Tag: heyer

Review: Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer (1932)

Posted June 17, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 3 Comments

Lord, that was tedious. I know a lot of Heyer fans love this book, but apart from a brief moment in the middle, I strongly disliked pretty much everything about it. An obnoxious hero, a wildly implausible plot, a stupid heroine and an array of boringly verbose side characters — yawn.

Here’s the premise: wild Dominic Alistair, the Marquis of Vidal, and heir to the Duke of Avon, has finally been forced to flee the country because of a duel. Deciding that he might as well have an amusing companion for the journey, he arranges to run off with Sophia Challoner, who’s been flirting outrageously with him and seems to be ripe for any mischief. She agrees to go to Paris with him as his mistress, although she hopes that the ensuing scandal will force him to marry her. But the arrangements are intercepted by Sophia’s older sister Mary, who decides to save her sister from such a terrible fate by running off with Vidal herself. Naturally, she expects him to send her promptly home when he discovers the deception, and is horrified when he shrugs, says in essence, ‘You’ll do just as well’, and forces her to go to France with him. It’s only when she shoots him in desperation that he realises she isn’t as morally dubious as her sister.

And this is where the book veers off the rails of credibility. Having confidently assured his parents that there’s no danger of him being forced to marry the so-bourgeois Sophia, he now decides that he absolutely must marry Mary, who may be more protective of her virtue but is still just as bourgeois as her sister. This made zero sense to me, frankly. She’s still a nobody who chose to run away with him, so there’s absolutely no need for any question of marriage, especially from a future duke. And frankly, nothing about Vidal suggests that he has the slightest interest in honourable behaviour, since he’s been an arrogant, violent, selfish and thoroughly horrible person from page 1. And since Mary declares that she doesn’t want to marry him anyway, you’d imagine that would let him off the hook.

However, the shooting ushers in the only part of the book that is remotely entertaining, in the manner of many later Heyers. Vidal is slightly injured by the shooting, and Mary takes charge of him, forcing him to see a doctor, to be bled and then to eat a bowl of gruel, and generally bossing him (and his servants) around and not taking no for an answer. The conversations between Vidal and Mary are priceless. I could have done with a lot more of that.

But then we get to Paris, where we encounter the sub-plot, Vidal’s cousin Juliana, who has fallen in love with another nobody, called Comyn, a painfully correct young man. Juliana is the sort of female who is all too frequent in Heyer’s works, being young and stupid and prone to fall into hysterics at the slightest provocation. I disliked her quite intensely. Comyn was rather funny, though. Add to this mix Vidal’s mother, the Duchess of Avon, or Leonie, the heroine of These Old Shades, who is happily not prone to hysterics, but instead spends most of the book repeatedly stating that Vidal must (or must not) marry one of other of the various women involved. There are a number of Vidal’s other relatives who put in an appearance, too, who also talk at great length about what Vidal and Leonie and Juliana (and who knows who else) should or should not do. I suspect that Heyer thought all this dialogue was very witty, but since it didn’t advance the plot one iota or illuminate the characters involved or (frankly) serve any purpose whatsoever, I beg to differ. And then there’s the Duke of Avon himself, of whom everyone is terrified, but here he’s no more than a fairly implausible plot device (he just happens to be at the right tiny little inn at the precise time he was needed? Really?).

As for Mary, what can I say about a woman who’s fallen in love yet refuses to marry the man because she’s not worthy of him? And keeps on refusing, even when he professes his love? Stupid girl. I’ve given this two stars because… well, it’s Georgette Heyer, so the writing is superb, as always. But the plot, the characters, the romance? Not so much. It just made me cross. But at least now I can tick it off my to-read list.


Review: These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (1926) [Trad]

Posted February 12, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 6 Comments

Well. What can I say? This book and these characters are greatly beloved by some Heyer aficianados, and I can somewhat see why. The hero, the Duke of Avon, is the sort of aristocratic, world-weary, domineering older man so common in Heyer, which is my least favourite kind. The heroine is another style typical of the author — young, innocent but sparky, ravishingly beautiful. Again, not my favourite. But the adventure is good, once it gets going, and there’s some of that trademark sparkling banter, and by the midpoint things were looking up. And then there was the dramatic finale. Oh dear.

Here’s the premise: the duke is out one night in Paris when he comes across an urchin running away from someone. The urchin looks oddly familiar, so the duke buys him from his pursuer and takes him home, making him his page. The page is prostrate with gratitude, and falls instantly into undying devotion for his saviour. He, of course, is completely unworthy of said devotion, having a reputation as one of the most debauched and cold-hearted characters in either Paris or London, who doesn’t have his new page’s welfare at heart at all. In fact he has a cunning and fairly horrible plan to use his new page to get his revenge on an old enemy. For the page is not a boy at all, but a girl, and the legitimate daughter of the enemy, set aside at birth to be replaced with the son of local peasants.

Now Leon/Leonie, the page who is also an aristocratic lady, is quite a sparky character, so it’s hard to dislike her, but this does throw into relief one of the problems of the book. She’s been raised as a peasant in fairly dire circumstances, and although she’s been given the basics of a good education, she’s still a peasant through and through. The peasant’s son, however, has been raised as an aristocrat, so he’s all manners and delicate good breeding, right? Well no. He’s still a peasant, who wants nothing more than to retire to the country and have a farm. Whereas Leonie has only to be put into long skirts and taught how to curtsy and wield a fan and she’s aristocratic to the core. I know this was written almost a hundred years ago, but is everything really to be set down to blood and nothing to upbringing? All nature, no nurture? It really grated on me.

As for the duke, I just don’t like that kind of hard-edged hero. If he softens the instant he meets the heroine, then maybe, but in this case he’s plotting his nefarious plots, which involve exploiting Leonie horribly, right to the end, so no. That’s a hard pass from me.

The book plot, such as it is, takes a sharp turn in both action and atmosphere about the middle to become a rollicking adventure, and once I’d got over the abrupt change, I found it good fun. It reminded me a little of The Talisman Ring with elements of Sprig Muslin thrown in for good measure. And then we get to the denouement, where the duke’s devious plans come to fruition, and I have to say it’s all pretty horrible. Maybe that was what passed for justice in 1926 but I didn’t like it at all.

And then the forty year old duke decides he will marry the nineteen year old heroine, with her puppy-dog devotion, after all. No. Just no.

On the plus side, it’s Heyer, so the writing is glorious, the banter in the adventure phase is sparkling and the settings, particularly Paris and Versailles, are magnificently evoked. I didn’t enjoy it, so that keeps it to three stars, but I realise I’m in a minority here, so don’t let my opinions put you off.


Review: The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer [Trad]

Posted June 18, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

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.


Review: The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer [Trad]

Posted March 11, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 6 Comments

This is my first time reading this early Heyer, set in the Georgian (pre-Regency) era of hooped skirts, wigs and face patches. I hate the costumes, so that part of it fell flat for me, but otherwise the customs and manners are very much the same as the Regency.

Here’s the premise: the very eligible Earl of Rule is about to offer for the eldest Winwood sister, a pragmatic match based on suitability which will also rescue the Winwoods from the doom of heavy gambling debts and impoverishment. But Miss Winwood is in love with a soldier, and the middle sister is determined not to sacrifice herself on the altar of matrimony, so the youngest Winwood sister, Horatia (Horry) puts herself forward as the wife for Rule. She’s seventeen, he’s thirty-five, so it will be a marriage of convenience – won’t it?

For anyone who’s read Heyer’s later work, April Lady, this is essentially the same plot, except that Horry and Rule aren’t nearly as silly as Nell and Cardross. Rule, being older and wiser, understands that his young wife has to find her place in society before she can engage with him as his equal, and Horry is resourceful and (moderately) sensible. This is still one of those stories that would be a great deal shorter if the protagonists simply sat down and talked things over, but at least the final catastrophe is not one of Horry’s making. And it has to be said that her brother and his friends are very, very funny in their efforts to rescue her from said catastrophe and keep her from being cast off in disgrace by Rule.

The tone is a little strange. There’s a duel which feels very, very serious, and I did wonder whether the villain was actually going to be allowed to die at one point. There’s also the whole question of ravishment, or rape, as we would call it these days, which fortunately Horry evades (I believe I mentioned before that she’s a resourceful lady). And there’s the strange matter of Horry not knowing that her husband is actually besotted with her, and wouldn’t dream of divorcing her, or believing trumped-up stories about her (he’s far wiser than Cardross in April Lady, who actually believes the worst of his wife; Rule is a much, much more likable character). Horry even seems at one point to be afraid of him, although that’s not uncommon for a Heyer heroine. It also felt very odd to me that husband and wife could lead such wildly separate lives, although that was very much true to the era.

But most of the book is light-hearted, not to say frivolous, and while I’d have preferred a bit more of the romance, that’s my standard complaint with Heyer so it’s hardly worth mentioning. Enjoyable, on the whole, even if hero and heroine aren’t an obviously made-for-each-other pairing. Four stars.


Review: Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer (1972) [Trad]

Posted October 12, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

The very last book in my project to reread all Heyer’s Regency novels in the order they were written. This is very far from her best work, and sadly it’s actually a rehash of what I personally regard as her most entertaining book, Black Sheep, but with far less likable protagonists, less humour, and a much sketchier plot. Even so, I found a lot to like about it.

Here’s the plot: Annis Wychwood is beautiful, rich and determinedly single at twenty nine. While returning to her Bath home, she happens upon a broken-down gig, and offers help to the young lady stranded at the side of the road. Lucilla is running away from an arranged marriage – with the equally reluctant bridegroom, Ninian, who nobly offered to see her to safety. Annis offers Lucilla a temporary home and sets about finding suitable amusements for the girl. Lucilla may be an orphan, but she isn’t unprotected, and her uncle and guardian, Oliver Carleton, the rudest man in London, arrives to sort things out.

The two are immediately at loggerheads, and most of the humour in the book comes from their spirited exchanges. I think this was meant to be a collision between the perfect manners of the lady of quality versus the complete lack of manners of the gentleman, but since she was often almost as rude as he was, it didn’t work too well. There was also a great deal of rehashing of the current state of play of the various side characters (a problem with Charity Girl, as well), which drags everything down to a snail’s pace, and, quite frankly, nothing very much happens very slowly anyway. Nevertheless, the book was short enough and funny enough that I didn’t mind it.

The romance is, fortunately, one that builds from the moment the two protagonists meet, which for me is far better than being bolted on as an afterthought. It wasn’t a completely convincing romance, because they seem rather a mismatched pair, but I won’t quibble over that. The side plots were pretty silly, and the resolution even sillier, but that’s a classic Heyer strategy. On the whole, Black Sheep does it far, far better, but it was still an amusing and (mostly) charming read, I liked Maria Farlow’s long, rambling monologues, the ingenue and young buck (Lucilla and Ninian) were not in the least stupid, and I very much enjoyed Annis’s sister-in-law, who was thrilled when the household succumbed to sickness and she was able to spend all day caring for her baby. A lovely woman. Four stars.


Review: Charity Girl by Georgette Heyer (1970) [Trad]

Posted October 12, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was a disappointment. Partly because I’ve read this story before- twice! Both The Foundling and Sprig Muslin feature a man chasing round the countryside on behalf of some naive ingenue in trouble (generally self-created), while the romance is a perfunctory affair, more or less ignored until the last chapters. And whereas those books displayed all Heyer’s trademark sparkling wit and amusing side characters, this one was just plain dull. Apart from the opening chapter and a few moments in Harrogate, there was nothing much to raise even a wry smile.

The premise is that Miss Charity Steane, or Cherry for short, has been seemingly abandoned by her ne’er-do-well father, and when her school bills aren’t paid, she is taken in by her aunt as an unpaid drudge, the lot of poor relations everywhere. Cherry decides to run away to her grandfather in London but on the road she is rescued by Viscount Desford and whisked off in his curricle. But there’s a problem: her grandfather is away from home, no one knows where, and Desford clearly can’t take care of the girl himself. What to do, but dump her at the home of his oldest and best friend, Henrietta Silverdale.

And so the plot plays out with our hero and heroine, Desford and Henrietta, hardly ever in the same county, never mind the same room, as Desford traipses here and there after grandpapa, Henrietta tries to keep Cherry on a short leash and both of them have to avoid ending up betrothed to the wrong person. It all comes right in the end, naturally, but boy was it a dry and tedious road to travel. I really do not like a romance where the couple have no inkling of their own feelings until nudged into it by their more knowing friends and relations, whereupon they suddenly discover they’re passionately in love. It just isn’t convincing. One of very few Heyers that I found a real struggle to get through. Three stars.


Review: Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer [Trad]

Posted June 12, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 4 Comments

I’ve reread almost all of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels in the order she wrote them and, with the exception of the two with a war setting (Spanish Bride and An Infamous Army), which I abandoned as not my thing, I’ve enjoyed them all. Until now. Cousin Kate is an odd mixture of light romance and Gothic suspense with very dark undertones which somehow fails on both counts. Having read droves of Heyers that were essentially light-hearted, if very elegant, fluff, this was quite a shock to the system.

Here’s the premise: Kate Malvern is an impoverished orphan struggling to make her way as a governess. When the son of the house shocks his family by proposing, she finds herself out on her ear and running back to her former nurse for shelter while she looks for another position. But Sarah, the nurse, secretly writes to Kate’s only known relative, Lady Broome, who descends at once and sweeps Kate off to her stately pile, Staplewood, where she lives with her elderly and frail baronet husband, her highly-strung son Torquil, and a resident doctor. Lady Broome showers Kate with kindness and gifts, but Kate suspects that she wants something in return and feels that all is not well at Staplewood…

The first part of the book is all Gothic mysteriousness. Lady Broome is suffocatingly kind, but somehow cold. Sir Timothy is an old dear obviously surrendering mastery to his dominant wife. Torquil the beautiful adolescent son is oddly moody. The doctor and the servants seem resolutely determined to convince Kate that everything’s wonderful. And somehow Kate, who’s as bright as a button in other ways, never seems to notice how odd the household is, or if she does, she explains it away to herself or accepts whatever explanation she’s given. The average reader (by which I mean me) is saying: oh, come on, girl! Get a grip.

Into the midst of this spookiness drifts the Broome cousin and next heir, Philip, who seems to have wandered in from another story altogether. In a proper Gothic suspense novel, he would make the heroine fall head over heels in love with him, and then make her suspect him of trying to off Torquil, who stands between him and the baronetcy. Philip handily accomplishes the first part in a matter of days, but resolutely refuses to play the part of apparent villain. There are very brief mentions of certain ‘accidents’ that befell (or almost befell Torquil) for which he blamed Philip, but these are never substantiated, are set down as the products of an excitable imagination and eventually are forgotten about altogether.

Philip is far too nice and non-threatening to play the villain, and insists on being solely the romantic hero. But even here he falls short. He, too, falls head over heels in love within days, but they can’t marry because… um, because… Nope, there isn’t a single obstacle. Dear Aunt Minerva won’t like it, of course, but Philip is independent of her. He has his own house and fortune, he’s a nice, sensible chap and he’s old enough to know his own mind. Kate is gently-brought-up and also old enough to know what she wants, and although she agonises at tedious length about her lack of fortune and connections and other trivia, she never comes close to refusing him outright. To be fair, Heyer obviously recognised the lack of obstacles, because the romance is stitched up midway through the book, but they can’t simply take off and leave dear Aunt Minerva in their dust because… well, because of a fairly cack-handed plot contrivance, actually.

And so the plot builds to the inevitable tragic ending… wait, what? This is Heyer, right, where happy endings are baked in. But not this time. Oh, our low-key hero and heroine get to ride off into the sunset, as expected, but otherwise, the ending is a bit of a downer. All in all, not a particularly enjoyable read. The romance is my least favourite style, the plot was a million miles from the light, fluffy type that’s Heyer’s signature, and even the moments of humour were few and far between. Heyer’s shown she can tackle more demanding relationships in A Civil Contract, and I will always applaud an author for stepping outside her comfort zone and trying something new, but this one was a relative flop for me. Three stars.


Review: Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer [Trad]

Posted September 8, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

When I read Georgette Heyer’s works for the first time, many moons ago, this was very much my favourite. It’s always nerve-wracking returning to a much-loved book after a long time, but almost from the first page, I knew my memory had not let me down. This is surely the most scintillating dialogue Heyer ever wrote. Every meeting between hero Miles Calverleigh and heroine Abigail Wendover is delightful, and it’s hard to think of a single change which would improve the book. It’s quite perfect.

The premise: Abby returns to her Bath home aware that her niece, Fanny, has fallen violently in love with a plausible fortune-hunter, Stacy Calverleigh, under the auspices of Abby’s rather dippy older sister, Selina. Also returning home after twenty years in India is Stacy’s uncle, Miles, the black sheep of the title. Naturally this leads to the most delicious exchange of misunderstanding between Abby and Miles (’Are you Mr Calverleigh?’ ‘I’ve never been given any reason to suppose that I’m not!’), but eventually she works out which Mr C he is, and then begins the most glorious courtship of any of Heyer’s books. I’ve complained many times that the romance tends to be forgotten in the excitement of the adventures, but here the growing love between Miles and Abby is very much centre stage. And there is no prevarication: he makes his attraction clear right from the start, and she is almost as open.

In the background is the difficulty with the fortune-hunter, but luckily the object of his attentions, although fulfilling the standard Heyer role of beautiful but silly ingenue, is far less silly than usual, and there are no mad chases to recover an eloping couple or anything of that nature. I loved the means by which the obnoxious Stacy is dealt with, and I also loved Miles’ method of detaching Abby from her clinging relations, and finally getting her to the altar, as she herself wishes. Neatly done, and far more plausible than is often the case. I’m not a fan of the heroine who doesn’t know her own mind until the hero wraps her in his manly arms and kisses her thoroughly, and here Abby is perfectly well aware of what she wants. Five perfect stars.


Review: Frederica by Georgette Heyer [Trad]

Posted August 15, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

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.


Review: False Colours by Georgette Heyer [Trad]

Posted August 5, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

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.