Posts Tagged: heyer

Review: ‘The Toll-Gate’ by Georgette Heyer

August 26, 2017 Review 0

I started this book twice. The first time, I was put off by the vast number of names and intertwined relationships. The second time, determined to learn them all, I still got befuddled. And you know what? After the first chapter, none of them are ever seen again! That is so irritating.

This is part of my reread of all Heyer’s Regency romances, in chronological order. Oddly enough, this is the first one not to ring any bells with me, so I think I must have missed it before. The premise – John Staple, former captain of the Dragoons, takes a wrong turn while going to visit a friend. Finding himself at a toll-gate, manned only by a boy whose father has disappeared under odd circumstances, he stays to uncover the mystery. And for another, more personal, reason.

One of my biggest complaints about Heyer is that the romance tends to get buried by the twists and turns of the plot, only to suddenly reappear in the last chapter. Not so here, for it forms the centre of the unlikely chain of events that unfolds, and for once is the least implausible part of the story. I liked both the main characters, and if their love is more bolt-from-the-blue than slow-burn, it felt realistic for two people old enough to know their own minds.

My other big complaint about Heyer is the amount of Regency cant she likes to use. When it’s just a couple of characters, it’s not too bad, but here almost everybody uses it liberally and it drove me nuts. It’s a dreadful distraction, and (frankly) the worst kind of well-researched showing off.

The ending is pretty silly, but also unsettling in some ways. But then it was written in 1954 so I suppose sensibilities were different then. Four stars.

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Review: ‘Cotillion’ by Georgette Heyer

December 2, 2016 Review 0

The run of five star reviews is getting longer. Here’s another classic, #11 in my complete reread of the author’s Regency romances, and this is the fifth five star in succession. Yet I can’t give it less, not when I enjoyed it so much. This is absolutely vintage Heyer, with perhaps my favourite hero so far, a spirited and self-assured heroine, a wonderful sub-plot and a very credible romance, for once.

This book, first published in 1953, starts with an outrageous arrangement: wealthy Mr Penicuik decides to leave his considerable fortune to whichever of his nephews marries his adopted daughter Kitty. Two turn up – the rather pompous clergyman and the not-quite-all-there Earl. Kitty composedly turns them down. But when dandy-about-town Freddy Standen arrives, not quite understanding what is happening, and, when he does, immediately ready to turn tail and run away, Kitty persuades him into a fake betrothal so that she can get herself up to town. Because there’s yet another cousin, Jack, the handsome rake…

And so begins this wonderful tale. What I love most about it is that although in some respects it falls into the traditional Heyer mould of an older man-about-town and a young ingenue, Kitty isn’t at all a helpless young thing, and Freddy isn’t the usual world-weary rake. He’s just a very, very nice man who would never, ever do anything improper, and is clearly far better husband material than the arrogant Jack, so sure of Kitty that he makes no attempt to win her until it’s too late. Jack isn’t really a villain, and in a great many Regencies he would be the hero, but Freddy is truly the hero of this one, and every bit the perfect gentleman.

I mentioned the sub-plot, which involves Dolphinton, the dim-witted Earl, who is so terrified of his mother that he hides under the table! He’s meant as the comic relief, but it’s hard not to like him and his most implausible paramour. The real comedy came from Freddy, who gallantly squires Kitty all over town to the many sights she is determined to see. As an aside, quite my favourite character after Freddy himself was his father, Lord Legerton, who is as astute and sardonic as Freddy is slow-on-the-uptake and straightforward. Their conversations were delightful.

I have been grumbling all the way through my rereads about the romance element being forgotten about until the very last moment, but not so here. The relationship develops slowly but surely, and the ending brought everything to a head and resolved matters most satisfactorily. Five stars.

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Review: ‘The Quiet Gentleman’ by Georgette Heyer

November 20, 2016 Review 0

This is a curious one, #10 in my reread of all Heyer’s Regency romances, written in 1951. After the delights of Arabella, and a charmingly developed romance, this is a return to the perfunctory love affair, quite overshadowed by the needs of the plot. And instead of the usual near-farcical Regency romp, implausible but always entertaining, Heyer veers into murder mystery territory.

The story revolves around Gervase Frant, the Earl of St Erth, who returns after many years to claim his family seat at Stanyon. He finds his step-mother and half-brother, Martin, less than welcoming. His long absence and a spell in the army at Waterloo have encouraged them to believe that Martin will ultimately inherit, and Gervase’s return is an unpleasant surprise. Only cousin Theo, who manages the estate, is friendly. So when it appears that someone is trying to kill Gervase, suspicion naturally falls on spoilt, impulsive Martin.

The hero and heroine in this one, Gervase and the delightfully down-to-earth Miss Morville, never really get much opportunity to develop their relationship until the very last moment. In fact, for the first half of the book, Gervase is cheerfully paying court to the beautiful and lively young daughter of the rich but not terribly well-bred neighbours. I rather disapproved of his behaviour, actually. A man of his position and age, presumed to be in the market for a wife, might well have aroused expectations in the young lady. Common sense might have suggested keeping more of a distance. But that would have spoiled the story rather.

The mystery part of the plot failed to create much tension, since the identity of the perpetrator was blindingly obvious almost from the start. Again, I disapproved of Gervase’s behaviour in the way he resolved the issue, but I can see the reasoning behind it. A fairly melodramatic ending finally brings our two lovers together and all is well. Despite the weaknesses in the plot and my usual grumble about the overshadowed romance, this was another highly enjoyable read. Five stars.

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Review: ‘The Grand Sophy’ by Georgette Heyer

November 6, 2016 Review 0

The Grand Sophy, published in 1950, features a heroine that every modern reader can surely enjoy. Sophy Stanton-Lacey is a glorious character, feisty without being unfeasibly modern, spirited and determined without being aggressive, a catalyst for change without being ruthless. Yes, she’s meddlesome and manipulative, but she genuinely wants the best possible outcome for everyone. From the moment she arrives at her aunt’s house in London, armed with her own Spanish horse, a parrot and a monkey, she dominates the page, charming and infuriating her relations in equal measure.

Her stuffy cousin Charles and his priggish fiancee, Miss Eugenia Wraxton, bear the brunt of Sophy’s good-humoured efforts to sort out their lives. Eugenia, in particular, is beautifully drawn, very much the other side of the coin from Sophy herself. Eugenia is constantly trying to ‘give her a hint’ about how to behave in London society, none of which advice Sophy needs, ensconced as she already is in diplomatic and political circles through her father’s career. And where Sophy wants to rearrange the romantic pairings of her cousins, which she can see will only bring them grief, Eugenia’s meddling takes the form of interference in the running of the household and suppressing the natural liveliness of the children.

As always with Heyer, the tangles reach a very entertaining climax where everything teeters on the brink of disaster before abruptly resolving itself into a happy ending mode. And, as always, the romance is almost forgotten about until the very last chapter. I confess, this weakness of the author’s is a constant irritant to me, as I far prefer a romance that builds steadily over the course of the book. However, everything else about this was a delight, even including the Lady-Catherine-like aunt and the array of caricature supporting roles. Five stars.

PS I’ve chosen to illustrate this with the classic paperback cover I remember from years gone by. I may even still have a copy in the attic. Sadly, my modern Kindle version has a far less interesting external cover, and none at all within the body of the book.

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Review: ‘Arabella’ by Georgette Heyer

November 2, 2016 Review 0

The eighth in my reread of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances in chronological order, and I’m up to 1949. This is the first one that I recall a great deal about from my previous reads, enough to place it as one of my favourites, and I have to say, it hasn’t lost its charm.

Arabella Tallent, an impoverished vicar’s daughter from Heythram, Yorkshire, is invited by her wealthy godmother to enjoy a season in London. As the eldest daughter of eight children, and the beauty of the family, she fully understands that her duty is to marry well, and help bring out her younger sisters. But things go wrong before she even reaches London. A carriage malfunction causes her to seek help from the shooting lodge of Mr Robert Beaumaris, enormously wealthy, a nonpareil and arbiter of fashion. Overhearing him grumbling about predatory females pursuing him even into the country, Arabella is stung to pretend that she’s vastly wealthy herself. And from this small lie hangs the tale.

This is the first Heyer to feature a heroine that the reader can genuinely root for. Unimpressed by the frivolous London society she finds herself in, she remains true to her Yorkshire roots and her father’s moral code of Christian charity, and there are moments when I positively cheered for her. I also liked the emphasis in this book on the developing romance, which was never overshadowed by high jinks going on elsewhere. Despite this, however, the romance is still unbalanced. Beaumaris is intelligent, mature, sensible and astute. Arabella has a great deal of commonsense, but is not his intellectual equal and still does stupid things, so that he calls her a goose and acts in an almost avuncular manner towards her. And there was a moment where I wanted to shake Arabella. When a man you’re attracted to proposes believing you to be wealthy, the correct answer is, “I’d love to, but I have to tell you something first…” The book would have been a lot shorter, of course, but I’d have respected Arabella a lot more.

Even so, a hugely enjoyable read, which had me smiling all the way through. Five stars.

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Review: ‘The Foundling’ by Georgette Heyer

October 18, 2016 Review 0

The seventh book in my attempt to reread all Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances in chronological sequence. This one was published in 1948, and it’s a cracker. The Duke of Sale, a posthumous son and heir, has been cosseted from birth, every aspect of his life dictated by his guardian and uncle, and an array of loyal and devoted retainers. When he was a sickly child, this was appropriate, but now, at twenty-four, he’s chafing at the bit. He dutifully proposes to Lady Harriet Presteigne, his uncle’s choice of bride, and even though he likes her well enough, he longs for a little freedom from the demands of being a duke. So when his young cousin finds himself in a spot of bother, the Duke decides to go incognito to get him out of the scrape.

His adventures as Mr Dash of Nowhere in Particular are hugely entertaining, involving a runaway boy, a beautiful foundling girl, a kidnapping and much more besides. Meanwhile, his various relations and retainers are traipsing round the countryside trying to find him and rescue him. In the process, the Duke learns to appreciate his entourage and they, in their turn, learn that he’s a resourceful and competent young man who doesn’t need rescuing after all.

The Duke is the star turn here, being both gently self-effacing and also innately aristocratic, a tough act to pull off. The supporting cast are also likable, although (as is common with Heyer) tending to caricature at times, as the story veers towards farce. The love interest, Lady Harriet, is pleasant enough and an excellent match for the Duke, but she suffered greatly from playing no part in events for most of the book.

My constant complaint with these stories is that romance is generally forgotten until the last chapter, when the hero sweeps the heroine into his arms with a quite unexpected declaration of love. This book falls into the same trap, but at least enough has been shown to demonstrate that these two are truly made for each other. Other than that, an enjoyable romp. Five stars.

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Regency review: ‘Friday’s Child’ by Georgette Heyer

August 8, 2016 Review 0

It’s an odd thing, but whereas The Corinthian was every bit as frivolous as this, and ten times as implausible, it was still very enjoyable to read. This one, however, often felt tediously silly. The reason, at a guess, is in the characters. In The Corinthian, both the main characters are sharply intelligent, although muted by innocence (in the case of the heroine) and a degree of cynicism (in the hero). I can forgive characters a great deal if their actions make some kind of sense.

But Friday’s Child is based on stupidity. Both hero and heroine behave in ridiculous ways, without an ounce of common sense, and that’s really annoying. Viscount Sheringham needs to get married to release his inheritance money, and, rejected by the woman he’s been pursuing all season, he is so annoyed he swears to marry the first woman he sees. This turns out to be Hero Wantage, the ultra-naive girl-next-door. And so they marry, and she gets into scrape after scrape through ignorance (or sheer stupidity) and he carries on behaving exactly as if he were still a batchelor. Cue all sorts of tangles.

There’s a certain charm to the characters, and the collection of male friends who rally round the naive bride and make her an honorary member of their set is very amusing. But, as with The Corinthian, the bride is terribly young, only seventeen, and I disapproved violently of her behaviour in Bath, where she pretends to be single.

This was entertaining, in a frothy and fairly silly way, although I’m not a big fan of all the Regency cant, and the sheer weight of silliness keeps this one at four stars.

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Regency review: ‘The Reluctant Widow’ by Georgette Heyer

July 26, 2016 Review 0

This was published in 1946, a fairly classic Heyer, with a most intriguing plot. Elinor Rochdale, a young woman of good birth but straitened circumstances, sets out to accept a position as a governess. When she inadvertently steps into the wrong carriage at the coach stop, she finds herself conveyed to the estate of one Ned Carlyon. Carlyon believes Elinor to be the young woman he hired to marry his dying cousin, Eustace Cheviot, in order to avoid inheriting Cheviot’s estate himself. Somehow, Elinor is talked into marrying Eustace on his deathbed and thus becomes a widow almost as soon as the ring is on her finger. And from there onwards, the plot descends rather rapidly into a whirl of housebreakers, secret passages, uninvited guests, murder, missing government papers, and a dog named Bouncer.

As a traditional Regency romp, this is rather good. The misunderstandings, adventures and tangled web of mysteries keep things bowling along at a merry pace, and Carlyon’s younger brother, Nicky, and Bouncer the dog steal the show. The romance is the usual unsatisfactory Heyer variant, two people who are obviously destined for each other but show virtually no inclination in that direction until the last chapter. I suppose the heroine could be said to display a softening attitude towards the hero, as her indignant expostulations gradually become more perfunctory, but the hero never seemed to change in tone at all. Only a comment by his sister suggests that there is something going on, so that the ending comes as less of a shock.

This was a very wordy book, and the lady’s protestations at the high-handedness of Carlyon became quite tedious after a while. However, that was the style of the era, and in other respects the book is a good, solid read. Both the main characters were believable and sensible, which makes a change. I’m wavering between three and four stars, but I’ll be generous and go for four stars.

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Regency review: ‘Regency Buck’ by Georgette Heyer

May 26, 2016 Review 0

This is the first stage in my attempt to read (or reread) all of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances in the correct order. This was first published in 1935, and it shows. The writing style is high-flown Jane Austen, the backdrops are authentically drawn from the era, complete with famous characters, and the plot is squeezed in amongst all that historical accuracy. The characters have to play second fiddle, and the book suffers for it.

Judith Taverner and her brother Perry are orphans, seemingly abandoned by the guardian appointed by their father, the Earl of Worth. Undaunted, they set off for London to track down the Earl and establish themselves. And on the way there, they bump into (literally!) a most unpleasant character, haughty and supercilious, who treats them like dirt. And guess who their guardian turns out to be?

This was rather good fun, if you can overcome a natural distaste for a heroine who stubbornly does everything she’s told not to do, and a hero who arrogantly manipulates his wards without ever bothering to explain his reasoning. But the side characters were entertaining, the dialogue sparkled with wit and the mystery element of the plot was nicely done, even if there was never the slightest doubt in my mind about what was going on, and why, and by whom.

For fans of historical detail, there’s a veritable deluge of it here. If you want an exact description of the Prince Regent’s outlandish Brighton Pavilion, or a list of the coaching inns between London and Brighton, or the various shops and lending libraries for the well-heeled, or the types of snuff in use, look no further. And several famous people, including the Prince Regent himself and various of his brothers, play small but significant roles in the story. To my mind, so much regurgitated research got between me and the story, and by the end I was skipping the seemingly endless descriptions of furnishings and decoration.

The author has obviously been inspired by Jane Austen, specifically Pride and Prejudice, and I noticed many turns of phrase lifted almost wholesale from there, not to mention certain elements of the plot (the hasty journey to London to track down a missing character, for instance, very redolent of Mr Bennet haring off after Lydia, although in this case with no justification whatsoever). It made the prose a little heavy at times, but still readable.

On the whole, I quite enjoyed the story, and the characters didn’t bother me as much as they did some readers (there are some very disparaging reviews). However, it failed in two respects. The first is the time-honoured one: there would have been no plot at all if the main characters had just talked to each other. The argument for secrecy was never well-made, and the worst thing the hero did to the heroine (to my mind) was to allow her to think her brother was dead. That was cruel and unforgivable, and far worse than the snatched kiss or his consistent rudeness (because – aristocracy; arrogance goes with the territory).

The second failure was the romance. I don’t ask much of a book like this, because the journey is more important than the destination, but there should at least be a conviction in the reader that these two are meant for each other. And honestly, I never felt that here. They argued constantly, and not just sniping but quite forceful battles, and even their romantic rapprochement degenerated into an argument in double-quick time. I’m always happy to see two intelligent, spirited, self-confident souls get together, but this pair veered too far into the arrogant, self-willed and plain bloody-minded. I can’t imagine how they will manage as a married couple.

So despite this being an enjoyable read, well-written and set very much in the era, it still merits only three stars.

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