Romance readers are known for being particularly voracious, and while fans of historicals certainly have plenty to choose from, those looking for LGBTQ romances don’t have the same quantity of options. Cat Sebastian is one of the authors hoping to change that. The Ruin of a Rake is her third queer historical romance, featuring a bisexual rogue and tightly-laced gay gentleman. To celebrate the book’s release, Sebastian recommended five must-read LGBTQ historical romances. We’d advise immediately adding these to your TBR pile, and then indulging in all three of Sebastian’s sizzling novels.
Historical fiction at its best can populate the past with stories that wouldn’t or couldn’t otherwise be told, giving us a glimpse into lives that are too often erased and outright denied. Especially for marginalized groups, historical fiction can be a chance to remind ourselves that we’ve always been here, that we belong, and that our stories are worth telling. LGBTQ historical romance not only tells these stories but guarantees happy endings for characters who, on the rare occasions they make their way into mainstream fiction, too often die or are cast as villains. Here are some of my favorite LGBTQ historical romances, in no particular order.
Harper Fox‘s Brothers of the Wild North Sea is the story of an injured Viking who falls in love with the monk who rescues him. The characters are complex and finely drawn, and the setting (a stark and wind-swept Northumbrian monastery that’s not quite Lindisfarne) is evocative. There’s a touch of mysticism as a prophet and a witch weave in and out of the story. The narrative never flags, but it moves slowly enough to explore how the characters’ world views change through meeting and eventually loving one another.
Pembroke Park is a rare lesbian Regency romance; it was written in the 80s, isn’t available in digital, and even used paperbacks aren’t cheap (but it’s worth every penny). In the dedication, the author acknowledges that her intention is to write in the same vein as Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, but with lesbians (not to mention several other LGBTQ characters present in the background). The prose is always witty and occasionally hilarious.
This book tells the story of Victorian era ghost hunter Simon Feximal, as recounted by his John Watson-esque companion and biographer, Robert, who publishes Simon’s adventures while concealing the true nature of their relationship. Robert laments that “in writing Simon’s stories, I have written myself out of my own life.” This sense of being written out of history feels like a reflection on the toll secrecy took on queer people, and contributes to the poignancy of this novel.
Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith might not properly be a romance novel, but it does have a happy ending, so I’m including it. A pickpocket falls in love with a lady she’s trying to defraud—except that isn’t what happens at all. It takes place in a dark and twisted Victorian England that feels both recognizably Dickensian and a plausible backdrop for two women to find love despite layers of deceit.
The protagonists of Anna Cowan’s gorgeously written Untamed aren’t a same sex couple, but the hero is quite comfortable in his bisexuality and also seems to be what we’d today recognize as genderqueer. His gender presentation is at times overtly feminine while the heroine presents as slightly masculine; it is lovely and refreshing to see characters with atypical gender presentations find love and happiness.
Cat Sebastian lives in a swampy part of the South with her husband, three kids, and two dogs. Before her kids were born, she practiced law and taught high school and college writing. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s doing crossword puzzles, bird-watching, and wondering where she put her coffee cup.