13 Must-Read Historical Romance Novels

In this post, we’ll explore the oft-ignored genre of historical romance. Here are 13 of the most popular historical romances of all time. You’ll see some titles you recognize, and some will be new to you, but hopefully they’ll all make your to-read list!

13. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Book Description:

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord . . . 1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

 “A grand adventure written on a canvas that probes the heart, weighs the soul and measures the human spirit across [centuries].” – CNN, on The Fiery Cross
“The large scope of the novel allows Gabaldon to do what she does best, paint in exquisite detail the lives of her characters.” – Booklist, on A Breath of Snow and Ashes

 

12. Emma by Jane Austen

Book Description:

Emma, by Jane Austen, is a novel about youthful hubris and the perils of misconstrued romance. The novel was first published in December 1815. As in her other novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of genteel women living in Georgian-Regency England; she also creates a lively comedy of manners among her characters.

Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” In the very first sentence she introduces the title character as “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich.” Emma, however, is also rather spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray.

 “I am unsure whether Emma or Persuasion is Austen’s best novel. Other’s are funnier (Pride & Prejudice); others more expansive (Sense & Sensibility). Perhaps it is the more serious notes in these two I like so much. By rights we shouldn’t like Emma at all. Spoiled, full of herself and her opinions and more then a bit patronizing, it is a testimony to Austen’s skill as a writer that we like her at all, much less grow fond of her as most do.
It is the contrast to goody-two-shoes Jane Fairfax that saves her from censor. Jane is such a Mary Sue we forgive much waiting for her denouement and deliverance into Mr. Knightley’s arms. – Laurence R. Bachmann”

 

11. The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

Book Description:

Can there be any greater challenge to London’s Ambitious Mamas than an unmarried duke?—Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers, April 1813

By all accounts, Simon Basset is on the verge of proposing to his best friend’s sister—the lovely and almost-on-the-shelf—Daphne Bridgerton. But the two of them know the truth—it’s all an elaborate ruse to keep Simon free from marriage-minded society mothers. And as for Daphne, surely she will attract some worthy suitors now that it seems a duke has declared her desirable.

But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, it’s hard to remember that their courtship is a sham. Maybe it’s his devilish smile, certainly it’s the way his eyes seem to burn every time he looks at her . . . but somehow Daphne is falling for the dashing duke . . . for real! And now she must do the impossible and convince the handsome rogue that their clever little scheme deserves a slight alteration, and that nothing makes quite as much sense as falling in love.

“The Duke and I is rich with author Julia Quinn’s trademark humor and engaging dialogue. Beneath the Regency charm of this novel, however, dwells an insightful exploration of the impact of childhood trauma and the healing power of love. Quinn just keeps getting better and better, a fact that’s sure to delight readers.” – Lois Faye Dyer
“Quinn has a smart, funny touch… That’s reminiscent of Helen Fielding.” – Time Magazine

 

10. A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught

Book Description:

#1 bestselling author Judith McNaught dazzles with this beloved romantic classic, “one of the best ever” (Rendezvous), in which two defiant hearts clash over a furious battle of wills in a glorious age of chivalry.

Abducted from her convent school, headstrong Scottish beauty Jennifer Merrick does not easily surrender to Royce Westmoreland, Duke of Claymore. Known as “The Wolf,” his very name strikes terror in the hearts of his enemies. But proud Jennifer will have nothing to do with the fierce English warrior who holds her captive, this handsome rogue who taunts her with his blazing arrogance. Boldly she challenges his will—until the night he takes her in his powerful embrace, awakening in her an irresistible hunger. And suddenly Jennifer finds herself ensnared in a bewildering web…a seductive, dangerous trap of pride, passion, loyalty, and overwhelming love.

“This is a delightful, yet at the same time heart-wrenching, story of love, loyalty and betrayal. McNaught will move you to laughter and then to tears and back to laughter again.. smoothly, beautifully and effortlessly. Her mastery of prose is truly splendid.” – Layla Halabi

 

9. The Bride by Julie Garwood

Book Description:

By edict of the king, the mighty Scottish laird Alec Kincaid must take an English bride. His choice was Jamie, youngest daughter of Baron Jamison…a feisty, violet-eyed beauty. Alec ached to touch her, to tame her, to possess her…forever. But Jamie vowed never to surrender to this highland barbarian.
He was everything her heart warned against—an arrogant scoundrel whose rough good looks spoke of savage pleasures. And thought Kincaid’s scorching kisses fired her blood, she brazenly resisted him…until one rapturous moment quelled their clash of wills, and something far more dangerous than desire threatened to conquer her senses…

I was so thrilled to have found Julie Garwood- in particular “The Bride.” It is wonderful to not have one of those stories where the woman is treated less than kindly until the very end where the man vows undying love and all is forgiven. Give me Julie’s strong yet gentle, voracious yet tender men any day! Her imagery is rich, her dialog funny and charming! I’ve now read every book she has ever published. The Bride is a good place to start. – Sarah Way

 


 

8. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Book Description:

Since its original publication in 1936, Gone With the Wind—winner of the Pulitzer Prize and one of the bestselling novels of all time—has been heralded by readers everywhere as The Great American Novel.

Widely considered The Great American Novel, and often remembered for its epic film version, Gone With the Wind explores the depth of human passions with an intensity as bold as its setting in the red hills of Georgia. A superb piece of storytelling, it vividly depicts the drama of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

This is the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled, manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who arrives at young womanhood just in time to see the Civil War forever change her way of life. A sweeping story of tangled passion and courage, in the pages of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell brings to life the unforgettable characters that have captured readers for over seventy years.

“Gone with the Wind” is one of those rare books that we never forget. We read it when we’re young and fall in love with the characters, then we watch the film and read the book again and watch the film again and never get tired of revisiting an era that is the most important in our history. Rhett and Scarlet and Melanie and Ashley and Big Sam and Mammy and Archie the convict are characters who always remain with us, in the same way that Twain’s characters do. No one ever forgets the scene when Scarlet wanders among the wounded in the Atlanta train yard; no one ever forgets the moment Melanie and Scarlet drag the body of the dead Federal soldier down the staircase, a step at a time. “Gone with the Wind” is an epic story. Anyone who has not read it has missed one of the greatest literary experiences a reader can have.” – James Lee Burke, bestselling author of “The Tin Roof Blowdown”

 

7. Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Book Description:

Lyric and sensual, D.H. Lawrence’s last novel is one of the major works of fiction of the twentieth century. Filled with scenes of intimate beauty, explores the emotions of a lonely woman trapped in a sterile marriage and her growing love for the robust gamekeeper of her husband’s estate. Perhaps the most famous of Lawrence’s novels, the 1928 Lady Chatterley’s Lover is no longer distinguished for the once-shockingly explicit treatment of its subject matter–the adulterous affair between a sexually unfulfilled upper-class married woman and the game keeper who works for the estate owned by her wheelchaired husband. Now that we’re used to reading about sex, and seeing it in the movies, it’s apparent that the novel is memorable for better reasons: namely, that Lawrence was a masterful and lyrical writer, whose story takes us bodily into the world of its characters. The book’s power, complexity, and psychological intricacy make this a completely original work—a triumph of passion, an erotic celebration of life.

“Nobody concerned with the novel in our century can afford not to read it.” – Lawrence Durrell
“No one ever wrote better about the power struggles of sex and love.” – Doris Lessing

 

6. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Book Description:

A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel tells with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha.

Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men’s solicitude and the money that goes with it.

In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.

“Captivating, minutely imagined . . . a novel that refuses to stay shut.” – Newsweek
“A haunting tale of a hidden world that could hold an audience spellbound through many an evening in a lantern-lit teahouse.” – Geraldine Brooks

 

5. Mine Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description:

When an unexpected inheritance elevates her family to the ranks of the aristocracy, Amelia Hathaway discovers that tending to her younger sisters and wayward brother was easy compared to navigating the intricacies of the ton. Even more challenging: the attraction she feels for the tall, dark, and dangerously handsome Cam Rohan.

Wealthy beyond most men’s dreams, Cam has tired of society’s petty restrictions and longs to return to his “uncivilized” Gypsy roots. When the delectable Amelia appeals to him for help, he intends to offer only friendship—but intentions are no match for the desire that blindsides them both. But can a man who spurns tradition be tempted into that most time-honored arrangement: marriage? Life in London society is about to get a whole lot hotter…

“There’s something just so special about a historical romance done the Lisa Kleypas way. Light, yet with substance. So much sexual passion and yet such tender love. Her books are always a delightful escape and her heroes are always so sigh-worthy.” – UniquieMoi, Goodreads.com
“Mine Till Midnight is another example of Kleypas’ skill as a writer. I know many readers count on her for a good read, and this new book can be relied upon to provide it.” – Jane Granville

 

4. A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux

Book Description:

Once upon a time… as a fair maiden lay weeping upon a cold tombstone, her heartfelt desire was suddenly made real before her: tall, broad of shoulder, attired in gleaming silver and gold, her knight in shining armor had come to rescue his damsel in distress…

Hailed worldwide as one of the most romantic novels of all time, Jude Deveraux’s dazzling bestseller “will capture your heart—and hold it” (Daily Herald, Chicago) with its breathtaking tale of lovely Dougless Montgomery; her savior knight, Nicholas Stafford, Earl of Thornwyck; and the timeless adventure of passion and memory, danger and desire that sweeps them into each other’s arms.

“A glorious love story that spans centuries, worlds, and souls….A Knight In Shining Armor will capture your heart — and hold it.” – Chicago Daily Herald
“Rare and simply delightful…poignant, sensual….This unique story will capture your heart, make you laugh, cry, and wish this could come true.” – Romantic Times

 

3. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Book Description:

The story begins in 1915 when Paddy Cleary moves his wife and seven children to an Australian sheep station. It ends after World War II when the only survivor of the third generation sets a course of life and love halfway round the world from her roots.

One of the most beloved novels of all time, The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough’s sweeping family saga of dreams, titanic struggles, dark passions, and forbidden love in the Australian Outback, returns to enthrall a new generation.

“This is a truly a great and classic novel. I do not bestow these oft-overused adjectives lightly. This is a story of deep, rich, and forbidden love, betrayal, tragedy, and ambition. This is a truly wonderful story set primarily in Australia, circa 1915 and then spanning several generations to the post World War II era. McCullough writes a sprawling story which primarily centers on the forbidden love between an extraordinary woman and a good but ambitious priest.” – Roger J. Bluffington, Amazon.com

 


 

2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Book Description:

When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the North of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South Gaskell skilfully fused individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale created one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

“A really remarkable picture of the reality, as well as the prosperity, of northern industrial life, and an interesting examination of changing social conscience.”  – Joanna Trollope, author, Second Honeymoon
“One of the most perceptive novels of the mid-Victorian era.”  – Glasgow Herald

 

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Book Description:

Pride and Prejudice is a novel of manners by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of the British Regency. Elizabeth is the second of five daughters of a country gentleman living near the fictional town of Meryton in Hertfordshire, near London.

Set in England in the early 19th century, Pride and Prejudice tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s five unmarried daughters after the rich and eligible Mr. Bingley and his status-conscious friend, Mr. Darcy, have moved into their neighbourhood. While Bingley takes an immediate liking to the eldest Bennet daughter, Jane, Darcy has difficulty adapting to local society and repeatedly clashes with the second-eldest Bennet daughter, Elizabeth.

Though Austen set the story at the turn of the 19th century, it retains a fascination for modern readers, continuing near the top of lists of “most loved books.” It has become one of the most popular novels in English literature, selling over 20 million copies, and receives considerable attention from literary scholars. Modern interest in the book has resulted in a number of dramatic adaptations and an abundance of novels and stories imitating Austen’s memorable characters or themes.

“I first read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice when I was in high school. I wondered what relevance a social comedy set in the English countryside at the end of the 18th century could possibly have to a citified black girl in the 1970’s. I was quickly hooked by the flawed, wonderfully drawn characters, the razor-sharp picture of an oppressively class-bound culture, and the strong woman at the center who skillfully wove her way through all the genteel perils. I read Pride and Prejudice about once every five years, swept away by the witty developments as Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy struggle to love and acceptance.” – Mary C. Curtis, The Charlotte Observer