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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

LGBTQIA+ Historical Romances

By Amy Blay, Rhys Wright, Shan Heyworth and Rosie Green

With all the excitement around Netflix’s Bridgerton series, what better time to indulge in some historical romance books? This article gathers a selection of titles with LGBTQIA+ representation that are sure to shoot to the top of your TBR (to be read) list!

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

A new job. A hostile colleague. A secret, magical bureaucracy. A deadly curse.

Robin Blyth already had enough on his plate with the pressures of caring for his sister and handling the weight of his late father’s title. But after taking up what he thought was a minor governmental post, Robin’s eyes are opened to the beautiful, yet dangerous, world of magic hidden beneath him.

A curse and a mysterious, missing predecessor throw Robin and the cold Edwin Courcey together in a search for answers that will decide Robin’s fate. Along the way, they uncover a chilling plot that puts every magician in the British Isles at risk … and a secret that some have already died to keep.

The first instalment of The Last Binding trilogy and Marske’s debut, A Marvellous Light was a Sunday Times bestseller with its touching queer romance set in a cleverly constructed alternative Edwardian England. Described by Rick Riordan as “Downton Abbey with magic and gay romance,” A Marvellous Light is the perfect read for those who wish for a historical romance with extra thrills.

The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault

Queer historical romances have a longer history than you might expect, and an early entry that stands the test of time is the first of Mary Renault’s ancient Greek novels. Published in 1956, The Last of the Wine is an enthralling story of gay love and coming of age during the Peloponnesian War.

It follows the childhood and early adulthood of Alexias, a young Athenian living during the long-running war with Sparta. Crossing paths with a who’s who of historical figures including Socrates, Xenophon and Plato, he falls in love with Lysis, a fellow student of Socrates. The two of them go on to fight for Athens while the society around them begins to crumble.

It’s the first of many novels by Renault that depicts queerness in the ancient world as a normal part of life and as not defined by modern conceptions of sexuality. As well as having a gripping story, it’s also a meticulous work of historical fiction that brings classical Greece to life through incredible detail. The culture, politics and philosophy of the time are all intricately presented, and Renault also doesn’t shy away from showing some of the harsh realities of life in the ancient world.

Having influenced authors such as Sarah Waters, Douglas Stuart and Madeline Miller, Renault’s work casts a large shadow across the queer historical romance genre, and The Last of the Wine still stands as a foundational text and a captivating romance.

Learned by Heart by Emma Donoghue

The life of Anne Lister, known as “the first modern lesbian,” is documented in her famous

diaries and has been adapted into several books as well as a TV show, but Emma Donoghue explores the perspective of Lister’s first love, Eliza Raine. Set in a boarding school in early 19th-century York, Learned by Heart is a fictional account of their relationship, interspersed with letters from Eliza to Anne that date from a decade after the events of the novel.

Eliza, the orphan daughter of an English father and Indian mother, feels like an outsider at the Manor School where the numerous rules and customs make little sense to her. When a new girl arrives, boisterously challenging the expectations of how a girl is to behave, Eliza is immediately taken by her and the two quickly strike up a close friendship which slowly develops into romance.

Donoghue’s prose is beautiful and evocative, and the novel is exceptionally well researched; as readers become immersed in the historical setting as well as the intense teenage romance, they can easily picture the little details of the girls’ everyday lives. Donoghue also explores the racial and gendered dynamics of the period, and the events of the novel are set against the background of British colonialism and war. Learned by Heart is a captivating and imaginative rendition of queer history, a beautiful example of one of several queer historical novels in Donoghue’s repertoire.

The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle by Neil Blackmore

Benjamin Bowen has lived a sheltered life; the son of Dutch and Welsh parents, he and his brother were raised on books and philosophy and their parents’ dream of being accepted into English society. However, the Grand Tour of Europe they embark on to enter this society only throws the entire dream into question as Benjamin realises that People of Quality will never accept the sons of merchant foreigners – and that he has little desire to be accepted by them anyway.

Enter Horace Lavelle.

Charming, intelligent, gorgeous and utterly opposite to the kinds of people Benjamin’s parents wanted him to meet, he is swept up in Lavelle’s wake as they travel through 18th-century Italy. Irreverent and occasionally cruel, Lavelle’s unexpected moments of vulnerability show their relationship shifting from one-sided idolatry to an intimacy, with Benjamin wondering if he is there to save Lavelle as much as Lavelle is there to save him.

Flowing smoothly from funny and emotional to tender and heartbreaking, Blackmore follows Benjamin’s journey through Europe and through all that love has to offer, including the changes, choices and chances it can bring and how they shape Benjamin’s life. Shortlisted for the Polari Prize, this is a novel every bit as intoxicating as its titular character.



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