Yes, yes, yes, I know I’ve already grumbled about the odd creature that is the romance novella. My main beef is the length, obviously—how difficult it already is to establish a credible romance worthy of its Happily Ever After in a full-length novel, what more in a breathless rush. I’ve grown privy with the methods writers use, most commonly making the H/h have a shared history, or thrown-together forced circumstances. I’ve also come to realize that it’s easier to get away with it when the novellas are erotic in nature: H/h getting jiggy with it seems to feel truer (or, at least, feels as though the romance follows rational paths) in a contemporary setting.
And then, just like that, lightbulb moment: I should read historical romance novellas, if I still wanted to read shorter romances—and I do [and I don’t know why I still do].
And here came It Happened One Season, which included a nice balance of authors both known and unknown to me, and a gimmick I could ride with: the four novellas would have the same premises, or, at least, conditions:
- The hero is the younger brother of a titled lord. He’s a war veteran, and has been living as a hermit/recluse/brooding yum since then.
- He’s got to marry to ensure succession, because his brother has only had daughters.
- And, lest you think it’s all about them guys, the heroine must be shy or unattractive [rationally or otherwise], had never had a suitor, or is, basically, firmly on the shelf [rationally or otherwise].
Okay, that looks fun. I envy the winner for the winning trope formula, actually. Imagine if the editors had chosen me! [Or, well, imagine if I had joined and then the editors had chosen me!] Let’s see—the hero is Lord Angsty McAngst [because of some sad happenstance in his past, naturally] who’s taken a retreat from life, penning Gothic novels under a female pseudonym; the heroine has read a novel or two by Minerva McGonagall, um, Rauschenberg [though it’s up to the author whether heroine’s enjoyed them]. Or, the hero and heroine meet during a very sunny day, the heroine is a duke’s daughter, on the run from her overbearing parents and the crazy peerage, the hero has a fondness for turnips. Or or or—the heroine is this girl who never smiles: either she’s just plain cold, or reserved, or scarred, or somber, or she’s got bad teeth, whatever; the hero is a rake who’s lost a bet and must make Lady Gloomy over there smile, in full view of the ton; the heroine has a pet stump—Okay, I will stop now.
So. Onto a quick recap of the novellas themselves. I am going to be really bad at this. Aherm. Stephanie Laurens’ The Seduction of Sebastian Trantor has our hero and heroine pretend they’re engaged to catch a bad guy. I have grown to blargh this catch-a-bad-guy plot. Maybe because the preoccupation leaves little room to flesh out the actual romance? Because you know that the bad guy usually poses a flimsy threat? I mean, yeah, this is a serviceable novella—and Laurens’ even managed to explore the plot given the limits of the length—but, well, it’s nothing spectacular.
When I began reading Mary Balogh’s Only Love, I wrote, Now we’re getting into the swing of things. Especially considering the last Balogh I read was a total bust. This one involves a widow, one who hasn’t been given much reason to believe in herself, her worth. It’s an okay novel, with lots of squee-y tender moments, lots of swoon-worthy scenes.
And then I read Jacqui D’Alessandro. With the resolution that I really liked historical romance better came its companion: I really am a sucker for the terse, brooding hero, who’s got his fair share of charm. [After all, I raised myself on Edward Rochester.] In Hope Springs Eternal—the novella I liked best in the anthology—the hero is a yummy-cold, angst-much, “I’ve got responsibilities!” kind of guy, while the heroine is one of the quirkiest heroines I’ve ever come across. The author, in so few pages, manages to include details where they clash, jive, and those that manage to capture their growing love for each other. Wee. I really liked this one—I wanted it to be a full-length novel, dammit, because I just wanted more. Hell, I’ll definitely look for more of D’Alessandro in the future—I’ve already spotted a couple in the bookstore, and it’s only a matter of time before I snag one up.
With Candice Hern’s Fate Strikes a Bargain, the graver tone set by D’Alessandro is carried on, even with a scarred, antisocial soldier, and a lame, outcast lady of the ton. It’s such an honest relationship, one that began most peculiarly but progressed very very nicely. Our hero’s brutally honest, but that’s what our heroine wants, after a lifetime of averted eyes or coddling or thinly disguised condescension because of her bad hip. Argh, and how he keeps “saving” her in his own gruff way. By taking her on walks, mostly. Basta!
I think the best surprise about this collection was that, although Laurens and Balogh are both known to me—and I have, at a time, considered them favorites—I felt that their stories, though good, paled in comparison to new-to-me D’Alessandro and Hern. Time to shine, indeed. I really like the last two’s novellas best, and it may just be a matter of personal taste. I mean, both are darker, or graver, definitely more angsty and intense. The characters were markedly more complex. Also, well, they’re sexier. Hurhur.
So. I don’t know how to possibly conclude this post. Um. Yeah. Any collective of four historical romance writers want to take a shot at my pitches up there? Nope? Yeah, thought so.
PSA: I bought It Happened One Season [PhP315], an anthology of romance novellas from Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacqui D’Alessandro and Candice Hern, from National Bookstore Katipunan.