Clandestine societies have been around as long as people of marginalized identities have needed to operate outside social norms. In historical romance as in life, those people are often women, and the importance of mutual support is evident in several forthcoming historicals.
These books “reflect women’s desire to form communities to make the world safer, to move their careers, and to help care for their children, especially in these times,” says Esi Sogah, executive editor at Kensington Books, who acquired Vanessa Riley’s Rogues and Remarkable Women series. In the real world, Sogah says, as systems have failed, “we’re going out and finding like-minded people and doing it ourselves. Women, romance’s primary audience, are especially drawn to that.”
Here, we look at a quartet of historicals that marry intrigue and a feminist ethos.
Duchess If You Dare
This Regency romp kicks off the adventures of the Maidens of Mayhem, crime-fighting and wrongs-righting heroines who are part Batman, part Robin Hood. When Scarlett Wynn, a Maiden who has lived a hardscrabble life, begins investigating the murder of a London seamstress, she meets Ambrose Cross, the Duke of Aylesford, who is solving a deadly mystery of his own. The pair discover the two crimes are linked to a string of missing women and, despite their class difference, develop a deep attraction.
An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler
In the sequel to June’s A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby, Riley’s “bewitching Regency series opener” (per PW’s starred review), Jemina St. Maur, a shipwreck survivor with amnesia who works as a personal maid in London, and barrister Daniel Thackery, a member of the nobility with a scandalous past, confront mistaken identities and common adversaries with the help of the Widow’s Grace, a secret mutual aid society for widows. Jemina’s character is Jamaican, and the book grapples with colonialism through its multiracial romantic plotline.
Everett’s debut launches a series centered on a secret social club for female scientists, founded by Lady Violet Hughes. When a mysterious threat infiltrates her laboratories, putting her work and her life at risk, Lady Violet and her brooding bodyguard, Arthur Kneland, join forces in the streets—and between the sheets—to make Victorian London safe for women in STEM.
Someone Wanton His Way Comes
The first installment of the Wantons of Waverton series sees Lady Sylvia Elton, who was two-timed by her late husband, establish the Mismatch Society for scorned or betrayed women. The group’s goal: to rescue young women from their inevitable, ill-considered marriages. Clayton Kearsley, the Viscount St. John, detests the organization but is also falling for its ringleader, an old flame. This Regency doubles down on popular tropes with a second-chance, enemies-to-lovers romance.