Although dukes and billionaires have long dominated the romance landscape, a new series from Forever, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing, is adding polo players to its stable of romance heroes. The publisher has acquired the Polo Season, a series of romance novels set against the “high-society
glamour” of the international polo circuit.
The series will be marketed using the name and image of Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras, captain of the Argentine Black Watch polo team and the epitome of tall, dark and dreamy. He is probably best known to American readers as the face of the Ralph Lauren Polo brand.
The books promise “the thrill of competition, the clink of champagne glasses and celebrities of all kinds,” according to the news release announcing the partnership, along with “all the dishy glam of a Jackie Collins novel combined with the heart of Elin Hilderbrand and the heat of Jill Shalvis.”
Romance novels with sports themes are not new. Football and hockey romances regularly find themselves on national bestseller lists. Sports and romance branding isn’t unique, either. In 2006, Harlequin began publishing category romances under the NASCAR brand. Polo, however, with its low profile in American sports, seems somewhat obscure for a romance series.
“Is there a left field in polo? Because if there is, that’s where this is coming from,” says Sarah Wendell, founder of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, a Web site specializing in reviewing romance novels. She adds, “But new ideas are one of the ways the romance genre changes . . . and this is definitely a new idea.”
Note: There is no left field in polo.
The books are written by Jessica Whitman, which is a pseudonym. The publisher discloses that she “lives and writes in the Hudson Valley.” Her stories follow a legendary Argentine polo-playing family “throughout Europe, to San Tropez, the Hamptons, Los Angeles and around the globe,” says Leah Hultenschmidt, editorial director of the imprint. Hultenschmidt acknowledges that she knew little about the sport before working with Figueras, but she is taken with it now. “Polo has all the elements of any other sport we love: bantering back and forth in a team atmosphere, very athletic guys, and an added level of escapism in a glamorous, super-competitive world.”
Figueras explains polo’s allure in “High Season,” the first book in the series, expected to appear in May. “There is something very sexy about a man and a horse and the speed and the adrenaline,” he writes. “It’s very appealing for women. That’s a fact.”
“High Season” is set mostly in Florida at the training ground of a fictional polo team, comprised in part by handsome Argentine brothers (none named Nacho). “It’s a fish-out-of-water story,” Hultenschmidt says. “The heroine is a horse veterinarian from Upstate New York who is forced into the glitzy world of polo.”
This combination of small-town heroine and cosmopolitan hero is a romance trope that speaks to readers. Between a global obsession with Prince Harry in his polo uniform (complete with riding crop) and the wild success of billionaire romance heroes (riding crop optional), polo just might be a welcome addition to the genre. Grand Central is so certain that the series will appeal to a wide swath of book lovers that it is releasing the first three books in May, June and July 2016, in mass-market and trade paperback.
It doesn’t hurt that Figueras, often described as the David Beckham of polo, is what Hultenschmidt describes as “a real-life romance hero.” He writes of his first meeting with his wife, model Delfina Blaquier: “I looked at her and she looked at me and we looked at each other.”
They were at a polo match.
MacLean is the author of historical romance novels and reviews romances every month for The Washington Post.