Sophie Jordan Discusses the Historical Romance Novel: Then and Now

Bestselling Author Sophie Jordan recaps her experiences with romance novels and how the genre has changed over the years.

The first historical romance I read I filched from my grandmother’s nightstand. I was probably younger than I should have been – maybe twelve – but growing up with elder siblings made me older than my actual years. And having read every single Sweet Valley High, I was hungry for good material.

Cracking open Grandma’s book, I had no idea what was in store. My mind greedily drank the epic story of love in the faintly yellowed pages. I had never read the like. Flowery prose, lush historical backdrops, romance (in all its graphic splendor), and adventure. My eyes had been opened and I would never go back.

There was something about that fat four to five hundred page book that enthralled me. The cover depicted a gorgeous fiery-haired temptress in an enormous gown. I don’t know what was bigger – her hair or the gown. And I don’t know what was hotter, the blazing Louisiana sun or the dark haired hero with muscles on muscles.

Perhaps it was destiny that I would one day take pen to hand and attempt to write my own. But that would be two decades later, and the books I would write would be different in many ways from the historical romance novels of my youth.

Few are the books with American settings that I glutted upon in my teen years. Gone are the tomes that number close to five hundred pages -- rich in history and subplots. No more are the forceful heroes and naïve heroines that were often victims of their situations rescued the hero.

Today’s historical romance novel is a different beast. They reflect today’s woman. In that sense, historical romance novels, ironically, embody the contemporary.

Today’s woman does it all ... wants it all. Career, romance, family. This makes for a very busy lifestyle. Current romance novels are faster-paced, read less like a history lesson and focus more on the interaction between the hero and heroine. They typically fall under four hundred pages. Readers want romance and emotion delivered swiftly and satisfyingly. Face it, this is the age of immediate gratification. Current historical romances get to the point quick – introducing the hero and heroine and throwing them together lickety-split for page after page of steamy tension. Is there anything more marvelous? 

British-set historicals have gained in popularity, depicting a romanticized time where heroines rise as counterparts to their strong heroes. The lofty, elegant backdrop of British-set historical appeal to me as both a reader and writer. Nothing says “Calgon, take me away” more than this era of glittering ballrooms with its elegant ladies and sexy Darcy-like lords. In this constrained world of refinement, it’s greatly satisfying to witness the prim lady and brooding lord come together as equals and fall to their knees for each other. 

All this is a natural manifestation of our day and age – of wholly unique women who take what they want and carve their own destinies to reach their own happily ever after. Whatever anyone may say, historical romances honor the empowered woman. More than ever, these books are about me. About you.

I’ve enjoyed them for the last few decades of my life and I fully expect to enjoy writing and reading them for years to come.


Learn more about Ms. Jordan's current release In Scandal They Wed - an RT BOOK REVIEWS April Top Pick.