Welcome to Trope Tuesdays, where I’ll tell you about some of the tropes I love (and maybe some of the ones I hate) when it comes to romance.
Today’s trope is one of my all-time favorites, and was a big part of the book that got me hooked on romance: Marriage of Convenience. Historical romance in particular has a dilemma when it comes to putting the lead characters in close physical proximity to each other given the social restrictions of the times. For most of Western history, the easiest way to do that is to force the characters into marrying.
This trope is related to, but not the same as, the Hasty Marriage trope (which is another favorite of mine). A big part of Marriage of Convenience is that the characters have an explicit agreement of some kind that they discuss before both of them agree to the marriage. Hasty Marriage is more that they get caught in some kind of compromising position and have to get married quickly for social or family reasons.
Here are three of my favorite Marriage of Convenience romances in alphabetical order by title:
The Arrangement by Mary Balogh
This is the second book of Mary Balogh’s Survivors’ Club series, and one of my favorites in that series. Blinded while fighting in his first battle during the Napoleonic Wars, Vincent Hunt is tired of his mother and sisters coddling him after his injury. When it reaches the point of them trying to arrange a bride for him, he flees to his childhood home with his valet and arranges his own marriage with Miss Sophia Fry after she is thrown out of her home because she stopped her scheming cousin from trapping Vincent into marriage.
One of the things I like best about this book is how Sophia and Vincent slowly adjust to both marriage and each other. Sophia wins over Vincent’s skeptical family and friends by taking practical steps that allow him to have more independence despite his blindness, even though she fears that doing so will allow him to distance himself from his unwanted wife.
This is also a very gentle book. There are no huge surprises, no threatening villain, and very little melodrama. The “all is lost” moment is Sophia’s fear that Vincent will lose interest in her as he gains independence, but it’s mostly internal. It concentrates very closely on their relationship and how two decent, kind-hearted people feel about each other, including their fears that the other doesn’t feel the same. This is a comfort read for me when I need to feel that life is basically good and we can solve most of our problems by talking to the ones we love.
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
This gets listed as a straight science fiction book and is published by a science fiction publishing house, but Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Lois McMaster Bujold is very romance-friendly and has written several books in this series that are basically straight romances. This one is particularly fun because she takes a feckless fan favorite character from earlier books and finally gives him a chance to grow up and be a responsible adult.
Ivan Vorpatril finds himself drawn into protecting refugee noblewoman Tej Arqua from the same people who slaughtered her family in a hostile takeover of their Great House. When Tej thinks the only solution to her dilemma is suicide, Ivan offers marriage instead, promising they can divorce as soon as they return to his home planet of Barrayar. But Ivan soon finds himself wondering how a fellow convinces his own wife that they should stay together when he’s promised to let her go.
This is an especially fun book if you’ve already read the rest of the Vorkosigan Saga (which I highly recommend) because you’ll understand the running gags like Ivan’s family referring to him as an idiot and already know the backstory of his father’s death on the same day as Ivan’s traumatic birth in the middle of a civil war. But I don’t think it’s truly necessary to read the whole series in order to enjoy the romance between Ivan and Tej, who are both people born into powerful positions they never wanted and surrounded by ambitious families who can’t understand their disinterest in that power.
Halfway through the book, Bujold adds a really fun caper story where she has a chance to revel in some of the engineering details of the future she’s created. One of the things I like most about Bujold’s books is that they’re not yet another dystopian future. For the most part, the future she envisions works. There are millions of ordinary people who live and love and work normal jobs in the background while our leads deal with issues that are dangerous for themselves and their families … and sometimes their planets.
Never Less Than A Lady by Mary Jo Putney
(I know I have this darn book on my shelf, but I had to make do with a downloaded cover image because I can’t find the physical book. Sorry!)
Mary Jo Putney is one of my all-time favorite romance authors, along with Mary Balogh. I’ve been reading both of them since they wrote Signet Regency Romances back in the 1980s and 1990s.
One of the things I love about Putney is that she works real-world issues into her romances and looks at them through a historical lens. In this one, the heroine was in a terribly abusive marriage and is terrified of getting into a new relationship, but circumstances force her into an arranged marriage with the army officer who saves her life. They both agree that any physical intimacy is up to her, but she is startled to find that she is far more attracted to her new husband than she realized before she agreed to marry him.
This is the second book in Putney’s popular Lost Lords series, and one of my favorites from that series. It’s lovely to watch Julia and Alexander slowly put aside their wariness and come together, both emotionally and physically. What makes this a great Marriage of Convenience book is that they both realize that they never would have been able to form a relationship without being married first — they both would have been too guarded to be able to come together any other way. The forced proximity of marriage is what allows them to fall in love, and that’s what the Marriage of Convenience trope is all about.
That’s it for today — stay tuned for a new post on Thursday for #ThrowbackThursday, where I’ll pull one of my classic romances off the shelf to talk about it.
When I was in 10th grade, Judith McNaught’s Whitney, My Love took my high school by storm. Even girls who didn’t normally read romance novels felt compelled to pick it up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few boys tried to find the “good parts” in their sisters’ copies.
But, honestly, the book kind of left me cold. And the book pictured above is the reason why.
I discovered it thanks to my best friend’s mother. She had a whole collection of romance novels stashed away from where the little ones could find them, and she didn’t mind me reading or borrowing them. This book — this one — kind of blew my mind for reasons my little 14-year-old mind could not have articulated, and I read it again and again. I bought the copy pictured above online, but it’s a pretty accurate representation of what my copy looked like.
“But, Alexa,” I hear you say. “If this book is so darn good, why have I never heard of this author?”
Dear reader, if you enjoy Regency or Victorian romances, I guarantee that you have heard of her. This was one of her early pseudonyms, but she eventually traded that in for her real name and became a bestselling author. I even have a copy of this book that was republished (and probably slightly edited) under her better-known name: Candace Camp.
Now, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend this book. It’s a very early 1980s romance novel, which means it’s all kinds of problematic. Among other things, I know that some of my friends will hear that it’s set on a plantation before the American Revolution and has several characters who are slaves and be like, “Nope, not reading that.” I’m not going to defend it — those parts have not aged well, and it’s probably one of the reasons it’s out of print.
And yet … two enslaved characters are the secondary romance in the book, which was pretty unusual for this sub-genre at the time. Not only that, the author fully acknowledges that it’s a big damn problem that the main characters own slaves and that the entire system is brutal, and comes up with a way for the hero and heroine to free all of them, in a book set in the Carolinas around the 1760s or 1770s, though the year is never specified.
The other major thing that sets this apart from other books of the time is that there is the then-obligatory scene where the hero is driven mad with desire and has an opportunity to rape the heroine and … he doesn’t. He pulls away and berates himself for what he almost did, which is the final thing that makes her realize that he could never hurt her and is not the one trying to kill her. (I told you it was a very 1980s book.) When McNaught came to a similar point in her book, the hero went through with it.
All of the elements that I love in the romance genre are gathered together in this one book: an interesting historical setting with a stubborn heroine, a rakish hero who secretly longs to be reformed, and an inclusive cast of characters that gives additional insight into the story and the historical period. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that this one book really set the template for me when it comes to historical romance. Despite its flaws — and there are even more than the ones I mentioned above — it still speaks to me as what romance can and should be.