Look, everyone loves Jane Austen. The clothing, the tea, the socially awkward and emotionally withdrawn yet extremely wealthy bachelors... it's all very good. And Austen's novels have inspired many, many other wonderfully written romances set against a backdrop of tea sets and grand English manors. But what if I told you that there were time periods besides Regency England... and that people maybe still fell in love during those time periods, despite the lack of decorum or empire-waist dresses? If you love Austen and Austen read-alikes, then you might enjoy reading up on another era of world history as well. If you hate Austen and all her kind, then you'll be relieved at the lack of bonnets. Here are a few excellent historical romances that aren't Jane Austen, for romance-lovers of every kind.
These books run the gamut from Victorian music hall love affairs to lighthouse-based mysteries on 1950's Long Island. Some veer more towards steamy encounters, and some have a more Austen-like sensibility when it comes to the bedroom. All of these books will transport you to another place and time, and have you falling in love with a variety of dashing hunks and capable ladies all throughout history (minus Regency England):
'Tipping the Velvet' by Sarah Waters
Nan King is a working class oyster girl in Victorian England. Kitty Butler is a glamorous music hall star and a male impersonator extraordinaire. The two seem worlds apart — but when Nan manages to finally cross paths with her heroine, the two find themselves working together in a singing, dancing double act. Meanwhile, offstage, they're starting to become more than just co-stars in this decidedly adult romance novel.
'Love and Ruin' by Paula McLain
If you've ever wanted to vicariously date and then (spoiler alert) break up with ultimate moody boyfriend Ernest Hemingway, then Love and Ruin is the period romance for you. Set in 1937, it follows Martha, a young war-reporter who falls for Ernest while covering the Spanish Civil War. Both of them are writers, both fascinated with portraying the world around them—but can Martha stay content playing the role of a famous author's wife? Or will she be forced to leave it all behind to pursue her own ambitions?
'Next Year in Havana' by Chanel Cleeton
In Havana of 1958, heiress Elisa Perez has lived a life almost entirely sheltered from political unrest. That is, until she falls hard for a passionate revolutionary, and begins an affair that will change the course of her life. Meanwhile, in 2017 Miami, Marisol Ferrera is a freelance writer who wants to learn more about her grandmother, Elisa. But of course, when she travels to Cuba, she'll find more than just family history in this beautiful two-for-one love story that spans generations.
'Daughters of a Nation: A Black Suffragette Historical Romance Anthology' by Kianna Alexander, Lena Hart, Piper Huguley, and Alyssa Cole
Daughters of a Nation doesn't give us one tale of romance set in the past, it gives us four. Spanning the 1860's to the 1910's, Daughters of a Nation is a powerful collection centering on four black women falling in and out of love as they fight for a voice as American citizens. If you're sick of gauzy historical romances that glamorize history beyond all recognition, then you'll find this book a refreshing break from the norm, as well as an inspiring (and romantic!) read.
'Alexander and Alestria' by Shan Sa
If you're looking for a time period that is really, absolutely, definitely not Regency England... may I interest you in the life and times of Alexander the Great? Alexander and Alestria tells the sweeping tale of Alexander the conqueror and Alestria the ferocious Amazon Queen, his great love and his equal on the battlefield. Their affair shakes every corner of the ancient world. But as their affair develops, so does political turmoil, and both rulers must balance their love with their duty to their people.
'The Other Boleyn Girl' by Philippa Gregory
Philippa Gregory is the reigning queen of Tudor and Plantagenet-based romance novels, and The Other Boleyn Girl just might be her best-loved books. We follow Mary Boleyn as she arrives in the dazzling court of England, and catches the eye of Henry VIII. Mary loves her king, and her position as his favorite at court, but things start to get complicated when another woman enters the mix... her sister, best friend, and future queen of England, Anne Boleyn.
'Daughter of Fortune' by Isabel Allende
Eliza Sommers is orphaned at birth, and raised by a Victorian spinster and her strict brother in Valparaiso, Chile. She is brought up to be a proper lady by British standards... but instead she falls for the foolhardy Joaquín Andieta, and follows him to the hills of California, where one can (supposedly) find a fortune in gold. Her quest for Joaquín through Gold Rush-era California soon becomes a journey of self-discovery as well in this gorgeously written coming of age epic.
'The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo' by Zen Cho
Jade Yeo has come to London to make her mark on the literary scene of the roaring 20's. She doesn't seem to be making much of a splash, though—until she pens a scathing review of one of London's most prominent authors. His name is Sebastian Hardie, and he seems to be intrigued by this young woman who dares to slander him... plus, he's decidedly handsome. Now Jade must carefully navigate a high profile literary romance while still hanging onto her own hard-won freedom in this delightful romance novella.
'Alex and Eliza' by Melissa de la Cruz
Before he wound up on the ten dollar bill (or starring in a Broadway musical), Alexander Hamilton was a handsome, rakish young colonel, meeting a girl at her family's grand ball. And before Eliza was a beloved leading lady, she was a charming young socialite, longing for a chance to put her political prowess to the test. Alex & Eliza is the delightful story of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton's historical romance, set against the backdrop of the American Revolutionary War.
'The Valley of Horses' by Jean M. Auel
Look, I'll be honest with you. Either you're on board with Jean M. Auel's caveman romance series or you're not. I understand if a series featuring mammoths and neanderthals is a bit too much of a "period piece" for you. But if you're looking for a steamy tale of love and survival, and also cavemen, this is it. The story follows the courageous young Ayla, cast out from her clan, yet determined to live and find a new home somewhere in this pre-historic world.
'The Summer Wives' by Beatriz Williams
Romance. Mystery. Lighthouses. Miranda Schuyler has returned to Winthrop Island in the Long Island Sound, where she once fell in love with the handsome Joseph Vargas... until a catastrophe that shattered both of their lives. Now, all these years later, Joseph has escaped from prison, and it's up to Miranda to find the truth and bring justice to Winthrop, even if it means revisiting the most volatile summer of her life.