I’ve heard from readers that gay historical romances are a tough sell—could be people who could be breaking the law by being together really find happy endings?
Yes, they did. And not just in novels.
I’m a huge history nerd, and I read all manner of romance, so seeking out gay historicals was a pretty natural thing for me to do. And there are some fantastic ones out there. I picked six, kind of at random; think of this as a jumping off point to the many others that are out there.
Bonds of Earth by G.N. Chevalier
This book is kind of a gothic romance set in Jazz Age New York, so it has this odd contrast of the characters caught in a secluded mansion juxtaposed against the excesses of the era. It’s a story of two broken men, one of them who goes to the estate of the other to tend to its gardens, though he has some experience as a masseuse as well. The book deals with the fallout from World War I, which is one of those periods in history that I think gets glossed over quite a bit, or lost in the glitz of the Jazz Age. It’s beautifully written and compelling.
Kindred Hearts by Rowan Speedwell
This was one of the first romances I ever read that dealt with the Napoleonic Wars head on. Tristan is a rakish hero, though his reputation is a façade. He is alcoholic and suicidal until he meets Charles, his wife’s brother, home from the war. How these two men can carry on with a relationship while fooling society that Tristan’s marriage is sound is a large part of the plot, but then Charles is called back to the front and both heroes end up at the Battle of Waterloo. If you’re a Regency fan, this novel is a great twist on traditional tropes.
Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen
Set around 1919, this book is largely about Sutton, recently expelled from his university for carrying on with a teacher. He lands in New York and falls in with Jack, on the surface carefree and debauched but really hurting from the death of his parents in the influenza epidemic. The two of them explore the burgeoning gay community around Times Square at night, at the dawn of the Jazz Age.
The Gentleman’s Madness by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon
You can’t really go wrong with a Bonnie Dee/Summer Devon collaboration. I had to pick one to go with for this countdown, but everything I’ve read of theirs is very good. I picked this one because it tells a different kind of story. Set in the late Victorian period, it tells the story of John, an academic who is committed to an asylum because he was caught in the arms of another man. He knows he’s not crazy, but the same can’t be said for those running the asylum, and his torture there is humiliating and painful. Relief comes in the form of a sweet attendant named Sam who sees the humanity in John.
The Enlightenment Trilogy by Joanna Chambers
Provoked, Beguiled, and Enlightened is set in 1820s Scotland, the location of a bit of political turmoil, and tells the story of David Lauriston, a lawyer, and aristocrat Murdo Balfour. In the first book, Murdo comes off a bit as a historical alpha from central casting, used to getting what he wants and fully intending to marry and procreate while continuing his affairs with men on the side. Then he meets David, who challenges him enough to start contemplating a different path. I think my favorite book is the second, in which King George IV (until recently the Prince Regent) visits Edinburgh, but all three books are excellent and rich in historical detail.
A Fashionable Indulgence by K.J. Charles
I really loved Charles’s Magpie Lord series, too, but those are more historical paranormal. This novel, a romance between a man who grew up poor but is heir to s fortune and the fashionable dandy hired to make him fit for society, is my favorite of Charles’s historicals. In a lot of ways, it’s a straightforward Regency, but it accomplishes two things that make it unique among historical romances: first, there’s a lot of historical detail and depth here, more than in many Regencies I’ve read; and 2) because both protagonists are male, they both move in male-only spaces, something I really like about gay historicals. It gives authors writing gay historicals room to tell stories we haven’t seen before, and although this book employs some recognizable tropes, Charles makes them new. I particularly like fashionable Julius, who never met a waistcoat he didn’t have an opinion about.
Hopefully, that gives you a good jumping off point. There are tons of others, many of them British-set, but gay romance authors are exploring other historical eras as well.
Kate McMurray is an award-winning romance author and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and KateMcMurray.com.