Why, why, why have I never read this before? This must surely be the wittiest ever Heyer, one where, astonishingly, all the characters are equally fun, from the reckless ingenues to the main couple to the side characters. It has echoes of familiar scenarios and characters (or rather, they have echoes of this work), but it is scintillatingly itself.
Here’s the premise: Sylvester, old Lord Lavenham, is dying, and his final wish is for his French granddaughter, Eustacie, to be taken care of, and the best way to do that is for her to marry one of her cousins. Basil is out of favour, Lord Lavenham’s heir, Ludovic, fled after a murder, and so the honour falls on the baron’s great-nephew, Sir Tristram Shield. He doesn’t mind. He’s thirty-one and has to marry sometime, after all, and Eustacie’s pretty enough. She’s a bit wilful and very French, but she accepts the idea, too, and they’ll learn to get along together, won’t they? But an evening together convinces Eustacie that he’s too boring and unromantic to be husband material, so she runs away, thereby setting in train a whole swathe of interesting (and very funny) consequences.
It’s froth, of course, as so many Heyers are ultimately, with smugglers, secret passages, a villain who was obvious from the start but wasn’t at all the moustache-twirling type, and a rather clever denouement. Along the way, it’s a gloriously funny adventure and not one but two satisfactory romantic pairings, although (and this is my main complaint with so many Heyers) the main romance is pushed aside rather in order to give the adventure time to shine. In fact, the secondary romance is almost better developed.
However, this didn’t detract too much from my overall enjoyment. I loved all the characters, especially the pragmatic Sir Tristram, this-is-fun Sarah Thane, over-romantic Eustacie, charmingly reckless Ludovic and (perhaps my favourite character) the wine-loving Sir Hugh, perfectly willing to ignore the shenanigans going on all round him, until the precious wine cellar was threatened! Possibly my new all time favourite Heyer. Five hundred stars, at least.