I love listening to historical romances. In one episode of Friends, Chandler asks Rachel, “You’re jealous of Princess Caroline?” and Rachel whines, “Do I have my own castle?” If that doesn’t explain the allure of historical romance, I certainly can’t do any better. And if there’s anything that historical television shows like Bridgerton and Downton Abbey have proved, it’s that the voices, the accents, the arch intonations of high society and working class personalities from eras long past keep modern audiences rapt. Hearing all the voices in a historical romance immerses listeners in the author’s chosen time period and world building. As an added benefit, this group of new, historical romances focuses on marginalized perspectives in history, including the roles of women and the effects of colonialism.
Nonstop adventure is the hallmark of THE SECRET SERVICE OF TEA AND TREASON by India Holton, read by Elizabeth Knowelden. Secret operatives Alice and Daniel investigate piratical involvement in a plot against Queen Victoria. Did I mention it’s a magical England? Knowelden sets a stiff, proper reading against the agile exercises of the agents to excellent effect in a way that is both comedic and exciting.
Part romance, part history lesson, ANA MARÍA AND THE FOX by Liana De la Rosa informs as it entertains. Narrator Ruby Hunt shares details about Napoleon’s invasion of Mexico as well as the effects of colonialism as Ana María and her sisters flee Mexico to London, hoping to sway British opinion regarding the war. Ana María finds her loyalties split when she becomes fascinated with Gideon Fox, a member of Parliament who has a crusade of his own to win. Hunt’s proficient Spanish and her spirited characterization of Ana will have listeners taking notice.
In a similar way, narrator Ell Potter raises important questions about the role of women in society in A MOST INTRIGUING LADY by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. Lady Mary Douglas Montagu Scott fervently wishes to be more than a wife: she longs for an identity of her own. Through her intuitive abilities, Lady Mary does just that as she successfully investigates high society crimes. Through her work, she meets Col. Walter Trefusis, a veteran and a kindred spirit who will come to rely on her abilities in a matter of national security. Potter’s lower, deliberate voice matches Lady Mary’s deeply felt yearning set against the constraints of Victorian society.
Historical views of feminism can also be found in Lorraine Heath’s THE COUNTERFEIT SCOUNDREL, narrated by Kate Reading. In the first installment of Heath’s Chessmen series, David “Bishop” Blackwood seems to be a rake and a wastrel but his involvement with married women has secret motives. When private investigator Daisy Townsend infiltrates his household, she finds him to be full of contradictions. Reading excels at male voices and at unveiling Heath’s tale one fascinating detail at a time.
Respectability is overrated in TO CATCH A RAVEN by Beverly Jenkins, read by Kim Staunton. Raven Moreau is blackmailed into teaming up with Braxton Steel to liberate a copy of the Declaration of Independence from a state senator in South Carolina. Themes of racism and self worth are elegantly woven into Jenkins’s story set in the 1870s. Staunton succeeds in being simultaneously clear with historical details, casual in intimate dialogue, and entertaining throughout.
Narrator Martyn Swain’s narration of THE SECRET LIVES OF COUNTRY GENTLEMEN by KJ Charles opens up the world of Romney Marsh and the Doomsday smuggling clan in chilling fashion. Gareth and Joss have a brief liaison in London, not expecting that they will reunite in Kent after Gareth inherits a baronetcy from his estranged father and Joss continues his work as the head of the Doomsday clan. Swain picks his way through Charles’s text as if he is carefully finding footing through the treacherous marshlands, mindful of the pitfalls facing both characters. The marsh and its inhabitants are brought beautifully to life with Swain's accents, and listeners will be rooting for Joss and Gareth to find their happy ending.