Dark vs. Lighthearted Historical Romance


The first photo is by Annie Leibovitz and the second one is from the show Northanger Abbey


I popped this question to Candice Hern: In the publishing market right now, what do you think is more popular? The dark historical romances or the lighthearted ones? Her answer was: I think it’s pretty much balanced between light and dark these days. When Julia Quinn first took off, everyone wanted light. I think there might be a slight edge for darker books now, but there are lots of both types out there. I’m now curious to know what you guys (as in, anyone who randomly drops by my blog) think about this subject. Which one do you prefer and why? (Also, list example authors along with your reason so I can check the books out later). In fact, what IS the difference between these two styles of romances?


17 thoughts on “Dark vs. Lighthearted Historical Romance

  1. I actually like both, though I think I have a slight edge toward the darker – I think I like the emotional intensity that I tend to associate with these works. Unfortunately, I haven’t really read any “dark” historical romances; most of my experience with these is in movies (Tristan + Isolde, Moulin Rouge, Pearl Harbor, etc.)

    I think I tend to look at stories that don’t have a happy ending or that, if they do, characters have a difficult road to follow, and generally they have to be faced with consequences they have made. (i.e., Tristan + Isolde and Pearl Harbor) I look at things like Pride and Prejudice as lighter – though like most things, the line between light and dark is blurred.

    I need to unpack those historical romances my friends gave me…maybe that would be a good starting point.


    • (ok this is going to be long)

      Like Steph said, I don’t think there are any TRUE dark HR like Tristain + Isolde (which made me very unhappy, btw) But there are authors who approach that side. In my head there’s a scale

      On the extremes are Stephanie Laurens, Eloisa James and Mary Jo Puntey (I may be wrong, you might not think they’re so dark). But, on the other end I find Julia Quinn, Suzanna Enoch, Celeste Bradley and Candice Hern.

      Of course, then there is the middle. I’m not sure about individual authors who fall in the middle. But, I’ve read everything by Quinn, Enoch and Bradley (except their recently published)

      Quinn- I think her The Duke and I (one of my favorites)and When He Was Wicked from her Bridgerton Series were a bit dark. And The Viscount Who Loved Me kind of falls in the middle of the middle?

      Enoch – Most of her work is lighthearted, but England’s Perfect Hero (Lessons in Love Series) and Sins of a Duke were a bit dark.

      Bradley – She hasn’t written as much as the others. She had her Liar’s Club, Royal Four, and The Heiress Brides series.

      Liar’s Club and Royal Four mix her natural humor and lightheartedness with the darkness of the plot. Especially The Pretender, The Rogue, To Wed a Scandalous Spy, One Night With a Spy and Seducing a Spy.

      Umm, there’s probably more that’ll i think of later o.O

      Personally, I tend to drift to the lighthearted because when I read HR I’m just looking for an escape. I also drift to the middle ground. But, if I do read the darker ones, I don’t read like 6 in a row.


      • Steph: “I think I like the emotional intensity that I tend to associate with these works.” I agree with you exactly; this is what I felt too about dark romances but wasn’t too sure how to word it, or if I was even right.You also mentioned that dark romances are probably ones where the ending is sad or the characters have a difficult road to follow. While listing, in my head, all the dark romances I’ve read, I ended up judging the book by the hero. If the hero is dark, tormented, cynical and such, then I found myself listing that book as a dark romance.

        Priscilla: I knew you read a lot of HR but now I realize that you’re an expert in this genre!
        For me, Stephanie Laurens and and Eloisa James are more like inbetween the dark and lighthearted romance. Maybe it’s because I haven’t read enough of their works to know. But the ones I read were relatively light in terms of conflicts. Light, as in, it wasn’t….traumatic experiences they went through. I think I’m judging these two books in such a way because I’m comparing them to the two authors who I think are very dark HR authors. One is Brenda Joyce whose book the THE RIVAL was not dark but pitch black….abusive husband, disturbed heroine, socially despised hero. It can’t get darker than that. And then there’s Judith McNaught. Her historical romances are lighthearted at times, but her story seems to be dominated by emotional conflicts that always leave me in tears.

        So, as for me, I prefer dark romances. While some might want to escape from life–I NEED a life, so I want to read about heroes and heroines who experience difficulties that I probably will never encounter. I lead a relatively dull, happy, monotonous life, therefore, I love dark historical romances. But Priscilla is right. Dark HR take so much out of me that I’m just so emotionally exhausted I can’t read any more than one per week.


  2. Aww, I’m nowhere near an expert! ^_^ I just read a lot, but thanks!

    Most of the books I mentioned I called them dark based on the Hero, but The Viscount Who Loved Me, both the hero and heroine had issues that they worked out together. (Anthony is one of my favorite heroes ever)

    But, now I need to check out The Rival. That IS a lot of drama.

    Oh, I actually forgot to mention one book and whenever anyone asks me to describe it, the only thing I can say is “emotionally draining”. Julia London’s “The Dangerous Gentleman”.

    Lol, I need a life too, but sometimes there is something as too much drama (again – The Dangerous Gentleman, I wanted to tell them, you know what? forget it! get divorced and live with the scandal! You don’t belong together!)


      • Well the “hero” is Adrian Spence and it starts after he just killed a guy in a duel. He decides to go home and hide out for a while, but home is where his very angry father (who apparently never loved him and is looking for any excuse to disown him) is. (There’s a whole subplot about Adrian’s birth.) The father wants to give everything to the fav. son Benedict. Adrian loved the estate and did a lot to help the people and stuff, If I remember correctly, Adrian was an Earl in his own right and didn’t need his father’s legacy. But, then daddy dearest uses the duel as a reason to drop him.

        Before leaving, Adrian finds out Benedict is planning on marrying Lillian, whose father is in debt and has agreed to give her away and majority ownership of his estate if Benedict pays the debts.

        So naturally *rolls eyes* to get revenge against his father, Adrian offers a better deal to the father with the condition that they marry immediately. Apparently Lillian and Adrian new each other since childhood and she’s been in love with him just as long, but he doesn’t remember her. She doesn’t want to marry Benedict anyway, so she’s ok with the new arrangement.

        She’s a little suspicious because he seems eager to marry her even though he doesn’t really know her. But, she loves him and she knows it’ll help her family, so she’s ok. The whole time he’s charming and suave, but as soon as they’re married the charm disappears. He ignores her, doesn’t even make an attempt to talk to her. He thinks she’s plain, boring, a country girl who never shuts up. And he doesn’t feel any remorse for using her. For the most part she’s optimistic, but then finds out he didn’t even know who she was when he asked for her.

        He practically avoids her during the day, but then at night it gets hot and heavy. Their first meeting had me laughing, though, because she’s was so nervous! At one point he was behind her trying to calm her while she combed her hair, then she got up too quickly and smacked her head into his chin. But, their nights are really the only time there’s anything between them because the very next day he’s back to ignoring her, but then shows up in her room the next night.

        Eventually she got tired of it and her real personality comes out, not the quiet/docile one, but the adventurous, stubborn side. It’s subtle and humorous and we see Adrian trying to control his reactions. But, he keeps ignoring her. She eventually just gives in and when they’re in bed she just lays there not doing anything, not responding. He gets mad and storms out telling her to never dishonor their marital bed like that again. Irony…did he not marry her out of spite?

        So, Adrian and Lillian have their own issues. Then, Benedict – the brothers were never close -pops up deliberately causing more problems between the couple. Usually a novel revolves around one or two misunderstandings. But, this was a pile of misunderstandings on top of another pile, buried under another pile.

        I think it was like a year later that their problems are fixed.

        I don’t know, it just really annoyed me. I just wanted it to be over – with or without their happy ending. Lol, sorry that was long. But, it really stuck with me because it was so emotionally draining – so many ups and downs! The rest of the series was better though. “Rogues of Regents Street”. I’ve read most of her HR and they’re pretty good, TDG was the only one I wasn’t a big fan of.


      • Ahh, and then the hero has his Ah-hah-I-love-her epiphany and tries to win her back, does he?

        I’ll check the series out anyway.


  3. I’ve never read any dark historical romances. But I’ve seen many movies that seem to fit that category (Age of Innocence, Tristan and Isolde, Vanity Fair) I agree with you June, when you say that you judge the book by it’s hero. I think that the characters and their problems are what makes a HR dark.

    Light ones are great too! They’re my type of pick me up, but sometimes you want drama, you want romance, you want conflict.

    So I guess in the end, it all depends on what type of mood I’m in.


    • Definately. Everything depends on the mood. Ohhh Vanity Fair, I loved that movie, because James Purefoy is in it.

      Hmmm I think Jane Eyre can be considered a dark romance.


  4. I have yet to read Wuthering Heights but I’ve seen the Masterpiece Theatre production of it. I loved that movie!

    And Vanity Fair! That’s one of my favorite movies! Johnathon Rhys Meyers’ character was my favorite.

    Ooh and Jane Eyre is the perfect example of a dark HR.


    • Oh my goodness! You should have read the book first! I can never read something after having watched the movie od it. But hopefully it won’t be the case with you.

      It is an amazing book. I read it once when I was 14. Thought it was the weirdest book ever and couldn’t understand why ANYONE would like it. But then when I read it again three years ago I was blown away and it has since been my favorite book next to Jane Eyre and Persuasion


  5. Personally, I’m a fan of light romances with lots of humour and although occasionally I’ll read a darker romance, it almost always has to be by an author I trust. But 9 out of 10 times most romances I read are of the lighter quality…what can I say, I like to laugh!


    • Yah, reading a “Regency noir” as some of the people seem to be calling it, is only a good read if the author is one I can trust. Some authors just go too far with all the dark stuff and it just becomes too much.


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