Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

If You Like Ancient World romances

I know I haven’t posted this one yet (unlike the repetitive medieval If You Like).   Jayne reviewed Blue Gold by Lindsey Townsend a month ago and many commenters bemoaned the lack of Ancient World settings.   Blue Gold is set in 1560 BC.   As Jayne said, the choice of the setting was clever because the canvas is more open:

Choosing  this particular age, 1560 BC, in Egyptian history is quite clever. With the upheavals and the scarcity of historical records, you’ve got a more wide open canvas upon which to paint the story you want to tell. "Blue Gold" gets me doing what I love for historical books to do and that’s research the people, places and things used to tell the story. I learned all kinds of things about Hyksos rulers of Lower Egypt, the god Set, the f’ed up family of Sekenenre, the land of Punt and kedeshahs.

I would love to read more Ancient World settings. Have you got any recommendations. (Thanks to MoragtheScot for the idea of this post and for reminding me about it).

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Susan D.
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 12:02:20

    I’m a fan of ancient world romances and gobble them up when I find them. Two authors I’ve read in the past couple years are Constance O’Banyon and Joy Nash.

    Constance O’Banyon has a series set around 60 B.C. Egypt: Daughter of Egypt, Desert Prince, Lord of the Nile, and Sword of Rome.

    For Roman/Druid romances try Joy Nash: Deep Magic, Celtic Fire, and The Grail King.

  2. Carrie Lofty
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 12:15:53

    A couple of authors who contribute regularly to Unusual Historicals: Jean Adams (ancient Egyptian time travel from Highland Press), Michelle Styles (Harlequin Historicals author of many eras, including three set in ancient Rome), and Jennifer Mueller (whose Samburu Hills received a very good review from here at Dear Author).

  3. DS
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 12:16:30

    Judith Tarr (AKA Caitlin Brennan and Kathleen Bryan) set a book in the same period. It’s historical fiction with a strong romantic subplot– The Shepherd Kings. She plays a bit with what we know about the period– the term Hyksos was a later Greek term translated as Shepherd Kings. The Egyptian phrase used to refer to the invading elite was hikau khausut which is interpreted as “Rulers of foreign countries”.

  4. Stephanie Draven
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 12:21:13

    Oh please yes, more ancient romances!

  5. RStewie
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 12:38:13

    Suzanne Frank has a great series set in ancient Egypt, “Atlantis”, Israel, and Babylon that are really great reads: Reflections in the Nile, Shadows on the Aegaen, Sunrise on the Mediterranean, and Twilight in Babylon.

    The second of the series has the usual “sequelitis”, but they’re really good stories, following a couple of time travelers from different eras that meet in the first book by chance. I loved them all.

    Probably should look for these at the library, though, or buy used.

  6. Michelle
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 12:55:11

    Harlequin Historical has published some ancient Rome/Roman empire-set romances in the past couple of years, and I’ve enjoyed the new setting. I do remember some Roman Empire-set books published in the 80’s or 90’s, but they were never that plentiful. If I remember correctly, Maura Seger wrote some fun ones that were also republished by HH in the 90’s.

  7. Leslie Parrish
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 13:08:18

    On this subject–I have tried many times to remember the name of a couple of books I loved back in the 70’s or 80’s. Ancient Egypt, the hero & heroine were (I believe) based on Nefertiti and Akhenaten. (Heroine’s name was even Nefrytatanyn or something like that?)

    There were 2 books. In the first they marry, but she’s kidnapped & enslaved. He tracks her down and rescues her and all the other slaves she’s been working with scheme to give the king & queen the wedding night they never had.

    In the next book, he “dies” but he’s not really dead and she travels to some distant island (supposedly Atlantis?) to get medicine to heal him.

    Does this sound familiar to anyone? I remember really loving these books!

  8. Moth
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 13:13:22

    Mara, Daughter of the Nile. Technically it’s Young Adult but everyone who likes Ancient Egypt should read it in my opinion. It has romance, intrigue and adventure. Great book.

  9. Tamar
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 13:21:30

    @Leslie Parrish – there is a third book …it focuses on their twins. And I’m racking my brain to remember those books. I still have the first one somewhere

  10. Tamar
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 13:32:48

    @ Leslie Parrish (again)

    Joyce Verette – Dawn of Desire is the first one.

  11. Leslie Parrish
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 13:37:13


    YES! Just searched and saw the cover, that’s definitely it. Thank you so much!

    I never knew there was a third one, just remember loving the first two. For me, they were right up there with Pat Wallace’s “The House of Scorpio” and every Laurie McBain book ever published.

  12. Joanie T
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 13:49:01

    Wow, Blue Gold sounds like my kind of book! Will definately add that to the shopping list.

    I think the “ancient” time period has a lot to offer. The Roman Empire, of which I’m particularly fond *g* is rift with conflict, social upheavel, mystery and yes…most definately romance.

    It is encouraging that more of these wonderful stories are finding their way to the shelves.

  13. Janine
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 14:08:03

    I have great fondness for the Cupid and Psyche myth. It’s not a romance genre book, but it is very romantic.

  14. Tracy Cooper-Posey
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 14:13:04

    My Diana by the Moon is set in the last years of Ancient Britain, and draws on Arthurian legends, the last of the Roman British influences, and the beginning of the Celtic influences there. Plus, of course, the Saxon invasions.

  15. Nancy Northcott
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 14:34:44

    I remember Mara, Daughter of the Nile. I loved that book.

    Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon is apparently still going strong with its Arthurian Britain setting, and that’s another favorite setting of mine.

    As for ancient Rome, it has so much to offer that I’m amazed not to see it more often. I hope that area is opening up some.

  16. Stephanie Draven
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 14:35:36

    Oh Janine, I love the Cupid and Psyche myth! (And most myths, really, considering the kind of romance I write). Their story could totally be adapted to a mainstream romance, if it hasn’t already been.

  17. Virginia Kantra
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 14:43:22

    Oh, yes! on Mara Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. First romance I ever read, I think.

    Rosemary Harris also wrote an exquisite YA trilogy based on Noah’s Ark and set in ancient Egypt: The Moon in the Cloud, The Bright and Morning Star, and The Shadow on the Sun.

    What about Lindsey Davis’s Falco novels (ancient Rome)? The first three or four are very romance-centric.

  18. Jennifer Haymore
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 14:54:05

    I really enjoyed Suzanne Frank’s books. What happened to her?

    I love Pauline Gedge’s and Wilbur Smith’s Egyptian historicals. I’ve enjoyed a couple of Judith Tarr’s, too. I wish there were more ancient romances!

  19. MaryK
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 14:59:32

    @Janine: Me too! I first learned about the myth at the British Museum, and I’ve been collecting retellings ever since. If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them.

  20. Sandy D.
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 15:20:49

    Kathleen O’Neal Gear and Michael W. Gear have a bunch of books set in precolumbian America – as former archaeologists, they know enough about the different areas and periods of which they write to get their facts right (I’m not thrilled with the stories and the writing, though).

    And of course there’s “Clan of the Cave Bear” and its sequels. A friend mine told me she learned all about throbbing manhoods and more from Jondalar and Ayla.

  21. Janine
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 16:03:26

    Stephanie Draven and MaryK — how cool is that?


    I don’t recall who wrote the first retelling I read, which was one that made me fall in love with this myth. It was a library book I read back in 1981, and I recall that it had pictures accompanying the text. I wish I knew who wrote it, because I know it captured my imagination.

    The retelling I’m most familiar with these days is Robert Graves’ translation of Apuleius’ version in The Golden Ass. Years ago, I also wrote my own retelling, but since it’s a short story and doesn’t present any new twists to the myth (I loved it too much to mess with it), I’ve never tried to sell it and don’t think I ever will.

    If you would like to tell me about them, I would love to hear what versions you have in your collection and what your favorite is. You can post here or email me, whichever you prefer.

  22. Nicole
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 16:54:15

    I own a few Harlequin Historical’s in the Destiny’s Women Trilogy by Merline Lovelace…Alena, Siren’s Call, Sweet Song of Love . First two Roman/Spartan romances, last one British . Liked them a lot.

  23. Gail Carriger
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 16:56:51

    There’s a lovely little YA romance set in Ancient Egypt during the reign of Hatsheput called Mara: Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. It may not be exactly what you’re looking for but it’s a great read.

  24. ASable
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 18:48:13

    I love this! I’m a huge mythology dork, so much so that years ago I actually started an encyclopedia of myths and mythological people for myself. It was my way of learning about the different pantheons and figures, and keeping everyone straight in my head. My very own grown-up homework assignment.

    Great suggestions here, including some books I hadn’t considered. But . . . *sigh* . . . I wish there were MORE romances set in the ancient world. **Heavy sign and a big hint hint to all the writers who peruse this site!** YA seems to be more adventurous in exploring this area.

  25. Joanie T
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 19:08:19

    **Heavy sign and a big hint hint to all the writers who peruse this site

    LOL, it’s ok ASable…there are many authors persuing this time setting in historical romances! I have three completed manuscripts set in Rome 52 CE….working very hard to find the right publisher who loves variety in historical time period!

  26. Stephanie Draven
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 19:19:18

    I’ll come out and confess, I’m a huge fan of late Republican Rome/Early Empire and Egypt. One of my all time favorite books is by Margaret George–Memoirs of Cleopatra. It’s not exactly a romance, because it sure doesn’t end happily, but it was so captivating that it led me to read everything I got my hands on about the time period and I wrote a manuscript that’s currently with editors entitled Lily of the Nile about Cleopatra Selene, the _actual_ last Ptolemaic queen. (It used to be called Cleopatra’s Daughter, but you may have heard about Michelle Moran’s book of the same title coming out in September…) Anyway, the point is, I’m kind of obsessed! I’ve read Colleen McCoullough’s work (even though her style isn’t my favorite) and I’m addicted to John Maddox Roberts’ SPQR and now I need to start Lindsey Davis…I’m THRILLED to know that I’m not alone!

  27. ASable
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 19:25:07

    @ Joanie T

    LOL, it's ok ASable…there are many authors persuing this time setting in historical romances!

    Thank you! I’m backing away from the ledge now . . . :)

  28. Joanie T
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 19:27:54

    Oh good…else I’d have to send one of my Roman heroes to rescue you…..

  29. Sherry Thomas
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 19:52:48

    The movie Hero (starring Jet Li) was set in the 3rd century B.C. Not exactly a romance but we Chinese love our ancient history. :-)

    Martial arts epics are our equivalent of historical fantasy.

  30. Lana
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 20:29:13

    I read an interesting romance set in ancient Rome involving a gladiatrix called Warrior or Wife? by Lyn Randal.

    There’s also a very different sort of young adult Cupid & Psyche retelling called ‘Cupid’ by Julius Lester.

  31. MaryK
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 20:30:56

    @Janine: Oh no, I was hoping you’d be a font of information. :)

    Sadly, by “collecting” I really mean “looking for,” and I haven’t found many. I know about the Graves version and I have a copy of a retelling by Edna Barth but that’s it. The few others that I’ve seen are re-translations of the Apuleius one or they’re for young children. I’m always hoping to find a version for an older audience though the M. Charlotte Craft retelling has some yummy looking illustrations by Kinuko Y. Craft .

    Oh, I also have a copy of Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George which is supposed to be an amalgamation of several fairytales with a touch of Cupid and Psyche, but I haven’t read it yet.

  32. Moth
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 20:35:42

    @Janine and MaryK

    I remember the Smart Bitches had a comment thread that listed bunch of Cupid/Psyche retellings… of course, I can’t remember which post it was, and it was awhile ago…

    Aha! It was a GSvsSTA:

  33. CD
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 21:45:53

    Oh Janine, I love the Cupid and Psyche myth! (And most myths, really, considering the kind of romance I write). Their story could totally be adapted to a mainstream romance, if it hasn't already been.

    Roberta Gellis wrote a series of books putting her own spin on Greek myths – essentially writing fantasy-romance. The first couple (OUP unfortunately) are more romance but then she was picked up by Baen and moved more towards fantasy although still with significant romantic subplots. They are:

    – Dazzling Brightness (Hades and Persephone)
    – Shimmering Splendor (Cupid and Psyche)
    – Bull God (Ariadne and Dionysos)
    – Thrice Bound (Hekete and Kabeiros)

    The last two are still in print.

    In terms of other ancient world romances, I’d recommend THE SILVER WOLF by Alice Borchardt. Not a straight romance but very romantic all the same. Can’t think of any more at the mo.

  34. Jane A
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 22:57:03

    I loved Shimmering Splendor by Roberta Gellis! It is a fantastic book which I rarely see discussed. I also really enjoyed Thrice Bound and Bull God (they are both still available from Baen books). I just got Dazzling Brightness from PBS and I’m sure it will be great, also.

    I also really loved Joan Wolf’s prehistoric trilogy, The Reindeer Hunters, The Horsemasters and Daughter of the Red Deer and highly recommend them.

    Jane, I love these threads bringing up books in different time periods, thanks for starting them. It’s fun to share some of my favorites and to be turned on to some more really great sounding books.

  35. Jane A
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 23:16:16

    Ack, I just lost a post, I hate it when that happens!

    In short, here are two more books set in ancient Egypt, Heart of the Falcon by Suzanne Robinson and Lady of the Upper Kingdom by Merline Lovelace. Both are currently available at

  36. Lindsay Townsend
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 03:46:37

    Dear Jane

    Thank you for mentioning my BLUE GOLD. Readers can see more links, excerpts and reviews here:

    I have also written FLAVIA’S SECRET, set in ancient Roman Britain and reviewed by Dear Author. Again, more links, excerpts and reviews here:

    If readers enjoy ancient world settings they may also like my BRONZE LIGHTNING. This features some of the characters from BLUE GOLD, among them Sarmatia, my Kretan bull leaper, who becomes the heroine of BRONZE LIGHTNING. This novel is also a coming of age story and a romantic suspense. It has paranormal elements in it, appropriate to the beliefs of the time, and in it we see Stonehenge and Avebury as they might have been during the Bronze Age.

    A new UK publisher who publishes ancient world settings is Quaestor2000:

    The Historical Novels Review covers historical fiction and non-fiction by period, including the ancient world:

    Best wishes, Lindsay.

  37. Tiffany Clare
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 04:25:28

    Judith E. French had a great trilogy told around Alexander the Great. The Conqueror, Barbarian and Warrior. I think that’s the order of them. Amazing books. The set up reminds me of Elizabeth Vaughan, where the hero and heroine span two books (the son is the third, though). It’s a beautifully, almost epic, romance with lots of unusual, unexpected twists and turns.

  38. DS
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 05:14:10

    Roberta Gellis has another book in her Mage series– Enchanted Fire. It’s about Orpheus.

  39. Stephanie Draven
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 05:14:43

    @Sandy D.: Ah, Jondalar and Ayla. I remember them well! I was way too young to be reading that, but oh my, I do remember it.

  40. Stephanie Draven
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 05:17:31

    Oh, I love me some Greek myths. Roberta Gellis’ Bull God was very interesting. Though I write contemporaries right now for Nocturne, I couldn’t help but work in myths about Dryads, Chimeras, Gorgons, and Gods.

    There’s just something about ancient culture that still speaks to us today and it’s very hard for me to resist. Let me think what else I can recommend. Judith Tarr’s Throne of Isis…The Red Tent isn’t exactly a romance but it was _beautiful_.

  41. Jill Myles
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 05:34:50

    Judith Tarr also wrote a book with Harry Turtledove called HOUSEHOLD GODS. It’s about a modern lawyer that wakes up in ancient Rome.

    I absolutely love that book – have read it a dozen times. It’s *not* not not not a romance, but the geek in me finds that the cultural aspects of life in the Roman Empire are extremely well done and the culture-shock the main character goes through is well-played.

  42. Lindsay Townsend
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 05:46:46

    I enjoyed the Mary Renault ancient Greek novels, ‘The King Must Die’, ‘The Bull’ From The Sea’, her trilogy on Alexander and her novels set in ancient Athens – ‘The Praise Singer’ and ‘The Last of the Wine’. Her novels have elements of romance in them but are more mainstream.

    Best wishes, Lindsay Townsend

  43. Linda Banche
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 06:12:11

    If you want a combination Georgian/Roman Britain story, try Emily Bryan’s “Vexing the Viscount”. The hero has found evidence of a Roman buried treasure, and the story of the hiding of the treasure in 400 AD is woven as flashbacks into the main story.

  44. Lusty Reader
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 08:14:51

    These aren’t romances, but came to mind first and I loved them all:

    -I will triple recommend Mara, Daughter of the Nile, just reread this and loved it, YA with a HEA for the romance storyline

    -Marion Zimmer Bradley books, someone mentioned Mists of Avalon, but also FIREBRAND (fall of Troy)

    -The Red Tent by Anita Diamont (fictional retelling of a woman in the old testament)

    -Red Branch by Morgan Llewellyn (fictional retelling of the Hound of Ulster in ancient celtic ireland, pretty sure it has a sad ending though)

  45. Maggie Toussaint
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 08:24:16

    I’m a Lindsay Townsend fan. I’m glad to see her getting this exposure.

    romance and mystery writer

  46. Linda Banche
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 09:20:58

    I second Maggie’s Toussaint’s comment. Go, Lindsay!

  47. MaryK
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 10:19:59

    @Jane A:

    I loved Shimmering Splendor by Roberta Gellis! It is a fantastic book which I rarely see discussed.

    That’s good to know. This discussion inspired me to go on a google hunt for Cupid & Psyche books where I found several reviews for Shimmering Splendor but none that recommended it unreservedly.

    [I know, I’m being very picky considering there are so few Cupid & Psyche books. What I really want, though, is a Robin McKinley version and I’m being contrary because I can’t have it. ;) ]

  48. Stephanie Draven
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 12:45:31

    @Lindsay Townsend:

    I think you just became a MUST READ for me! :)

  49. Janine
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 13:51:48

    Thanks MaryK!

  50. PI Barrington
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 17:38:50

    I’ve always loved ancient historical books, have since I was a little kid. I’d love to actually sit down and start writing one, but I keep ending up writing scifi/futuristic, lol! It’s true! I even have a novel coming up, one of three in a series. But, really, no, really, I’m going to put my forty-odd years of study of ancient civilizations, especially Egypt to use and sit down and write something up. For now, I’ve gotta worry about my future deadlines!

  51. Lindsay Townsend
    Aug 14, 2009 @ 02:18:39

    Thanks, Stephanie!
    Best wishes, Lindsay

  52. Michelle Moran
    Aug 14, 2009 @ 11:10:20

    I second what Stephanie Draven said. Margaret George writes fantastic novels set in the ancient world. Her Memoirs of Cleopatra and her novel on Helen of Troy are both excellent. Although they’re not romance per se, they certainly involve powerful love stories.

    I wrote a manuscript that's currently with editors entitled Lily of the Nile about Cleopatra Selene, the _actual_ last Ptolemaic queen. (It used to be called Cleopatra's Daughter, but you may have heard about Michelle Moran's book of the same title coming out in September…)

    I LOVE the title Lily of the Nile, Stephanie. My novel coming out in September is really more YA (although it’s being marketed as both adult and YA fiction). It would be fantastic to read a book on Cleopatra’s daughter that’s more “adult”, and really exciting to read one that falls into the romance category (don’t know if yours is romance or historical fiction). Either way, there’s about to be a Ptolemaic resurgence!!! :]

  53. Joanne Renaud
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 04:11:06

    What a great thread! I love ancient world romances, and I wish they were more common. I particularly enjoyed reading the recommendations here: I second the recommendation for Michelle Styles, esp. “The Roman’s Virgin Mistress,” and Merline Lovelace’s “Siren’s Call.” I also highly recommend “Enchant the Heavens” by Kathleen Morgan. I also like Roberta Gellis’ mythological romances, even though I’ve head a lot of people say that her medievals are stronger. (I still love Orpheus in “Enchanted Fire” though.)

    As older romances go, I’ve always enjoyed “The Lady Serena” by Jeanne Duval (aka Virginia Coffman), even though it’s extremely Old School, down to the stola-ripping. But Nero plays a major role in it, and he’s wonderfully campy.

    Has anyone read Gillian Bradshaw? She writes mainstream historicals, but she is an amazing author, as well as a classical scholar. Many of her books also feature strong romantic subplots. “Render unto Caesar” and “Cleopatra’s Heir” are sent in Rome and Roman Egypt, respectively, and are two of my favorites.

    Lindsey, your books sound wonderful. I am definitely going to check them out!

  54. Ami
    Aug 25, 2009 @ 00:39:33

    Wow, Gillian Bradshaw was actually mentioned! I really liked Beacon at Alexandria except it’s not THAT romance focused but I feel like it was a good part of the story sometimes. Main thing is that the heroine is amazing and independent. =D I love hiding gender to do what you want stories.

    Render unto Caesar was interesting for the female gladiator, but I didn’t really get the main couple.. it was more of bond forged out of enduring trials together.

    Hmm, going to see some of these other books.

  55. Joanne Renaud
    Aug 26, 2009 @ 01:16:34

    Yay, another Gillian Bradshaw fan! “Beacon” is good, but I’m not as attached to it as some of her other books (“Imperial Purple” was one of my favorites growing up). What did you think of “Cleopatra’s Heir,” Ami?


    I would love to read “Lily of the Nile”– I hope it gets published!

    @Joanie T

    Good luck with your manuscripts as well! I agree– the Roman Empire is plenty fascinating, and makes for lots of meaty conflict (and some great heroes)!

  56. Jessica
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 15:18:11

    I was actually browsing for inspiration, because I’m currently writing my own ancient Egypt time travel romance. There are so many readers here who love romances set in the ancient past. I’m curious if anyone would find my novel interesting? It involves a beautiful twenty-first century archaeologist and a lost pharaoh, who find each other by means of an enchanted tablet.

%d bloggers like this: