Romance Readers Guide to Historic London by Sonja Rouillard

I read travel guides like any other book. In a world where people seeeeeeeeeeem to think Oh, no, who uses Lonely Planet anymore when you’ve got the internet in your pocket, let me tell you, internet. Browsing through a travel guide is worth your time. You’ll find at least one thing that you may not have found on Expedia’s Top Ten Things to do in London that is clearly a perfect trap set personally for you. (To the point that if I vanish next fall, it’s because the Dennis Sever’s House is RHG bait and I knew that and I booked a visit six months in advance anyway.)

I also saw this particular travel guide advertised at RT, and seeing as I am going to the UK this fall (Stay tuned for meetup details) and three of those days will be spent in London, YEAH YOU BET YOUR ASS I GOT THIS.

The concept behind this guide is to help romance readers find places that appear in our favorite historicals, and explains what’s still around and what you might be able to see. For example, the Serpentine is still there, but Almack’s is completely gone. It includes relevant excerpts from a large handful of romances, from Georgette Heyer to Erin Knightley.  Do you want to know exactly how to get to Vauxhall Gardens? Or go to Tattersalls? Need an idea of what to expect from the various Royal Palaces around London? Or want someone to explain exactly where Mayfair is, what that means to a Regency historical reader, and how to get there?  This book has you covered.

Hotels and places to eat are sorted by price range (from “Governess on holiday” to “King’s ransom”) and then ranked by how authentic a feel the historic establishment has.  How old is, is it a Grade Listed building? How preserved is it? Does it have period decor? Does it give you that feeling of being in “Merry Olde England?”

The Guide also goes through an exhaustive list of hotels that are old and of interest to the historical romance reader. Rouillard lays out in stern detail how, should you stay in a hotel that was built back in The Day, you could expect small, weird shaped rooms and perhaps no elevator (but in the interest of accessibility, she does tell you where there are no lifts), and that Americans will sometimes be… distraught… over the idea of a small hotel room. But if you want to fork out for a room at Brown’s Hotel, where many of the political movers and shakers of the last two centuries have stayed, what you need to know is all there.

My favorite part is the listing of pubs and taverns and restaurants. It’s an impressive list that gives the history of each place (“The current building only dates from 1667 – yawn – when the pub was rebuilt after the Great Fire.” – Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese) and tips on what food is offered and what the best bets are for meal choices. Also important, Rouillard gives the basic price range and dress code –  after all, you wouldn’t want to be turned away from your High Tea at the Ritz because you’re wearing sneakers. (I know that none of you would dare.) Also very handy: a lot of these tiny tiny pubs are hidden and tucked away in the medieval nooks and crannies and you need some specific directions to find them (“Down an unmarked alley…”).

SPEAKING OF THE HIGH TEA, there are many options, dissected and ranked by price and snootiness. (I will be doing one, but in Edinburgh, not London. I’ll report back, don’t worry.)

One thing I found annoying: Rouillard includes notes on things “for the guys” like the Imperial War Museum or the Sherlock Holmes Pub. First, what? Second, these parts are still relevant to the interests of romance readers, some of whom are dudes. Third, gender-essentialist much? Finally, please don’t do that.  She explains this as, “You might need something to salt your conversation with as you plan this trip for your dude to go along with it” but…ugh.

I will be going through this book with post-it tabs as I finalize plans for my own trip. I have my major excursions planned, but there’s a wall left of the Newgate prison to see (complete with ghost), and a girl has to eat, so pubs that are older than the United States are going on the list. I’m excited! I don’t know if I’m going to make it to Vauxhall, though.

Even if a trip to London isn’t in the cards in the near future, this book is fun to read. If you’ve ever wondered what all of the places that keep appearing in historicals are like today, this is for you. I wish I could afford a room in some of these hotels, but I will content myself with knowing they exist.

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Romance Readers Guide to Historic London by Sonja Rouillard

April 16, 2017

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