Posts Tagged: heyer

Review: Frederica by Georgette Heyer

August 15, 2018 Review 0

After a run of 5* Heyers, this one lost a star for a rash of silliness. Too many of her books depend for their climactic disaster on characters behaving in positively bird-witted ways, without an ounce of common sense, and so it is here. Fortunately, the hero and heroine rise above the foolishness, there’s a lovely slow-build romance going on, too, and the humour is as well-developed as always.

Here’s the premise: the Merriville family descends on London so that beautiful Charis can make her come-out. To ensure this, older sister Frederica calls upon a distant relation, the Marquis of Alverstoke, to help launch Charis into society. Alverstoke is a bored, over-indulged and selfish rake-about-town who is unaccustomed to lifting a finger, even for much closer relations, but the chance to infuriate his own sisters spurs him to agree to hold a ball for Charis, and his sisters’ daughters.

So far, so meh. Alverstoke is, at this point, an unappealing character, entirely self-centred, and Frederica isn’t much better, being an overly managing and verbose spinster, completely caught up in the affairs of her family to the exclusion of any other consideration. But luckily Frederica has three brothers, and the younger two, sixteen-year-old Jessamy and twelve-year-old Felix, are the glorious, and very funny, heart of the book. Felix is obsessed with mechanical devices of all kinds and is charming enough to succeed in dragging a very reluctant Alverstoke on a trip to examine a foundry, amongst other delights. Jessamy is trying to study to be a worthy clergyman, in time, but would really rather be out on horseback. And both of them have a great propensity to get into deep trouble, whereupon they promptly turn to Alverstoke for help.

And so, by very gradual degrees, Alverstoke learns to care for someone other than himself, and Frederica learns to depend on someone other than herself, and by even more gradual degrees they fall in love. We see this more clearly in Alverstoke, and I loved the careful way he protected Frederica from gossip by not paying her too much attention, and being very casual when he’s with her, so that she isn’t seen as merely the latest flirt of a confirmed rake. With the downside, of course, that she never quite realises his intentions and he never quite finds himself in a position to raise the issue.

This aspect of the book is faultless, but of course it wouldn’t be a Heyer without at least one silly ingenue. Here, it’s Charis who fulfils the role, aided and abetted by the handsome but equally empty-headed Endymion, Alverstoke’s heir. They manage to create the usual end-of-book crisis, which is fortunately resolved rather quickly here. An honourable mention at this point to Alverstoke’s secretary, Mr Charles Trevor, who creatively solves every dilemma, and a dishonourable mention for Lufra, the Baluchistan hound, who sadly turned out to be a mere plot device, for he was barely mentioned after his magnificent performance in Green Park. A good four stars.

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Review: False Colours by Georgette Heyer

August 5, 2018 Review 0

There’s something magical about an identical twin story, and this one is about as good as they come. Kit Fancot, as the younger brother, has taken up a diplomatic career. When he returns to England, he finds his brother Evelyn has disappeared, while on the brink of a very sudden betrothal. All the lady’s relations have been gathered to meet Evelyn, and to save his brother from embarrassment, Kit agrees to impersonate him.

He scrapes through the meeting and retires to the family estate to hide away until Evelyn turns up again, but the young lady’s formidable grandmother invites herself and her granddaughter to stay with them. This is a crisis, so Kit’s widowed mother invites some starchy relations and one of her beaux to join them. Thus begins one of the most awkward house parties ever, not helped by Kit and the young lady, Cressy, beginning to fall in love.

Of course Evelyn eventually turns up again, having fallen in love himself, and the brothers have to dream up some ingenious way to swap back their identities and pair up with their chosen ladies, without creating a scandal. The whole book is delightful, and one of the funniest Heyers ever. As with many of her tales, the principal characters are perfectly rational people, but the side characters are gloriously over the top.

Lady Denville is clearly based on the outrageously extravagant Duchess of Devonshire, completely dippy about money but so charming that nobody ever minded. Well, except her late husband, who was a hard-nosed sort of bloke and gave her a rotten time. Sir Bonamy Ripple, her vastly overweight but very wealthy admirer, is no doubt based on the Prince of Wales, or Prinny, himself. These two, and the formidable grandmother, provide most of the entertainment, and the dialogue is utterly brilliant. The scene where Lady Denville persuades perpetual bachelor Sir Bonamy to marry her is masterful.

Naturally all’s well that ends well, everyone ends up with the most suitable partner (yes, even Sir Bonamy!) and scandal is averted. Five well-earned stars.

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Review: The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer

July 25, 2018 Review 2

A delight from start to finish. A hero and heroine who are both sensible, reasonable people, a young buck who manages to be perfectly gentlemanly, a ‘villain’ who still manages to be sympathetic despite his total selfishness, and a plot that rattles along nicely without any eye-rolling moments. What could possibly go wrong? Well, I’ll come to that.

The premise: to the disgust of his less well-heeled relatives, Sir Waldo Hawkridge has inherited a run-down property in Yorkshire from the reclusive Joseph Calver. To the delight of the locals, Sir Waldo, known as the Nonesuch for his sporting abilities, arrives to inspect the property, with his cousin Julian, Lord Lindeth, in tow. Julian’s escaping the efforts of his fond mother to see him rise to stellar heights in London society. He, however, prefers a quiet country life.

The locals are determined to make the most of these unexpected arrivals, and launch a season of outings and parties and general gaiety, with the less than subtle intention of securing one or both of the gentlemen for one of the local girls. Julian is instantly smitten by the devastatingly beautiful Tiffany Wield, while Waldo is drawn to her cool, composed and oh-so-elegant governess-companion, Ancilla Trent.

And so begins the dance. Waldo and Ancilla both, in their different ways, contrive to keep Julian out of Tiffany’s clutches, Ancilla by playing on Tiffany’s self-interest, and Waldo by manoeuvring Tiffany to show her worst, self-centred, temper-tantrum self in front of Julian. And this goes along so swimmingly that Tiffany decides to run away and recruits the equally self-centred cousin Laurence to her cause, a mistake of huge (and very entertaining) proportions.

All of this is delightful, and our two principals are merrily falling in love and on the brink of their happy ending, but naturally this wouldn’t be a Regency romance if two rational adults simply fell in love and got married, and so we come to the inevitable obstacle. Surely it can’t be…? But it is. Once again a perfectly decent story is mucked up with The Great Misunderstanding, of the sort that could easily be sorted out in two minutes if the hero and heroine just talked to each other.

Which is disappointing, but luckily the hero is a sensible man who doesn’t storm off in a huff or (as in some books) immediately betroth himself to some hideously unsuitable person. Instead, he keeps asking the heroine ‘Why not?’ every time she refuses him, by which means the matter is eventually resolved. Thank heavens for sensible heroes!

Despite the annoyance of The Great Misunderstanding, the rest of the book was overwhelmingly enjoyable, and it was all cleared up quickly so I’m not going to knock off a star. Plus I rather liked Waldo – one of the better heroes, I think. So, five stars.

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Review: ‘A Civil Contract’ by Georgette Heyer

June 21, 2018 Review 0

This is an amazing book. Not only does it have Heyer’s trademark range of eccentric characters and humour, but it has an emotional resonance unusual for this style of book. The root problem is one that’s bothered me, too, as I write my own Regency romances – what would a marriage of convenience really be like? Modern folk are so accustomed to the idea of romantic love matches that we can’t quite get to grips with the reality of a pragmatic, loveless marriage of near-strangers. It would have been easier for the wealthy, with their separate bedrooms and almost separate lives for men and women, and the formality of Regency manners would have helped, but even so, most modern Regencies gloss over the difficulties. The hero and heroine have a few dust-ups before deciding that, actually, they’re in love after all, so cue the violins. But I wonder just how likely that would be.

Here’s the premise: Adam Deveril is summoned home from his soldiering on the continent when his father dies. He discovers to his horror that the estate is virtually bankrupt. His mother’s portion is secure, but there’s no money for a season for his sister, or a dowry, and even the treasured family home will have to be sold. There’s just one way out – to marry a wealthy heiress, selling his viscountcy to the daughter of some upstart city merchant. And here Heyer adds the cruel twist that gives the book so much of its emotional depth – such a marriage, while it saves Adam and his estate, would destroy for ever his chance of marrying the love of his life, the beautiful, if highly-strung Julia Oversley.

Through Julia’s father, Adam is introduced to the plain and shy Jenny Chawleigh, and even her name is dowdy (her given name is the much prettier Jane, but everyone calls her Jenny). She’s been well educated, so her manners are good, but her style of dress is of the ‘more is more’ type, with lace and flounces and jewels dripping everywhere. And here is one of the most interesting elements of the book – the culture clash between Jenny’s wealthy but uncultured upbringing and Adam’s far more refined background in the upper echelons of society.

The epitome of this culture clash, of course, is the character who towers over the book, dominating every scene he is in – Jonathan Chawleigh, the extremely wealthy ‘cit’ (a banker, industrialist or merchant from the city of London), Jenny’s rough and ready father. Mr Chawleigh knows perfectly well that he won’t fit in with Adam’s upper class friends, and assures him he will keep out of the way. That doesn’t stop him from stepping in to splash his money about on his behalf. When Adam decides to sell the family’s town house, Chawleigh secretly buys it and has it refurbished to his own vulgar taste while the newly weds are on honeymoon. Such episodes are a sore trial of Adam’s good manners.

All of this is delicious, and very funny, but the real heart of the book is the slowly developing relationship between Adam and Jenny, and the parallel choices of his cast-off love, the melodramatic Julia. Many readers find Adam and Jenny’s story a sad one, the surrendering of intense romantic love for the quieter affection of shared interests and a comfortably placid life. I think it’s a beautiful realisation of the joy of a real marriage, one that’s fuelled by genuine affection rather than the fireworks of instant attraction. Love, rather than infatuation. A wonderful and thought-provoking read. Five stars.

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Review: The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer

June 13, 2018 Review 0

Well, Hugo’s a charmer, and no mistake. Coming to this directly after Venetia is a bit of an eye-opener, for the contrast between sophisticated rake Damerel and straight-down-the-line Hugo could hardly be more marked. The leading ladies are very different, too, but whereas Venetia leaps off the page in all her self-assured glory, Anthea is very much a minor note to Hugo’s symphony. For this book is all about Hugo, make no mistake.

The premise is an intriguing one: irascible Lord Darracott has lost his eldest son and grandson in a boating accident. Now his heir is the unknown son of second son, who disgraced the family name by marrying a Yorkshire weaver. Lord Darracott summons the heir to Darracott Place, and also summons various other members of the family to meet him and whip him into shape, because he’s bound to be an ill-mannered oaf, isn’t he?

Hugo, when he arrives and realises the low expectations of him, amuses himself by playing up to his relations’ worst fears, by laying on the Yorkshire brogue with a trowel, and playing the bovine bumpkin to perfection. It’s the ladies, interestingly, who spot the deception first, and dear old grandpapa, grumpy old sod that he is, never quite gets to grips with it until the end.

Surrounding Hugo is a pantheon of brilliantly realised characters: Claud the fop, Vincent the sardonic Corinthian, Matthew the plodding unambitious one, Richmond the spoilt brat, Lady Aurelia the above-the-fray aristocrat and poor, harassed Mrs Darracott, not to mention the delightfully competitive valets, Polyphant and Crimplesham. All of this comes together into one gloriously over-the-top ensemble performance at the end, as the comedy descends into barely contained farce.

All of this is delicious, of course, but it isn’t a romance. The love interest, Anthea, is a perfectly normal, rational woman, intelligent and calm in a crisis, and with the wit to spot that Hugo isn’t nearly as oafish as they’d expected. That makes her a perfectly acceptable heroine, but in company with the sort of dazzling characters of Heyer at her best, Anthea is reduced to a dull glow, not the vivid brilliance of (say) a Sophy or a Venetia. Even when she bandies words with Hugo, she invariably loses the battle of wits, as she recognises herself. There are no fireworks in their romance, and no passion – it comes down to two people who liked each other almost from the first, became friends and… er, that’s about it, really. One review says that they ‘fell in like’, which sums it up beautifully.

One of the usual irritants that isn’t so obvious in this book in Regency cant, and just as well, because Hugo’s speech is stuffed full of Yorkshire dialect, and boy does that get old quickly. Once everyone was aware that he wasn’t an uneducated lout, the dialect could have been dropped altogether, for my money.

For those who read Heyer for the eccentric characters and the riotous escapades, this should be right up your alley. For me, while I loved Hugo to pieces and he is one of my all-time favourite Heyer heroes, almost up there with dear Freddy, the tame romance and that oh-so-annoying dialect keeps this to four stars.

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Review: ‘Venetia’ by Georgette Heyer

May 22, 2018 Review 0

Hooray for a heroine who is smart, resourceful and knows her own mind right from the start! So many of Heyer’s heroines somehow don’t recognise their own feelings until the hero sweeps them into his manly arms and kisses them thoroughly, but Venetia is not of that type. She sees her soul-mate in Damerel almost at once, and isn’t the slightest bit deterred by his rakish past. In fact, at the end of the book, her urgency in wanting to get back to him is as much driven by fear that he will take another mistress as anything else.

Venetia is twenty five, and has lived secluded all her adult life, firstly by the vagaries of her eccentric father, and later by the need to deputise for her absent brother, the heir to the estate, and her highly intellectual younger brother, who has a leg damaged by childhood illness. She is pursued by two dogged swains. One is a suitable and worthy but deadly dull man, who never respects Venetia enough to believe her when she says she doesn’t want to marry him. In fact, he never believes anything she says, because he’s a man and he knows better. The other is very young, suffering from over-romantic calf-love.

Into this state of stasis drops the owner of the neighbouring, much neglected, estate, Lord Damerel, a renowned rake and ne’er-do-well. As is very commonplace in these stories, his every action within the confines of the book are perfectly respectable (with one exception – his first meeting with Venetia). But from then onwards, he lives a blameless, not to say generous and open-hearted, life, setting his estate in order, taking Venetia’s hard-to-manage brother in hand and behaving with perfect propriety towards Venetia herself. It’s claimed that his objective is to seduce her, but frankly he never steps outside the bounds of propriety once, so it’s hard to believe.

The romance in this book is one of the most natural and charming that Heyer ever wrote. These two are perfect friends, getting along so well that you wonder quite how they can ever be kept apart. But kept apart they are, and for that stupid old chestnut of a reason, ‘the heroine’s own good’. Fortunately, Venetia discovers the truth and, being a resourceful lady, sets about securing her own happiness with great determination. My eyebrows rose at her journey all alone on the mail coach, and there’s just a touch of deus ex machina in the way she resolves her difficulty, but whatever.

Venetia’s family, even the always absent heir, Conway, is steeped in selfishness. The father withdrew into seclusion, trapping Venetia with him. The older brother is both selfish and indolent, one of those people who just never knuckles down to doing anything that might make him the slightest bit uncomfortable. The younger brother is immersed in his books, to the point of barely noticing the existence of his sister. And the mother – well, let’s just say she was pretty selfish, too. So it comes as no surprise that when it come to the crunch, Venetia decides to be selfish, too, and grab her happiness by the scruff of its neck, regardless of her family. And of course Damerel has always been selfish, too. I do wonder whether he will reform or not. The two have this delightful discussion at the end of the book, and I’m not at all sure whether this is serious, or only partly serious or all in fun:

‘You’d know about my orgies!’ objected Damerel.
‘Yes, but I shouldn’t care about them, once in a while. After all, it would be quite unreasonable to wish you to change all your habits, and I can always retire to bed, can’t I?’
‘Oh, won’t you preside over them?’ he said, much disappointed.
‘Yes, love, if you wish me to,’ she replied, smiling at him. ‘Should I enjoy them?’
He stretched out his hand, and when she laid her own in it, held it very tightly. ‘You shall have a splendid orgy, my dear delight, and you will enjoy it very much indeed!’

The final scenes are lovely, and there’s the usual array of wonderful minor characters to enjoy. This is more wordy and introspective than many Heyers, and I didn’t find either of the two suitors worthy of the amount of words expended on them, but never mind. A terrific heroine, a charming and un-rake-like hero and a wonderful romance – five stars.

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Review: ‘Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle’ by Georgette Heyer

December 16, 2017 Review 0

This was published the same year as April Lady, and is so much the better of the two that it’s untrue. The hero is a seemingly perfect gentleman, not a cynical, world-weary older man, and his only flaw is a tendency to arrogance. But then he is a duke, so perhaps that’s unavoidable. The heroine is a bright, independent-minded young lady, quite young (as Heyer’s heroines tend to be) but not at all the silly ingenue.

The premise is that our hero, Sylvester, has decided to get married. He has a shortlist of eligible females, but his godmother bounces him into considering another (our heroine, Phoebe). She’s only met him briefly, but found him cold and reserved. She’s written a novel and made him, thinly disguised, into the villain. And when she hears he’s coming to the family home to offer for her, she’s so horrified that she runs away.

This sets in train all sorts of Heyer-esque misadventures and misunderstandings, including an enforced stay in an inn, where Sylvester plays the hero rather than the villain, and both hero and heroine discover that the other is not as bad as rumour painted them. But when the novel is published and Sylvester learns that Phoebe has made him a laughing stock, things get very sticky.

The scenes between Sylvester and Phoebe shine, but there are also some fairly tedious passages that I was basically skim-reading just to get through them. In particular, the histrionics of Ianthe and her swain got old really, really quickly, and by the time we got to France, I was just hoping for Sylvester to turn up and make things interesting again.

The romance works better than many Heyers, in that the developing relationship between the hero and heroine is clear to see. I liked, too, Sylvester’s disintegration from suave society man who always knows the correct thing to say to incoherent lover, getting everything wrong. But Phoebe is just a termagent at this point, and I really wanted to slap her. So many Heyers end with the heroine too stupid to recognise her own feelings, and having to be forced to acknowledge them by the hero sweeping her into his manly arms for a passionate kiss. I’d like it if, just once, the story could end with him proposing and her accepting him in a sensible manner. Still, four stars for a nice romance, some laugh-out-loud moments and a good array of excellent side characters (the horrible Ianthe notwithstanding).

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Review: ‘April Lady’ by Georgette Heyer

December 16, 2017 Review 0

This is one of Heyer’s books that I remember vividly from my original read many years ago, and not in a good way. I’ve not been looking forward to reaching this point in my reread. It has so many of the motifs I really dislike: the worldly older hero, the silly, very young heroine, the misunderstandings, the main romance pushed aside by the subplots… Not to mention there’s also a second silly, very young female, plus (another Heyer favourite) a rather wild young man.

The overriding problem is the relationship between the hero and heroine. In the very first scene, he is telling her off for running up so many bills and she’s miserably apologetic, and although there’s no heat in his manner, it still comes across as something not very much like a married couple. An uncle/niece, perhaps, or a teacher ticking off a naughty schoolchild. And even though he’s somewhat affectionate towards her, his manner is more avuncular than husbandly. It’s certainly not a marriage of equals, and one wonders just what he sees in her.

The other problem is that every difficulty between them could be resolved if they just sat down for five minutes and talked to each other. But no, she jumps through endless hoops to avoid telling him something trivial, and he gets all huffy and uptight, and frankly, they deserve their misery. As for the subplot with the ridiculous sister, the less said about that the better. This is the first Heyer I actually skim-read just to get through it, and even then the payoff wasn’t worth it. There’s a point where the heroine sets off to confess all to the hero (at which point, I’m yelling ‘YES!!!’), she realises he’s misunderstood something and instead of just explaining it, she dashes all over London trying to resolve things single-handed, while he’s dashing around after her. And of course, there’s a whole heap of prime Heyer shenanigans as a result, but by that time, I just wanted to bang their heads together. This is one romance where it’s impossible to see how the marriage will last. Sadly, this doesn’t merit more than two stars.

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Review: ‘Faro’s Daughter’ by Georgette Heyer

December 5, 2017 Review 0

I missed this one in my chronological reread of Heyer’s Regency romances because it’s actually set in the 18th century, but apart from the occasional mention of brocade coats and lace frills and sac dresses, it’s indistinguishable from the other romances. The hero is the usual world-weary older man, arrogant to the point of rudeness. The heroine is the spirited and independent sort, not quite the Grand Sophy or Serena from Bath Tangle, but along those lines. There are not one but two doe-eyed ingenues, and one callow buck, so we are on familiar ground here.

Here’s the premise: gaming club hostess Deborah Grantham has attracted the attention of young Adrian Maplethorpe, who fancies himself in love. Believing Deb to be a fortune hunter, Adrian’s trustee Max Ravenscar sets off to get rid of her. First he tries to bribe her, but she is so insulted that she refuses, and so sets in train a series of escalating reprisals between the two.

These are not my favourite Heyer characters, by any means, but the story was so entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny that I loved it anyway. The whole wine cellar incident is just sublime. There was only one wobbly moment right at the end, where the hero confesses his love and tells her he wants to marry her, and she’s so angry at him she just can’t stop shouting at him. That makes her seem like too silly for words. Could she not at least have had a wait-what? moment, and stopped shouting long enough to recognise the fundamental change in their relationship?

But ultimately, one doesn’t read Heyer for the rational behaviour of her heroines (or heroes either), so this is another five star read for me.

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Review: ‘Sprig Muslin’ by Georgette Heyer

October 17, 2017 Review 0

There’s one thing you can say about Heyer – she’s not at all predictable. One never knows quite what oddball characters and situations will spring up. This is one of her books where the actual heroine, that is, the love interest of the hero, is almost a minor character, subservient to the action, and the scene-stealer is the typical bouncy and troublesome ingenue. So far, so normal.

The premise is that Sir Gareth Ludlow is on his way to offer marriage to a suitable lady, one he’s known for years, but isn’t in love with. His much-loved fiance died seven years earlier and he’s finally decided he can’t put off matrimony any longer and chooses shy and very much on-the-shelf Lady Hester. But on the way, he crosses paths with Amanda, the aforementioned ingenue, who is risking her reputation by travelling alone. Honourable Sir Gareth is determined to save her from himself, so scoops her up and takes her to Hester’s house for safe-keeping. Amanda, of course, doesn’t want to be kept safe, and is determined to have her own way in whatever ingenious manner springs to her fertile imagination.

What follows is an entertaining romp, totally silly of course, which succeeds in throwing hero and heroine together in such a way that he comes to appreciate her, and she, who has loved him for years, finally feels able to accept him. And the ingenue and everyone else get appropriate happy endings as well, as is always the case with Heyer. Very enjoyable and funny, although I’m not a huge fan of these silly bits of girls rampaging around the countryside. Nor could I quite understand why Lady Hester would refuse Sir Gareth’s perfectly sensible offer of marriage in the first place. That made no sense at all. Even if he wasn’t in love with her at the time, he would have got round to it in the end. As indeed he did. However, I liked Sir Gareth and Lady Hester, so this one merits four stars from me.

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