Thursday, April 15, 2010

Category Romance Themes in m/m - Part 1: Historicals

When I was a young teen I discovered Mills and Boon category romances.  To say that I fell in love with the romance genre at that point is a slight understatement.  I would go to the library every week and take out 12 M&B books (the maximum number of books you could get out at one time) and read them during the week when I should really have been doing pesky things like homework, or being sociable with my family.  This lasted for some time, until I discovered a new genre - horror - and I abandoned my beloved M&B for the likes of Stephen King and James Herbert.

When I came back to romance, I didn't really read M&B books, focusing, instead on the longer historical romances and then onto m/m.  One thing I particularly liked about m/m romance was when the author would give a bit of a sly nod to the conventions and themes found in the category romances I had loved so much as a teen.  So over the next three days, I'm going to highlight some of my favourite m/m books which have taken those themes and added a fresh new look to them by placing them in an m/m context.  Starting today with historicals.

One of my favourite theme for a historical is the young virginal miss who through the magic of her hoo ha is able to convert the most jaded rogue to abandon his rakish ways and settle down to blissful monogamy.  This theme has been taken up by the m/m historical authors too.  In Standish by Erastes, fragile and virginal Ambrose steals the heart of Rafe the rake, although their road to love is full of potholes and wrong turnings.

Also in The Price of Temptation by MJ Pearson, a mix up and a family death leads poor and innocent Jamie into the house and arms of experienced Stephen, the Earl of St Joseph, who teaches him all the way of love between men before finally losing his heart to the naive young man.

Sometimes this theme can be subverted, for example in Seducing Stephen by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon, Stephen accidentally ends up in bed with man-whore and aristocrat Peter.  However, before Peter can excuse himself and leave Stephen to his virginal state, Stephen makes it clear that Peter's advances would be welcome, making the virgin the one to seduce the rogue.

Another theme I love in category historicals was that of the 'tart with a heart' who is picked up by the aristocrat for a night of passion and ends up stealing his heart instead.  This is used also in m/m historicals.  For example in another book by MJ Pearson, Discreet Young Gentleman, the hero Dean, is tricked into being caught with male prostitute, Rob.  During a breathless dash to Bath to clear his name, Dean discovers that there's more to Rob than his profession and the two fall in love.  Similarly in The Gentleman and the Rogue by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon, the tart, Jem, is instrumental to the hero, Alan's, recovery from depression and suicidal feelings, leading to them falling in love with each other.

So what about you, dear DIK readership?  Are there some historical romantic conventions that you have discovered in m/m books?  Are yours the same as mine? Do you wish sometimes that other of your well loved m/f historical themes appeared in m/m books too?

Meanwhile, I'll be back tomorrow with another category romance genre which has transferred quite delightfully to m/m books - the western or cowboy romance.


Tam said...

I don't think we have Mills and Boon in Canada. We have Harlequinn. Same thing I think. I know my Aunt used to (maybe still does) subscribe to those and as a teen I used to devour her stash. Then I moved onto more hardcore stuff (Johanna Lindsay) thanks to my youngish married neighbor, then burned out and went to mysteries for year, before discovering PNR, quickly followed by m/m.

I'm not a huge historical fan because of the absolute taboos around gay relationships, I often find that kind of fear and paranoia opressive. But I did enjoy Seducing Stephen because it wasn't the over-riding concern for them.

I always loved pirate romances and anything that took on a Caribbean island. Yes, I own Pirates of the Caribbean on DVD. LOL (If only Elizabeth would drown.) I have Black Wade but that's not quite an historical. Hmmm. Any m/m pirate books anyone recommends? I wonder if I'd like it? I'm also a sucker for the Pretty Woman theme with the prostitute and the rich client even though in reality I'm pretty sure 99.99% of the time it ends badly. LOL But the romantic in me likes to think it could work.

Jenre said...

Hi Tam
Yeah, Harlequin is the same as Mills and Boon.

I've read a couple of good m/f pirate romances but no m/m ones. There was a futuristic time travel story involving a pirate - Details of the Hunt by Laura Baumbach. There was also a short I read - The Pirate's Gamble by Eden Winters - but again that was more time travel than historical.

Sean Kennedy said...

Having never read Mills and Boons (what have I been doing with my life?) I find this post very interesting. Even not having read them one is still aware of romantic tropes as they appear so much throughout pop culture in other forms. INSIDIOUS, I tell you.

Tam said...

Oh, I loved Details of the Hunt. I understand a sequel is coming ... soon? It's in the works.

We seem to have stumbled up on a missing link Jen. Someone out there, getting writing pirate stories. Sean? You can't be that busy. ;-P

Jessica said...

I've heard of Harlequinn not Mills and Boon. It's interesting how the same company will have different names in different places.

I found J.L.Langley's Regency books very interesting and entertaining. Her books are based in the future on different planets but steeped in Regency traditions. In her books one planet embraces gay relationships, the other frowns on them. Seeing how each society acts in light of the relationships is interesting.

I'm new to the m/m books and what you posted about sound good. I'll look into the new authors. Thanks.

Mem said...

Hi, Jen! I hear Mills & Boon referred to a lot, but have never known what they were whereas I'm familiar with Harlequin. Could M&B be British and Harlequin North American and they're basically the same thing?

How funny that you went straight from M&B romances to horror -- I mean, when you were ready for a change, you really did a 180-degree turn, ha, ha!

I always like to hear about the reading sprees of readers and the connections that take them from a genre they were reading for years on to the next reading phase. Great post, Jen!

Sean Kennedy said...

Tam, as much fun as that would be, I'm too burnt out doing the research for Dash and Dingo alone. Catt has a great idea for a Pirate story - I wish she would write it.

Chris said...

Tam: Go to fictionwise and select keyword search. Use gay pirate as your keywords. Things like Taste Test: Walk the Plank (Mara Ismine! PD Singer!), Pirate Booty by John Simpson, Galleons and Gangplanks (Sean Michael, Julia Talbot, Willa Okati), The Butcher and the Beast by Sean Michael, etc.

So, I think pretty much the only historical romances I've read are m/m. :)

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wren boudreau said...

Is that Wolverine on the cover of Discreet Young Gentleman?

Is there an ebook version of that one?

I enjoy m/m books that take tried and true m/f themes and tropes and twist them a little. I think with historicals, it's a taste of 'what could have been' that I find enticing. I suppose that's why I like the alternate universe or time travel books as well.

Another thought-provoking post, Jen

Tracy said...

Gay pirate would be wonderful! I'm a sucker for pirate romances.

I also have an affection for daughters whose fathers put them up as collateral in card game and lost (bastards!) I’m not sure why I like this but those always catch my attention. Haven’t seen much of that in m/m but most of the m/m I buy are contemporary.

Tam said...

Hmmm. Walk the Plank has some good authors there Chris. I'll have to do that later (rather than reading my poor languishing TBR books - sigh).

Chris said...

Offering the finest in personalized enabling... ;)

Jenre said...

Sean: You've never read a Mills and Boon? Shame on you! I'm sure your mum or sisters must have one tucked away somewhere and won't mind sharing :).

Jenre said...

Hi Jessica
If you're from the US/Canada, I wouldn't expect you to have heard of Mills and Boon. I hadn't heard of Harlequin until I started reading the US romance blogs.

I loved JL Langley's Regency Sci-fi books and I'm waiting impatiently for the next one :). The first one, My Fair Captain was the first m/m book I ever read and contains the rake/virgin storyline. Yum. :)

I'll be saying more about JL Langley tomorrow in my Westerns post.

Jenre said...

Hi Val

Mills and Boon and Harlequin are the same company. I think Mills and Boon were the original British company and they expanded into the US. The M&B company celebrated their centenary last year.

The swap from romance to horror was a bit of a turnabout wasn't it? I blame the other pupils in my class who had this book swap going of all the goriest horror books they could buy and I couldn't resist getting involved.

Jenre said...

So, I think pretty much the only historical romances I've read are m/m.

That's not a bad thing!

LesleyW said...

Hmmm. I don't really read historicals so can't comment on the tropes. (Though any historicals I've read recently I think have been m/m).

What I find fascinating is that our reading journeys are so similar. I too went from M&B in my early teens (though we were allowed 14 books at our local library lol)and then to horror - James Herbert, Stephen King, Clive Barker.

Ingrid said...

It's called Harlequin (and/ or Silhouette) here too :)

Jen, it is funny you post about it because I got Wolfe's proxy this weekend on my Allure reward points. It is about a brother (in stead of sister) who wants to save his sister from an evil industrial tycoon type of man. Does that trope ring a bell?

I do miss that 80-ties "Drag into my dungeon/harem/tower" type of stories.

Jenre said...

Is that Wolverine on the cover of Discreet Young Gentleman?

Lol, he is sporting a fine pair of mutton chops isn't he?

I don't think DYG is out as an ebook yet, although there are plans for one.

Jenre said...

Hi Tracy
I haven't seen any m/m stories where one guy is sold to another although I have read one with another of my historical favourites - that of 'my will dictates you should marry' stories which I shall be talking about tomorrow :).

Jenre said...

Lesley: I'm so glad I wasn't the only one who went from M&B to Stephen King, lol. I think it's to do with the thrills that teenagers crave at a certain age. I certainly loved being absolutely scared to death whilst reading about man-eating slugs.

Jenre said...

Hi Ingrid

Ha! You've answered a question I was going to ask on my last posting day! Why are there no sheikh/tycoon/virgin mistress m/m stories? Obviously there are!

Tam said...

I have a yaoi novel about a Sheik who kidnaps a young innocent (?) Japanese straight boy of course. To be honest the kid was do damned arrogant and annoying I haven't finished it yet. :-)

Anonymous said...

I haven't read them, but Alex Beecroft has written some m/m historicals that take place at sea and have gotten very good reviews. Her characters are part of the British Royal Navy. Her story False Colors was in the Dear Author competition along with Sean's book.

Kate said...

False Colors is fantastic. I love that book. But I can't think of any m/f historical tropes it echoes.

I just read another book (novella, reallY)Blessed Isle by Alex B that had an interesting format--a journal that's written in alternate entries by two men. I don't think I'd seen that format in any historical. That one was great, too.

Kate Rothwell/Summer Devon

KC Burn said...

OMG! The Price of Temptation! That was the first gay romance I'd ever read. I can't remember how I stumbled across it, but it was described as a gay regency, and I bought it because I wondered how anyone pulled that off, considered how many rules there are for writing regencies. Turned out to be a great story, and I was totally hooked!

LesleyW said...

Tracy - In Every Good Thing by M.Jules Aedin, Arieh is sold as a slave to soldier Enitan, to settle his family's debts.

Sean Kennedy said...

Jen, neither my mother or sister ever read romances. Damn literary snobs!

Jenre said...

Hi Tam

When I was thinking up what to put in this post I wondered whether there had been any sheikh/virgin romances in m/m. I was convinced that there wouldn't be and you've proved me wrong - sort of, if yaoi can be called m/m.

Jenre said...

Hi Patty
I've heard good things about False Colors, but haven't got around to reading it yet.

Jenre said...

Hi Kate
Blessed Isle is on my TBR pile too. I must read it as that's had some good reviews too.

Jenre said...

I loved The Price of Temptation and thought it dealt really well with the problems of being gay in the Regency period.

Jenre said...

Sean: Oh well, I'm sure they'll be plenty at your local library. You could pop down and check some out for yourself :).

Clare London said...

I used to sneak my mum's Mills and Boon books to read, though I confess I skipped through for the sexy bits. I remember distinctly telling myself that if *I* were ever an author I wouldn't stop at the bedroom door! (Denise Robins, eat your heart out...)

I think the tropes fit particularly well in historical, almost as if we expect many of them. I wonder if that's because of the established restrictions in historical society and romance? In contemporary work, we can argue that the tropes are different because anything and everything is acceptable, but I think we still like to read our way along those well-trodden paths.

Jenre said...

Hi Clare

I used to skip to the sexy bit too. The first time I read a scene where the hero goes down in the heroine was in an M&B book *fans face*.

I also think that many of the m/f historical books, not just M&B, contain very similar themes to the category romances. I mean there's a huge number of m/f Regency romances out there and so there's also a huge cross-over in terms of plots. M/m historicals have just picked up from those established plots and given them a new twist.

Anonymous said...

Hi, interesting blog ;)

The thing about historical M/M is that in most cases the conflict must have the dreaded theme as well, which is the hanging or other scary and deadly punishments for the surely forbidden and secret relationship in the era. It tends to be too depressing for many readers (me), and if it's not then it doesn't feel real.

As far as I know M&B and Harlequin were two different companies owned by different people in different countries, but then one of them bought the other, and only since then they're basically one and the same with different names (or even one longer name, "Harlequin-Mills&Boon"). Or something like that.

Jenre said...

Hi Anonymous person
Thanks :)

I agree, it is sometimes difficult to read m/m historicals when the threat of imprisonment or hanging is a constant worry. I felt that the novels that I mentioned in this post managed to address that, as well as being romantic.

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