At their best, romance novels are more than great love stories; they are great love stories intertwined with the best of other genres. These tales seduce readers with the edge of thrillers, the fantasy of science fiction, the lushness of historical fiction and the poignancy of coming-of-age stories, all while keeping love at the heart of the story. This month, three authors show how it’s done.
The Irresistible Rogue (St. Martin’s; paperback, $7.99), by Valerie Bowman, is part historical romance, part spy novel. Lady Daphne Swift is about to live the dream of every Regency-era miss and not a small number of their modern-day counterparts: She’s to marry an earl. There’s only one problem. Daphne is already married to Capt. Rafferty Cavendish (“Rafe”), the eponymous rogue and top-notch British spy. Daphne is also a rather skilled spy herself. In fact, this is what led the pair to their sham marriage in the first place. Rafe requires Daphne’s help on a new mission and offers her a trade: her cooperation in return for an annulment. The story that unfolds is filled with humor, a twisting plot and the vibrant characters that have become Bowman’s hallmark. The chemistry between Rafe and Daphne is near-perfect, and their secret marriage ups the ante. The will-they-won’t-they back-and-forth is exactly what romance readers want, and the simultaneous tale of deceit, revenge and espionage makes it all the more rewarding.
Science fiction meets romance in Alyssa Cole’s Mixed Signals (Carina; e-book, $3.49), the third in her “Off the Grid” post-apocalyptic romance series. It’s been four years since “the Flare” destroyed the world’s power grid, leaving the United States in shambles. Martial law has been implemented, and those lucky enough to have survived the immediate aftermath are just beginning to pick up the pieces. Maggie Seong is leaving for college, among the first to return to this particular piece of normalcy. Her family has allowed Maggie to go largely because military hero Edwin Hernandez has agreed to act as Maggie’s bodyguard. This is friends-to-lovers romance in close quarters, and it delivers on the premise — Maggie and Edwin are sexy and engaging — but it’s in the science-fiction story line where Cole really shines. A group of neo-Luddites (think eco-terrorists) bent on stopping post-Flare reconstruction target Maggie for abduction. Post-apocalyptic or no, the setup of “Mixed Signals” seems eerily plausible, and the entwined love story will satisfy sci-fi and romance readers alike.
The second in Eva Leigh’s “The Wicked Quills of London” series, Scandal Takes the Stage (Avon; paperback, $7.99) packages all the best parts of historical fiction and wraps them up in a lovely romantic bow. The series, which began last month with the charming “Forever Your Earl,” follows a group of female English writers — prime examples of the “damned mob of scribbling women” to whom Hawthorne referred with such vitriol — as they find satisfaction in work and love during the Regency period. This story follows Maggie Delamere, a playwright with severe writer’s block. Luckily, Maggie’s biggest fan is Cameron Chalton, a handsome, unmarried viscount with a country estate that might make for a lovely writing retreat (if only all writers were so equally blessed!). Leigh is a pen name for Zoe Archer , a beloved author of steampunk, and what readers adore about Archer’s world-building is beautifully done here. Leigh’s heroines are complex, vivid characters who seem to have stepped out of an enviable time and place, and not just because of all the satisfying, sexy romance they get to have.
Sarah MacLean, who reviews romance novels for The Washington Post every month, is the author, most recently, of “Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover.”