While there’s a lot to love about The Gilded Age embedded in its very premise (and those of us who enjoy our period drama with a healthy dose of the drama aspect will find plenty of it worth mining in Julian Fellowes’ latest series for HBO), one of the aspects of the show that fans have unexpectedly gravitated to is the steel-strong marriage between robber baron George Russell (Morgan Spector) and his wife Bertha (Carrie Coon). The Russells make a splash in 1880s New York City when they move in across the street from old-money family the Van Rhijns—and rub more than a few society figures the wrong way by what is perceived to be the flaunting of their fortune. In spite of being initially scorned by their peers, George and Bertha Russell remain resolved in their mission to fully integrate themselves into Gilded Age society, as well as wholly devoted to one another as husband and wife. What could be more romantic than that?
The Gilded Age might not be a romance-centered series (even if the Russells are essentially couple goals), but there are plenty of romance novels out there that can scratch the itch if you’re looking for Gilded Age-era love stories that share similar vibes with the HBO series’ most popular pair, as well as paranormal, fantasy, and mystery-rooted duos that are entirely committed to one another from the very first moment their eyes meet on-page. If you’re looking for romance power couples to give you the same energy that George and Bertha Russell deliver towards one another in each and every scene, these books are an excellent place to start.
It’s almost impossible to hear the term “Gilded Age romance” and not think of Joanna Shupe, an author who has carved out a niche in exploring that era with her absolutely fabulous heroines and the men who are utter simps for them. Her Uptown Girls trilogy, which follows the three sisters of the prestigious Greene family as they attempt to find their way in life and in love, is full of characters who would be right at home on HBO—but it’s the second book in the series, The Prince of BroadwayK, that is perfect for those readers who want both a hero that’s a self-made man and a keen, discerning society darling who isn’t content to let herself be used when she can turn around and use him right back.
Clayton Madden and Florence Greene are what George and Bertha Russell could very well have been if the man had invested in a casino rather than built his fortunes on the railyard, and the results are hot enough to potentially set the pages of your book (or e-reader) aflame.
I called out the latest installment of St. George’s Gilded Age Heiresses series as a romance novel well worth your attention in February, but it’s actually the first book, The Heiress Gets a Duke, wherein the titular heiress in question, August Crenshaw, holds shades of the same kind of unapologetic boldness that makes Carrie Coon’s Bertha a force to be reckoned with.
August is also a character who doesn’t necessarily want to be married solely due to financial reasons either, and part of her dynamic with Evan, the Duke of Rothschild, involves her asserting her own independence in the relationship before they can move to the next step.There’s also the similarly underlying theme of old versus new money that permeates throughout, as the Crenshaw family is more often than not caught up in how to silence their nay-sayers while also grasping onto their fortunes.
Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series was one of the first I came to as a fledgling romance reader, and to this day, I’ve never forgotten the relationship at its very center. Mercenary Kate Daniels is a skilled, capable lead who most often finds herself cleaning up various magical messes in a post-apocalyptic world (essentially, a version of Atlanta) where magic and technology cannot simultaneously exist.
The murder of Kate’s guardian effectively plunges her into a war between two different factions, but it also leads her to cross paths with the Beast Lord known as Curran, a man also capable of shifting into a lion. Over the course of the first book and every subsequent installment, watching Kate and Curran’s love story unfold into something truly special serves as its own reminder that you’ll never forget your first romance power couple.
Something that romance doesn’t get enough credit for is establishing its own shared universes, in which characters from one series make delightfully surprising appearances in another. Lisa Kleypas is the master of pulling off these intertwined stories, giving readers the opportunity to catch up on where one pair ends up after getting their own HEA. Devil in Spring, the third book in her Ravenels series, doesn’t just deliver a great primary romance; it also checks in with a couple from one of Kleypas’ previous books and finds them well-established and still madly in love with one another.
We get to see Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, as he courts and eventually woos the rebellious Pandora Ravenel, as well as where his parents (who met back in Devil in Winter) have ended up. Like George and Bertha Russell, Sebastian and Evie are rock-solid and just as adoring of each other as the day they first fell.
Those who want a romance couple whose love endures for books upon books upon books—and all set against the backdrop of very entertaining mysteries—can do no wrong when it comes to J.D. Robb’s long-running In Death series. (There may yet still be people among us who don’t know that Robb is actually an alternate pen name for the Nora Roberts, but now you know!) The books are set in what is actually a slightly futuristic version of New York City (the first installment takes place in 2058), and technology abounds, but one thing that will never change no matter the times is the similar abundance of crime.
Enter homicide detective Eve Dallas, whose by-the-book and no-nonsense approach to catching bad guys has earned her an impressive reputation as an investigator; when she encounters the mysterious and vastly wealthy man known only as Roarke, their connection sparks a fascination that leads to a romance the likes of which will change them both forever. As the series goes on, the two of them explore the ins and outs of their complicated relationship and eventual marriage, proving that no matter how long you’re together, you can still have the same amount of fire that existed from minute one.
Two seemingly ruthless individuals come together with a common goal—utterly vanquishing their enemies — only to realize that they’re stronger as a united front than they ever were trying to accomplish the same task independently. That’s the nutshell premise behind Milla Vane’s epic fantasy romance novel A Heart of Blood and Ashes, which does not withhold anything when it comes to bloody violence as well as the exposure of hearts laid bare.
The barbarian known as Maddek has been seeking to retaliate against the king responsible for his parents’ murder, and in order to do that he decides to capture the man’s daughter — but, as it turns out, Yvenne has designs of revenge all her own against her own family no less. When she proposes marriage mostly as a political goal, it seems like the perfect solution to their mutual problem (one that even the Russells might balk at a little), but their union allows them to come together on a strategic as well as an emotional level and culminates in them willing to go to the ends of the earth for one another — up to and including some light murder of certain foes. What could be more romantic than that?
It’s not an exaggeration to say that in the world of The Gilded Age, George Russell is an unabashed Wife Guy, wholly devoted to taking care of Bertha even if it means resorting to some particularly underhanded tactics in the process. With that in mind, one can’t help but think about Nicolas, the Marquess of Rothbury and Maryann Fitzwilliam of Stacy Reid’s Her Wicked Marquess, the second book in her Sinful Wallflowers series.
Like The Gilded Age’s George, Nicolas has required something of a reputation, but similarly, there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye. And while he aims at revenge on behalf of someone else rather than Maryann at first, he eventually finds himself captivated by her for her own unique reasons, as she does him. Her Wicked Marquess perfectly captures that mutual feeling of being enamored by one’s partner and having that emotion returned unabashedly, with both parties also inherently trusting and admiring one another exactly for who they are without conditions or limits.
While George Russell is a man entirely dedicated to his wife’s happiness, Bertha Russell is a woman who does not shy away from her past and is almost hellbent on entering society as a name worth knowing, in spite of those who would try to deem her an outcast because of the means by which her husband has made his fortune. Georgiana, the heroine of MacLean’s Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, has also made her own way for most of her life by wearing a variety of different guises, but ultimately realizes she wants better, not solely for herself but for her daughter too. Duncan West has also found his unorthodox financial success through the newspaper industry, but he’s undeniably fascinated by Georgiana on a number of levels and eventually puts the pieces together about her backstory.
This book has the intrigue, the drama, and quite frankly the sexiness to put The Gilded Age to shame, but if you want a read that takes all of the best elements of the show and cranks them up to 15, give this one a shot (as well as the previous books in MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels series!).
Carly Lane is an Atlanta-based writer who considers herself a lifelong Star Wars fan, newbie Trekker, diehard romance reader, nascent horror lover, and occasional live-tweeter. She is the senior TV editor at Collider, a former contributing editor for SYFY FANGRRLS, and has also written for Vulture, the Boston Globe, Nerdist, Teen Vogue, Den of Geek, The Toast, and elsewhere around the Internet.