Romances that are all about the conflict

As promised, this week I’m going to talk romance novels with incredible conflicts. I’ve picked 3 very different books by 3 very different writers, all of which are super good. There are spoilers, so be warned!

The first one is a historical novella called The Governess Affair, by Courtney Milan. More than anything, this shows the power of having a conflict not based on the hero and heroine arguing. In fact, the couple in this book are in love with each other almost from the get go. It’s a fated meeting. The conflict comes from the hero’s goal. After growing up in violent poverty, Hugo is determined to make himself a wealthy man, something which is extremely difficult. In order to achieve it, he is working for an aristocrat who has got himself into a spot of financial trouble. If Hugo can dig his boss out of this pit, he’ll be financially rewarded. However (and here is the spoiler, and the acute intake of breath),  Serena, with whom our hero falls deeply in love, has been raped by this unpleasant aristocrat, and is pregnant. She wants the baby to have the life he would have had if he’d been legitimate – primarily, a decent education – and she needs the aristocrat to pay for it. In the end, Hugo has to make a choice between helping Serena achieve her goal (and sacrificing his own), or achieving his own at the expense of hers. There is no bickering, no arguing, just an emotionally challenging choice. It also has to be noted that Milan handles the issue of rape with wonderfully intelligent sensitivity, and shows that not all men are born equal in more ways than one.

My second choice is by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Dream a Little Dream is part of her Chicago Stars series (which centres around an American football team, though the majority of the books don’t have a lot to do with football). In this book, our heroine, Rachel, returns to her home town. Widowed, with a young son and less than no money, she is in a very difficult situation. Plus the entire town hates her, and with good reason. Her dead husband was an evangelical preacher who conned, cheated and stole his way to the good life. With no money, nowhere to live and no-one to turn to, Rachel ends up working for a local man called Gabe Bonner. Gabe doesn’t like Rachel. He hates Rachel’s son. His own wife and son died in a car crash, and all he can see when he looks at the two of them is the unfairness of it all – why did these two get to live, when his own family had to die? But Phillips brings in so many areas of conflict, makes Rachel’s situation so unbearably hard that at times it almost seems insurmountable. In this book the H/h do dislike each other at the beginning of the book, but the motivation is so well thought through that it’s justified. No arguing for the sake of it here.

My final choice is a book called Riveted, by Meljean Brook. This is a steampunk romance which plays on so many conventions, turning them head over feet. Our heroine, Annika, is an engineer on an airship. Annika grew up in a hidden city which is occupied solely by women, and as far as she is concerned, gay is normal. Being attracted to men is the strange choice, the difficult, uncertain one, and part of Annika’s journey involves her sexual self-discovery. Our hero, David Kentewess, is trying to return his mother’s runes to her place of birth after her death, but he isn’t sure where it is. When Annika realises that David’s mother was from her village, she is torn – does she help David grant his mother’s dying wish, when to do so means exposing the location of the village? Add to that David’s terrible injuries and the fact that society has so often shunned him, beautiful though he is, and Brook creates an exquisite love story, again one in which the hero and heroine are desperately in love, but in order to be together, have to make difficult, crippling choices. Sigh.

Which romances tick all the conflict boxes for you?


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