Heat Indexes in Historical Romance

The other day I picked up an older historical romance book by a well-known traditionally published author and started reading it. The book was published in 2015. When I got to page forty, the hero of the book unbuttoned his breeches and exposed himself to the heroine as a shock tactic. Frankly, she was a lot calmer than I was reading the passage, because I was horrified. I don’t consider myself a prude by any means, and have written my own fair share of steamy scenes when it comes to romance. Nevertheless, the act turned me cold as stone, and obviously, I didn’t finish the book. It’s something that I personally do not think belongs in a historical romance book. However, other readers were not as offended, by evidence of the five-star reviews.

I suppose readers of historical romance have all sorts of tolerance levels when it comes to sex scenes in a novel. You will notice that we try to indicate in our author promotions, how warm and cozy or steaming hot these scenes are by rating them as follows:

  • One – Kisses and hugs
  • Two – Passionate kissing
  • Three – Sex behind closed doors
  • Four – Steamy sex with a few descriptive words
  • Five – Sex with graphic description short of erotica

Level five, of course, is the over-the-top sex with graphic descriptions that are blazing hot, making the reader go wide-eyed, blush, and grab a fan. Some like it hot – others do not. It’s a matter of preference.

Posting these heat indexes hopefully help readers make decisions when purchasing a book. Unfortunately, we don’t get those insights on Amazon or other retailers what level of sexual activity is in the story we are about to read. Once in a while, you may see an author put a warning at the end of the synopsis if it’s close to erotica. You can usually tell, too, by comments in reviews if a reader thinks there is too much sex and not enough story.

Things have come a long way since the bodice-ripping days. The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss has its fair share of shock in the beginning of the book with rape of a virgin and subsequent captivity. Twenty years ago when The Duke and I was written by Julia Quinn, I don’t think much was said about Daphne’s ploy of having sex with drunk Simon without his consent, which would be definitely coined as rape in the eyes of many today. You can see that complaint being raised in more recent reviews.

Many of us love Jane Austen, who wrote the beautiful love stories we admire. Naturally, she’s a great example of historical romance in the kisses and hugs rating. They are proof that wonderful romances can be written without graphic sex. They are more character driven stories than sexually driven.

In historical romance, intercourse can occur out of wedlock or after the wedding vows. Morals are not a central theme in most books unless it’s a religious-based historical romance. I’ve written books with no sex and plenty of sex — it just depends on the story, characters, and theme.

There is no right or wrong answer on how cozy or steamy historical romance books need to be, but there are definitely preferences among readers. Frankly, I don’t like books with rape scenes, aggressive men who take liberties without asking first, or shocking vulgarity like the first example I gave. However, for other readers, it may not be a problem. After all, in the early bodice-ripping days, historical romance had its share of rogues who seduced women. The proliferation of such tropes gave the genre its reputation. With the increasing awareness in the twenty-first century about the importance of consent, these scenes of forced seduction may not be acceptable to some readers. But let’s be honest here. To some women, it’s a turn-on. Each to their own.

Authors, however, are listening to the masses, or at least should be, on how to write a hot steamy sex scene that doesn’t cross boundaries. There is a great article on a website named Jezebel entitled, “The Romance Novelist’s Guide to Hot Consent.” It’s worth the read, especially for authors, and delves into how some of the bestselling authors approach this delicate subject when writing sex scenes. A few authors interviewed in the article are of the historical romance genre.

So, let’s be honest.

  • Some prefer cozy sweet hugs and kisses.
  • Some prefer hot and steamy love scenes with no questions asked.
  • Others require slow paced scenes that include vocal consent to remove bras and panties.

My parting thoughts are that I only wish that authors would be more proactive and add the heat level at the end of their synopsis of the book itself. It would help readers immensely in choosing the level of sexual content in a book they purchase. If it’s not listed in the “Sweet Romance Category,” it’s pretty hard to determine how hot it gets between the pages. You can sometimes make a determination based on the heat level of the cover, but that still doesn’t tell you how far the lovers will take it with or without consent between the sheets.

Do you have a preference? Feel free to chime in on the subject. You are always welcome to express opinions.

Knights in Shining Armor

As readers of historical romance, we probably all have our favorite eras that we love to read about.  For me, it is the late Victorian era up through the Edwardian era (1870 to 1910).  I’m fascinated mostly because of the fashions, etiquette, and way of life of the upper class.  Though I’ve written about the struggles of the poor and some of the unseemly points of existence during those years, I guess like most other readers I’d rather bask in the class of privilege.
However, one era that draws readers of historical romance is the Middle Ages, where we are surrounded by knights in shining armor.  When I think of that time, I instantly think of Lancelot, that cute Frenchman that stole the heart of Guinevere.  Visions of the Knights of the Roundtable, chivalry, amour, jousting, and the crusades fill my mind. This era spans from the 5th to the 15th centuries and leaves for authors a vast time period in which to weave historical novels of love.
Many years ago, I was swept up in curiosity regarding knighthood, and in particular the Knights Templar.  I wanted to learn more about knights in general, how they came to be, what their code of honor entailed, how they fought, how they loved, etc.  I stumbled across a book at Borders (let us have a moment of silence) entitled, The Knight in History, by France Gies, published by Harper & Row back in 1984.  It’s actually available in Kindle form now.  Here is the LINK.  It’s a fantastic read, and if you’re an author or reader who loves this time period, you might pick it up.
One particularly good chapter is The Troubadours and the Literature of Knighthood, which talks about the love poems and songs written by knights. Below is a short quote from a work that has survived the test of time.

I am blind to others and their retort.  I hear not.  In her alone, I see, move, wonder…and jest not.  And the words dilate not truth; but mouth speaks not the heart outright. I could not walk roads, flats, dales, hills, by chance, to find charm’s sum within one single frame, as God hath set her . . .

While in London, I actually saw quite a few suits of armor, including those worn by Henry VIII.  Not only were the males adorned in shining metal, but their horses as well.  Below is a picture of Henry’s armor, which was quite larger than other examples. For some reason, I was shocked at the size.  No doubt I had Jonathan Rhys Meyers on my mind, rather than the hefty English king of reality.  If you enlarge the picture by clicking on it, you note the prominent area of protection around his manhood.
Let us fast forward to the Pre-Raphaelite painters during the mid-19th century who gave us inspiring works of knights in shining armor associated with beautiful women they loved, honored, or rescued.  A few of these great artists (Harper, Millais, Waterhouse) have created beautiful scenes of knights and ladies that surely give rise to inspirational stories in all of us.  Below is a small sample of some of those gorgeous works of art.
In any event, if you’re a lover of this era, our pages are open to authors who write stories about knights in shining armor.  As for me, I’ll stick with the more gentile gentlemen of the Victorian era, rather than men of steel and brawn.
Cheers,

Vicki

“Where are the simple joys of maidenhood? Where are all those adoring daring boys? Where’s the knight pining so for me he leaps to death in woe for me? Oh where are a maiden’s simple joys? Shan’t I have the normal life a maiden should? Shall I never be rescued in the wood? Shall two knights never tilt for me and let their blood be spilt for me? Oh where are the simple joys of maidenhood?”   Camelot by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe