Romance for the Resistance: A Primer

It’s so hard to balance principled resistance with self-care and necessary breaks from The Self-Sustaining Dumpster Fire. Sometimes you need direct confrontation with the world, and sometimes you need escape. I’ve been having trouble with purely escapist stuff, though — my brain just seems to slide right off it, sensing the real emergency is elsewhere. I suspect I’m not alone in this, so I’ve compiled the following list of semi-escapist romances.

These are all things I’ve read for fun on my own, so it skews heavily in the direction of m/f historical and historical fantasy — I’ll be adding other lists with broader recs over the course of the year as I dive into my ebook backlog and other places.

  • Daughters of a Nation (Kianna Alexander, Piper Huguley, Lena Hart, Alyssa Cole): This anthology has received plenty of buzz but it’s a privilege to add to the chorus. Alyssa Cole’s Let Us Dream was a personal standout for me (cabaret scene in 1900s New York is my literary catnip) but don’t miss Piper Huguley’s sharp and funny story based on Frances Ellen Watkins Harper‘s real-life daughter and the Washerwomen’s War. I do wish there’d been a content note for sexual assault early in Lena Hart’s opening story — so I’m adding one here.
  • Let it Shine (Alyssa Cole): Civil Rights-era protest romance with a black heroine and a Jewish hero. Heart-wrenching and gorgeous. You know what? Let’s just read all the Alyssa Cole there is.
  • Congress of Secrets (Stephanie Burgis): slow burn historical fantasy romance set in post-Napoleonic Vienna. There is a muzzled press and a secret police and a subplot with an acting troupe that absolutely gutted me. Note: there’s also magical torture that gets reasonably harrowing. I read this right after the election, in that maze of grief and shock and horror, and it was like a thread leading me out of the labyrinth.
  • The Suffragette Scandal (Courtney Milan): an outspoken suffragette with her own newspaper meets a disreputable left-for-dead-once forger intent on revenge. Sparks fly, secrets wound like knives to the gut. Even with my expectations at sky-high huzzah! Courtney Milan! levels, this one surprised and staggered me.
  • Starlight (Carrie Lofty): British-set historical. Astronomer hero. Ignore the gown on the cover — this heroine’s a union organizer in industrial Glasgow. I thought the ending pulled a few punches, but I’m in burn it to the ground mode right now.
  • The Jade Temptress (Jeannie Lin): In addition to being one of my top romances of all time (of. all. time.), this book looks hard at sex work, wage theft, police brutality, classism, and poverty. I wrote a whole spoiler-filled essay comparing this book (favorably!) to King Lear in terms of how it constructs monetary wealth and emotional labor.
  • Blades of the Rose series (Zoe Archer): Four-and-a-novella-book series about a secret society who fights to keep magical artifacts out of the hands of British imperial supremacists. Basically a Victorian Indiana Jones-type arc. Great adventure, sizzling romance, memorable characters (such as brilliant black inventor and waistcoat enthusiast Catullus Graves, hero of book four).

{Disclaimer: I chat occasionally with several of the above authors on Twitter (social media makes fangirling so easy these days) but I was not compensated for any of these recs.}

Updates will be linked here as they appear.


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3 thoughts on “Romance for the Resistance: A Primer

  1. Thanks for putting together this list. I’ll need to read more of them.

    I really don’t want to rain on your resistance parade, but re the “English-set historical […] — this heroine’s a union organizer in industrial Edinburgh,” if it’s set in Edinburgh it’s not “English-set”: Edinburgh’s the capital of Scotland. And then the book description you linked to says that “the young widower must undertake Sir William Christie’s posthumous million-dollar challenge: to make a Glasgow cotton mill profitable” and while Glasgow’s also in Scotland, it’s not Edinburgh.

  2. Great list. I still need to read Daughters of a Nation, but I loved, loved, loved Let it Shine. I’m excited for Alyssa Cole’s new release.

    I’m very late to this party, but I have a couple to add.

    I know you’re not much of an m/m fan, but KJ Charles’s Society of Gentlemen series is really good – Regency m/m trilogy set during the time of the Peterloo Massacre and government crack downs against protests. There’s a lot of class conflict – I think Charles does a really good job of portraying the upper class characters in a way that makes it obvious that I would probably hate them in real life but also making them sympathetic. My favorite is the 2nd book, A Seditious Affair – between a radical activist and a Tory who bond over rough sex and a love of books (swoon) – and it has a satisfying hfn that doesn’t require either one of them to get a personality transplant.

    Kris Ripper’s Queers of LaVista series is amazing and also gives me a lot of hope. It’s less about in your face activism and more about people coming together to form community against all odds. Each book in the series has a stand alone romance, but there’s an overarching murder mystery, so read them in order. There are ff, mm, mmm, and mf pairings and trans, bi and pan characters, plus several interracial couples and a whole lot of representation. And it’s really well written. It’s probably the best representation of queer community that Ive read in romance. The characters feel like 20 and 30 something queers that I’d actually meet in real life. Sometimes the romances took a back seat to the community but I liked the world so much that I didn’t care too much.

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