So here’s a little known fact about me: I really like a good historical romance. Sure, genre romances usually follow a predictable formula and lack complicated character development, but there is something comforting and satisfying about sinking into a huge page-turner full of lush description and sexual tension. Generic historical romances are my cotton candy. They’re basically my literary problematic fave: I admit they’re whitewashed, heteronormative, and have weird messages about class, but I read the shit out of them anyway.
So I’ve been pumped about Cleis’s new romance imprint, Tempted Romance. I suspected romance coming out of a smart, socially conscious publishing team would be top notch, and this theory seems on point from what I’ve read so far. I really enjoyed Hot Highlanders and Wild Warriors. Like, I really did. Genuinely. I didn’t expect to like this title in particular much, as I’ve missed the whole highlanders craze and the book cover is, let’s be real, a bit ridiculous. But fortuitously I’ve been on a masculinity kick—what a friend is referring to as my “muscular renaissance”—and this anthology has that market cornered. The male characters are deeply physical and ambitiously calculating, walking the line between dangerous and gentle. Plus they’re smart. Smart is good. From Susannah Capin’s “Wicked”:
He straightened, towering over her. Long and lean, built for power and speed. A deadly combination of brains and brawn.”
Is it fluff? Totally. Eventually I will write a more coherent post about the female gaze in erotica and erotic romance, but for now I’ll just say I dig it. Sometimes you just want a guy who can pin you. I’m not above admitting that. As far as escapist fantasy goes I think this is pretty harmless.
Plus this book is all about sexualized power, hitting the sweet spot between challenging dynamics and full-tilt BDSM (which, surprisingly, I’m not into as a reader). The couples bait each other, battling over custody of kingdoms and seeing their counterpart as an equal despite the gender confines of their various time periods. The warriors of this book aren’t all men—I loved Connie Wilkins’s “A Falcon In Flight” for its badass female lead who straight up tells her man not to fuck with her. When he calls her a she-wolf for refusing to surrender her land, she responds,
A she-wolf? Look higher. My name means ‘eagle’ in the old tongue. I am Lady of Aragatsotn, and more. My mother’s line is said to be of those warriors from the lands beyond the Black Sea called Amazons by the Greeks… I will defend my own.”
Clearly, they proceed to fuck each other and unite their strength. Power couple.
Simply put, the theme of this anthology got to what I love most about romances: when the characters aren’t so much falling in love as they are discovering their ideal match. Warriors want strong women to help them conquer, and it led to great scenes like the couple in “The Keeper of the Keys” by Axa Lee:
It will be a fight, but I am strong. We are strong… I need a partner, an equal. Not just a wife and lover. And this is you, I think. Is this… what you think of me too?”
That rugged Saxon chief can get it. Ella approves.
Hot Highlanders and Wild Warriors is edited by Delilah Devlin and published by Tempted Romance, Cleis Press’s new romance imprint. Order your copy from Amazon here.
Trigger warning: readers sensitive to consent and sexual assault should skip Lizzie Ashworth’s “The Invasion of Nefyn.” Someone needs to remind me to write about the classic “surprise, it’s not actually rape because they’re role-playing!” trope that pops up in erotica from time to time.