By: Jessica Pryde
The romance genre is ever-changing and ever developing, and whether you’re a longtime fan of the genre or a new reader who doesn’t know where to start, you can find influential books and authors from every period. These are just a few of the top romance books and famous authors that helped define the romance genre.
The biggest, most familiar name in romance (who is still writing genre romance to this day) is Nora Roberts. And her Bride Quartet books have remained the most popular out of over thirty years’ worth of contemporary, historical, and fantasy romances. This particular series follows four friends through wedding planning and finding lasting love of their own.
Beverly Jenkins, while not the first Black author to write for one of the big romance publishers, is one of the earliest and longest-standing authors of Black historical romance. Her books, set primarily across the span of the second half of the 19th-Century United States, have been the gold standard for historical romance set in the US, or anywhere outside the Regency world of formal balls and nobility. NIGHT SONG, her first book, establishes her familiar style and practice of offering “edutainment,” in which most readers will learn something new about US history while also being enraptured in an intense love story.
While Alyssa Cole had written several noteworthy books previous to the release of the first Reluctant Royals book, it was this book—the take on the African Prince emails, the lush locations, and the introduction to Ledi and Thabiso themselves…not to mention that amazing cover—that really marked Alyssa as a romance author for the ages. The only romance on the New York Times Most Notable Books of 2018 list, A PRINCESS IN THEORY set the course for increased visibility of and interest in contemporary romances and romcoms from Black authors and other authors of color.
While not Zabo’s first book, SYNCOPATION and the related Twisted Wishes books were definitely a turning point in their writing and in Carina Press’s catalog. With the combination of musical performance, mental health, kink, and aromantic love at its core, SYNCOPATION pushed the limits of mainstream romance, even in 2018, and the subsequent books in the series expanded that world of found family and music with a diverse cast of well-rounded characters, including LGBTQ+ protagonists.
Helen Hoang, while only having published two books so far, has made a mark on romance readers as well as people who had never read romance before THE KISS QUOTIENT. Her own experience with Autism Spectrum Disorder and living as an American of East Asian descent come through in the story of a woman with Autism who hires a sex worker to give her lessons in romance. The book itself is a heady combination of steam, emotion, and laughs that has very few matches in romance, and she’s got quite a career ahead of her.
We don’t know where romance will go from here; we can only imagine the distances new and veteran authors will go to tell new and engaging stories with all the things we love built in.