as he recognizes that he has them, but he’s never unkind to the heroine. He values her a lot and he pursues her (mostly because socially they have to get married though she refuses to accept it)

Kiki: Yes! I haven’t read Devil’s Bride in a long time but I remember that aspect of it really well. There can be personality conflict that is not emotional neglect and abuse. There can be “this man needs support or a push in the right direction and I want to give it to him” without the heroine being devoured in that effort.

And I love mess and melodrama as much (or more) than the next girl, but I need a kind boy book.

Sarah: YES. And Devil isn’t always the most nuanced dude but he isn’t unkind

You might like the Devil’s Delilah, an older regency. The heroines father is going to release his memoirs and he was a rake so she’d be screwed socially and his secretary is the hero

The Devil’s Delilah
A | BN | K | AB
He’s very kind and unassuming but also secretly a plotting scheming smartypants.

Shana: The Rakess by Scarlet Peckham has a beta hero who is pretty emotionally fluent. Actually, the sequel, Portrait of Duchess, would probably work too.

If queer romances are ok, I remember Honey and Pepper by AJ Demas ( A | BN | K ) as having heroes that were sweet and definitely into each other. Also maybe We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian? I’m having trouble remembering the details but I think most of the conflict was external.

Claudia: The Halifax Hellions novellas would fit this request! And I second Shana’s Cat Sebastian rec.

Which historical romances would you recommend? Let us know in the comments1

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  1. Melody Prime says:

    Courtney Milan’s Wedgeford Series. In the first one the trope is flipped, but she is never mean to the hero. In the second one the hero/heroine have fake engagement but it’s always respectful and there is no third act break up.

    Also I think the book linked in the first rec isn’t correct.

  2. Steph says:

    I feel like Rose Lerner’s heroes are never jerks, at least in the Lively St. Lemeston series. A Taste of Honey is my favorite. I haven’t read her Gothic Romance, so that might be different.

    Grace Burrowes is another author who has heroes that are generally kind people.

  3. KitBee says:

    Diana Biller’s THE WIDOW OF ROSE HOUSE would work (it’s a historical but not a Regency). The hero is a sweetheart who is 100% there to support the heroine.

  4. Amanda says:

    @Melody: Which book link are you referring to? All links look correct to me.

  5. Alea says:

    A lot of Loretta Chase’s books qualify, in addition to The Devil’s Delilah, such as some Mr Impossible, Lord Perfect, and Ten Things I Hate About the Duke

  6. squee me says:

    I think Courtney Milan’s entire body of work fits this. Just FYI her books tend to be less steamy if you measure by number of scenes. Still very hot and definitely open door.

  7. Ellie says:

    Loretta Chase’s Ten Things I Hate About the Duke is great. The duke in question is a terrible person, in fact the villain of the first book in the Difficult Dukes series (this is the second). But–he realizes he needs to change and does the work. Instead of the heroine having to change him with her love, he changes himself so he can be worthy or her love. It also has some very funny parts.

  8. Lara says:

    Johan in Alyssa Cole’s A Prince on Paper is pretty great, and when life and stress and paparazzi start hurting his budding relationship with the heroine Nya, his response is “Well, that was a big misunderstanding that was exacerbated by our mutual stressors, let’s take some time to not be in an Official Relationship in the Public Eye, each deal with our respective issues, and come back to our feelings when we’re better equipped to feel them”. An official quote from a little later on is:

    “Why were we fighting again?”
    “Because we’re human, and have baggage that love doesn’t make disappear into thin air?”

  9. Melody Prime says:

    @amanda mea culpa, I missed the line where Elyse said Earls Trip and assumed the image should be Devil’s Bride.

    Thanks for checking!

  10. LML says:

    @Melody Prime, same mix-up happened to me.

    Umm…why isn’t there an apostrophe in the title of Jenny Holiday’s book?

  11. Loramir says:

    Julie Ann Long’s Palace of Rogues series seems very emotionally mature to me. A few have been reviewed here, including the most recent:
    https://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/reviews/my-season-for-scandal-by-julie-anne-long/

    And this review of the second one illustrates why I suggest them for this: https://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/reviews/angel-in-a-devils-arms-by-julie-anne-long/

    The characters often have trauma and sometimes hurt each other, but they’re never oblivious about it – the characters talk a LOT in these books. I don’t think any of the characters start out THAT immature or oblivious or spoiled, by self-absorbed manchild romance hero standards, but there’s always self-reflection and growth on both sides.

    There may be immediate physical attraction but there’s no insta-love. They do as good a job as I’ve ever seen of showing gradually deepening relationships between people who grow to genuinely like each other and help each other grow and bring out the best in each other. Sometimes they call each other out and challenge each other and make each other consider things they *were* oblivious about. There’s also snarky humor and warmth and a lovely found family vibe. I love the series so I recommend it in general but I think it fits this category very well.

    Steph mentioned Grace Burrowes’ heroes above and I do love how she writes men who show emotion and affection (including with each other) and are generally fairly mature and kind. The heroines in her books tend to be the angsty ones with dark pasts making them (justifiably) wary of love. I’m a little hit and miss with her books and they can be a little melodramatic at times, but I like the first few Windham books (The Heir/The Soldier/The Virtuoso) and Douglas from the Lonely Lords series (which ties in to the Windham series).

  12. Jeanine says:

    Ye old favorite, The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer. And it has a screamingly funny ending. The hero and heroine stop their play acting quickly and then fall into friendship before HEA.

  13. Betsydub says:

    @LML, re: “Earls Trip” – yeah, no apostrophe is initially disconcerting but in the first couple of pages, you’ll discover that there is more than one Earl in the group of travelers. I’m sure that the editor’s auto-correct was working overtime trying to add the apostrophe to the title. It probably imploded the software.
    I’ve only read the beginning of the book, but the relationships as laid out during the introductions of the MMCs are funny and sweet.

  14. Msb says:

    @ Jeanine
    The hero of Heyer’s The Quiet Gentleman is a lot more perceptive, kind and emotionally mature than he pretends at the start, as shown by all his relationships in the book, and his friendship-grows-into-love with the heroine. Less funny than The Unknown Ajax, but very witty in a quiet way.

  15. TinaNoir says:

    Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh – can stand alone but the payoff is extra great if you’ve read the preceding books in the series. Excellent example of a closed off, somewhat enigmatic hero who slowly unbends for the heroine.

    What I Did For a Duke – Julie Anne Long. JAL writes great relationships. This one starts out with a Duke who plans to seduce a young lady to avenge a slight done by her brother. The hero Falconbridge is a bit dour and a touch tormented — but he was also wickedly funny and a hero to sigh over. His interactions with Genevieve were punctuated with great witty repartee.

    The Work of Art – by Mimi Matthews. I remember reading this and thinking that it was so refreshing because the H&H actually talked things out. They had a lot against the and the hero was also tormented, with PTSD and had some wounds from war and a dark scandal brewing. But the H&H have a rocky beginning from which they grow a good friendship into a functioning romantic relationship. Sold me on the author right away.

  16. Glen says:

    For MF romances, I’m in the middle of reading Christina Britton’s Isle of Synne series, and just finished her Twice Shy series. In general, both her MCs tend to have histories that have lead them to eschew marriage, and the plot line is them getting past their baggage. More recent Jane Ashford books might also fit (like her Way to A Lord’s Heart series, in which an older Earl helps four younger men with their grief and also helps them find love along the way; warning that some of her pre-2000s books are very cringe).

    For queer romances, KJ Charles and Aster Glenn Gray both have purely historical romances that fit the criteria. Both also write what I would call urban fantasy romances (set in our world but with magic), which I enjoyed but might not be your cup of tea. Alexis Hall’s A Lady for a Duke would also work (maybe Something Spectacular as well, but not Something Fabulous, which has to male MCs who, while hysterically funny, are horribly immature).

  17. Taylor says:

    Everything by Cat Sebastian, Courtenay Milan, and KJ Charles.

  18. lunchable says:

    Going back quite a bit, but Connie Brockway’s dark cat-and-mouse historical All Through the Night is a long-time favorite, partly because the hero is emotionally fluent/intelligent.

  19. Karin says:

    I have lots of suggestions!
    AFTER THE SCANDAL by Elizabeth Essex. The hero has been crushing on the heroine for ages, so when he sees a chance to be with her, he grabs it. He’s sneaky, but always with her well being in mind.
    Sebastian Gage, the hero of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series. She’s skittish after a horrible first marriage, and he woos her patiently through several books.
    A SCOT TO THE HEART by Caroline Linden
    LADY NOTORIOUS by Jo Beverly
    THE UNOFFICIAL SUITOR by Charlotte Louise Dolan-an old Signet Regency, this author has wonderful heroes.
    THE FORBIDDEN ROSE by Joanna Bourne
    ANGEL ROGUE by Mary Jo Putney
    NEVER LESS THAN A LADY by Mary Jo Putney-CW for violence, angst and traumatic backstory for the heroine
    HIS CONVENIENT MARCHIONESS and A MARRIAGE OF EQUALS by Elizabeth Rolls
    A MOST UNCONVENTIONAL MATCH by Julia Justiss-hero has a speech impediment
    MYSTERIOUS LOVER by Mary Lancaster

  20. dePizan says:

    On Courtney Milan, they are her earlier series, but male lead in the first Carhart book is rather a jerk (deliberately trying to destroy the FMC’s business and spreading that she’s a fraud to her clients) but also just generally emotionally unavailable for much of it. To the point of also being that emotionally unavailable and a jerk to his nephew and only relative too.

    Same with the third lead in the Turner books—he’s the austere brooding “I can never love because my heart is a block of granite” type.

  21. LML says:

    @Betsydub, I looked at the description to see if the Earl was named Earl!

  22. JudyW says:

    Oh! Oh! I’m so happy somebody mentioned how absolutely hilarious parts of Georgette Heyer’s book THE UNKNOWN AJAX was. I consistently re-read both THE UNKNOWN AJAX and THE TALISMAN RING (another good example of repectful MC) for just how funny they are. I also agree with the Loretta Chase recs. If you have not read Julie Anne Long’s What I did for a Duke and How the Marquess was won then I envy you getting to do so for the first time. *Sigh*

  23. Midge says:

    Pretty much all the more recent books by Cat Sebastian – We Could Be So Good, Luke and Billy Finally Get a Clue and You Should Be So Lucky and all the Cabot books. There may be some external conflicts, and Tommy Cabot Was Here has some conflict in the past between the MCs. But the MCs are always kind to one another in these books and they know they’re in love.

  24. PamG says:

    Anne Gracie’s most recent Brides of Bellaire Gardens has a hero whose reputation is the biggest obstacle between him and the title character. She has a no rakes rule, despite the fact supposed rake Lord Randall treats her with respect and patience as he attempts to court her.

    Grace Burrowes, whose books I have difficulty getting into, has a recent title, The Dreadful Duke, that I really enjoyed. The reluctant heir of the title is a complex, interesting, and fully adult character who has no problem understanding the FMC’s need to put her child first.

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