Romantic International Settings in Romance Novels

by | July 5, 2016 |

When we think about romantic international settings, we typically think of places such as England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and other such Western European settings. However, as the world has become more accessible, and the romance audience explores more parts of it or their ideas of romantic places to visit expands beyond Europe, are there other international romantic spots that will draw readers in romance novels exploring new locals?

Shannon Young’s Ferry Tale (2016) is a love story set in Hong Kong. The heroine, Katrina, has just moved from New York City to Hong Kong. She needs to make a clean start, due to an unfortunate Youtube video that went viral. Early on, she muses:

“The green and white Star Ferry, like an oblong floating layer cake, one was of the only iconic Hong Kong things Katrina had actually known about before moving to the city. It sailed back and forth from Hong Kong Island to busy Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon, and she often took it to work in the evenings.”

Romantic International Settings Ferry

[Star Ferry, Hong Kong]

Katrina first meets Sam on the ferry. They have their trials and tribulations and, eventually, their Happily Ever After. Throughout her tale, Young keeps the sights, sounds, and the complex social dynamics of Hong Kong front and center. The city comes alive in her story. In other words, her setting is like another character. While this novel is not set in a typical romantic place to visit, keeping Hong Kong in the center of the novel transforms it into a romantic spot that blossom’s Katrina and Sam’s love story.

Ferry Tales got me thinking about how romantic international settings for romance novels might change in the future.

Romance Reader Demographics

At present the largest romance reading market is still (I’m guessing) the United States. According to Nielsen’s 2015 Romance Book Buyer report (which focused only on the U.S.):

-the average age of a reader is 42, with 44% of them aged 18-44;
-a significant proportion of readers lives in the South or the Mid-West and tend to be retired;
-readers are still more likely to be female, but men are coming into the genre; in the first quarter of 2014, men accounted for 15% of romance book purchases.

I imagine that most readers in the U.S. – especially the older ones – prefer settings in the U.S. or, if they enjoy romantic international settings, it’s in familiar Western European countries like England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy and, every now and then, Greece.

Still, I can’t help but think that the sizable younger readership – the coveted millennials (aged 16 – 34) – will eventually have a taste for romantic international settings in less familiar locations.

So I decided to check out what is currently available in romances with more adventurous romantic spots. Without counting the erotic short stories I found set in places like South Africa and Japan, I came up with a few titles:

Romance Novels and Unusual Romantic International Settings

Rozsa Gaston, Budapest Romance (2014):

 Buda is on one side of the Danube and Pest on the other.

[Buda is on one side of the Danube and Pest on the other.]

In Gaston’s story Budapest feels more like a backdrop than a character. That’s not a criticism. It just depends on what the author wants to do with her story and her setting. This story is one of the heroine connecting with her roots and finding love.

Laura DeBruce’s The Riddle of Prague (2013) is set in 1990. The author is not trying to bring present-day Prague to life, but she does give a sense of the atmosphere of Prague just coming out from under Communism, all with a thriller plot.

Prague today is all spruced up. In the 1990s it was a lot greyer.

[Prague today is all spruced up. In the 1990s it was a lot greyer.]

Mona Risk’s An Unusual Christmas (2013) is set in Minsk, Belarus.

Minsk and its classic Soviet-style main square

[Minsk and its classic Soviet-style main square]

Risk’s story involves two doctors and thus revolves more around hospitals than the city itself.

Tony Parson’s My Favourite Wife (2013) is set in Shanghai and isn’t a romance with an expected HEA. It is clear, however, that Shanghai is a character in the story and not just a backdrop, because Parson is concerned to characterize the changing physical and social conditions in this dynamic city.

Romance International Shanghai

[Shanghai with its Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower]

On occasion I run across a werewolf or spy/mafia story set in Russia. However, my conclusion is that there is not yet a demand for romances featuring settings outside the U.S. and Western Europe.

Romantic International Settings in My Books

However, I want more novels with diverse romantic international settings, and so I’ve gone about filling (my own) need.

Eager to read about Vietnam? Try my Forest Breeze seriesTied Up (2013), Captured (2014), and Knocked Out (2015).

Romance International Ho Chi Minh City

[Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon – Central Square with Notre Dame in the middle and the pink post office on the left]

How about other great locations around the world that can be a great romantic spot?

My grand idea of romance on a global scale turned into my paranormal trilogy:

The Blue Hour – set in Durham NC, Chicago and Paris of the 1880s and the present;

Romance International Paris

[Paris, Montmartre]

The Crimson Hour – set in San Francisco, Bucharest Romania and Hong Kong of the 1890s and the present;

Bucharest, Piața Universității

[Bucharest, Piața Universității]


The Emerald Hour – set in London and Rio of the past and present, plus Wilmington, NC

Romance International Rio

[Rio, view of Sugar Loaf seen from the top of Corcovado]

I began that series twenty years ago already! I now ask the question: Romance and expanded international settings – continuing fringe or inevitable future?


Get Your Copy on Amazon Today!

Book One: Tied Up

Book Two: Capture

Book Three: Knocked Out

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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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