Smugglers of the 17th/18th century, like highwaymen, have always had a romantic air about them. There is something about remote windswept beach’s, moonlit seas, and of course gentlemen with a rough kind of honour to them that just appeals to everyone. It probably helps that these ‘villains’ are setting themselves against the government and taxes. No one, I have generally found, is ever on the side of the taxman… Smugglers are braving the noose, or at best transportation to the colonies, to feed there families, spread a little money around struggling coastal communities and, of course, get one over the crown. Its all very Robin Hood and stormy seas at the end of the day.
The reality of the smugglers life was probably more brutal. The gangs would no doubt operate much as latter day gangs do, with threats, beating being handed out to unwilling conspirators forced to work with the smugglers and more than a few murders along the way. But then Robin hood was probably not the benevolent laughing outlaw we think of, but a thug who knew how to manipulate public opinion…
The point here is that fiction, particularly fiction set in the past, romanticizes villainy of a certain kind, because everyone likes an underdog fighting back against an oppressive state, and windswept moonlit beaches have a romance to them all of there own. Its no bad thing, life needs a little romance after all and what’s the point of fiction if not to put that romance into it. There is a reason the likes of Jamaica Inn and Poldark have stood the test of time. As a genre, period romances, its one that appeals to me at times for the same reason Steampunk appeals to me, it always reinvents the past and a reinvented past is always an interesting place to spend some time wondering through. Admittedly I prefer my reinvented pasts to have a few more cogwheels, the occasional airship and a fair degree of licence taken with reality, but a regency romance, with a bit of smuggling, a complex well considered plot, a carefully disguised twist or two and solid interesting characters is just steampunk without the cogwheels. Indeed all the cogwheels and airships in the world will not make up for lack of plot, ill considered twits and two dimensional characters. Good writing is ever the most important thing in any novel, it is that rather than anything else that captures a readers imagination.
Enter, for example two, on the surface, very different writers, with two very different ‘smugglers’ novels. Nils Nisse Visser, the self-proclaimed god father of ‘Smugglepunk'(who’s work I have reviewed previously here), and Christine King writer of period romance novels, among other things, and her novel Smugglers Moon. On the surface perhaps they have little in common in terms of genre. One is a regency romance novel set on the wind swept Yorkshire coast, the other, steampunk smugglers yarns set in Sussex, though what they very defiantly have in common is great writing and story telling. They also consequently are both writers who’s shorter fiction is going to be featured alongside each others in the forth coming Harvey Duckman Pirates Special. Nils story is firmly set in his Sussex Smuggle punk universe, while Christine leave the romance aside and has written a ghost story. (And yes there is a story by yours truly in there as well.)
It is as ever a pleasure to be alongside both these writers and all the others involved in the on going the Harvey Duckman project. Many of whom I have reviewed books for previously. But back to Romance… and my review of Smugglers Moon.
As a genre I don’t read a great deal of period romance. One of the reasons is romance novels, and period romance novels in particular have a habit of dragging there heels, dawdling along and focusing at times so much on the romance that they fail to tell an engaging story around which that romance is framed. Everything is driven by the romance and you end up somewhat devoid of story and tension beyond that.
Smuggler’s Moon, is a regency romance that doesn’t fall into the trap of making the romance the entirety of the plot. Indeed the romance takes a back seat often, in favor of villainous plots, daring escapades and richly drawn characters who have other things on there mind other than just romance. Which is why the romance that is a central driving force of the latter half of the novel works so well. There are all the romantic tensions you would expect from a romance set in the regency period, the kind of romantic jeopardy period romance readers love. But there is also so much more. The villain’s, and there are plenty of them, are villains you can boo and curse. The heroine is the kind of strong willed, robust, and determined heroine that you want to identify with and cheer on. The heroes are heroic, without ever overshadowing the heroine. There are twist and turns you’ll see coming, but there are many you won’t, but more importantly you can identify with all these characters, even the villainous step-mother.
More importantly still this is a regency romance that hardcore period romance readers will love, but so will those who just like a good story and want the thrill of the ride. There is action and adventure wraps around the romance that keeps you turning pages and just wanting to read the next chapter before you put the book down, while inevitably you don’t.
In short this has everything you would expect of a regency romance, but also everything you would expect of a steampunk novel (except cogwheels and airships), a thrilling story full of adventure, twists, charming characters and dastardly villains. If it is anything its not so much a regency romance, as Romance-punk. A genre all of its own, and all the better for it.
Smugglers Moon, and other novels by Christine King are available on Amazon and elsewhere