Devil in Tartan, the newest installment in Julia London’s Highland Grooms series, features a fierce heroine named Lottie Livingstone who commandeers an enemy ship when her clan is in danger. Women like Lottie who seize control of their own destiny are a staple of London’s recent romances. But she remembers a time when her own heroines had slightly less agency. Here, London looks back on her two decades’ worth of work and examines how her heroines have evolved.
When I first began to read historical romance novels, proper English misses were too polite and powerless to deny a duke’s request to dance, heroines of the South were the spoils of war carried off by Civil War soldiers, and wenches were often bound and held captive for pirates’ pleasure. As a teenager, I didn’t question these tropes. They were all perfectly acceptable to me. I bought into the idea that that a woman with no real agency had to bring the big, strong, dangerous man to his knees by her wits and beauty alone. It was all fun and games if I didn’t dwell too long on the darker side of the fantasy, like the heroine having no say in a sexual escapade or having no choice but the one the hero had determined for her.
Fortunately, the modern historical romance has evolved along with our collective thinking about relationships and the place of women in our society. In my own writing over the last two decades, my heroines have evolved dramatically. Where my typical heroine was once an innocent with no sexual experience, she is now a woman with desires of her own. She is smarter; she reaches for more. She is clever enough to navigate the patriarchal world she lives in, and if she plays her cards right, the sky is the limit for her. She can soar.
Over the years, my heroine’s sexual desires have also matured. Now both the heroine and the hero share a desire for sexual congress. She is a woman who knows what she wants. She is not innocent, but inexperienced and hungry to know the truth. Consent is no longer assumed by the hero; it is given by the heroine. Consent is key, even in a historical setting. Historical authors today are writing a different kind of heroine who lets her desires be known—she is not taken, she asks for it. She knows what she wants, she consents to what she wants, and she gets what she wants.
The hero’s desire for the heroine has also evolved. Where his desire was once centered on his fierce attraction to a beautiful woman and his primal need to hold and protect, his attraction in the modern novel is more cerebral. He’s not as superficial as he was when I was a teen. Yes, she is beautiful in his eyes, but he wants her because he recognizes that she fulfills a need in him. She accepts him for who he is, and she loves him in spite of it. She is what will complete him. She is his family. She is adored for her brains, her wit, and her heart as much as her beauty.
In the Highland Grooms series, I set out to create heroines who were sexual beings with hopes and dreams that, on the surface, seemed insurmountable given the mores and barriers of the times. I wanted these heroines to go after what they wanted, and as their reward, to have their ultimate wish fulfillment—men who adore them and champion them. The heroines may not always choose the right path, but the key is they choose. They forge their own paths, damn the consequences, and they are loved for it.
I hope you enjoy the adventures of Lottie Livingstone and Aulay Mackenzie in Devil in Tartan. She is a great example of a woman who made choices that were right for her and her clan, and no one could stop her, even when those choices could very well see her hanged. That’s not something you would have seen in the romance novels of my teens.
Julia London is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of more than 30 romance fiction novels. She is the author of the popular Cabot Sisters historical series, including The Trouble with Honor, The Devil Takes a Bride, and The Scoundrel and the Debutante. She is also the author of several contemporary romances, including Homecoming Ranch, Return to Homecoming Ranch, and The Perfect Homecoming. Julia is the recipient of the RT Bookclub Award for Best Historical Romance and a six-time finalist for the prestigious RITA® Award for excellence in romantic fiction. She lives in Austin, Texas.