“Marriage isn’t a word — it’s a sentence.” That famous quip is especially true in romance novels, where marriage is often a starting point rather than an end goal. This month we look at three new romances in which a wedding is not a bow tied on at the finish, but a tether pulling characters through the plot.
Alexis Hall’s first queer historical, SOMETHING FABULOUS (Montlake, 363 pp., paper, $9.99), pays homage to the classic Heyeresque Regency romp while subverting many of its problems. In the 1930s, Georgette Heyer did for romance what H.P. Lovecraft did for fantasy horror: She established a foundational subgenre, but one tarnished with moments of unmasked prejudice. Later writers expanded Heyer’s imagined world — meaning the Regency setting is romance’s version of the Cthulhu mythos, albeit one populated with handsome dukes instead of tentacular horrors. (Or sometimes both, as in Isabel Cooper’s excellent “No Proper Lady.”)
Hall’s story begins with Valentine, the Duke of Malvern, proposing marriage to Miss Arabella Tarleton. Valentine is the epitome of the sinister duke who is both the hero and villain of so many of Heyer’s works: cool, handy with a sarcastic phrase and utterly sure of his own appeal. Which is why it’s such a shock when he’s woken up in the night by Arabella’s twin brother, Bonaventure, who says his sister has run away. Bonny knows where she is headed, so Valentine finds himself propelled into an adventure to prevent his fiancée’s supposed ruin.
Instead, it’s Valentine who’s destroyed. The whole duke archetype is deconstructed piece by piece in a series of comic mishaps unfurled with impeccable authorial control. Because being a duke is a story, and if people don’t believe you — if you’ve borrowed a gardener’s coat and left your valet behind and given away your signet ring — then they quickly stop treating you as a duke at all. The takedown is terrifyingly thorough.
Except, of course, that Valentine has fallen for Bonny, a gorgeous chaos muppet who survived a lonely childhood by telling himself as many wild romantic stories as possible. Stories about men loving other men, and marrying handsome dukes. As he rebuilds his sense of identity, Valentine asks: What kind of story does he really want his life to be?
At seven to one, there is an unusually high ratio of queer characters to dukes in this book. I’ve often been in a room with multiple queer people, but I have never met more than one duke. So refreshing to see a romance approach these proportions realistically.
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