After reading a number of historical romances which I felt were lacking in both quality of content and standard of publication, I have finally found a book that has set my romantic heart aflutter. And no surprise that the author is known as the queen of historical romance. Her name is Georgette Heyer and the book I read actually contained two of her stories, Devil’s Cub and False Colours. These were an unusual pairing as they are set nearly forty years apart and were written thirty years apart as well, but they were each a delightful insight into their respective eras. I think what appealed to me so greatly was the fact that they were characterised by a sense of social propriety and an emphasis on polite intimacies, rather than the kind of improbable debauchery one tends to see in many novels of this genre, which made them feel much truer to their times.
This story is set in 1780, during the Georgian era. The Marquis of Vidal, who lives a life of reckless excess, becomes embroiled in a duel which requires him to leave England in a hurry. He persuades the girl he is courting to come with him as his mistress but her more principled sister, Miss Mary Challoner, takes her place with the intention of preventing her sister’s ruin. She believes that Vidal will let her go when he discovers the duplicity and does not expect him to react by whisking her away in a wild fury at having been so deceived. He subsequently finds himself in the position of having absconded to France with a respectable girl whom he now feels compelled to marry in order to save her reputation.
Straight away, I have to admit that there were quite a few aspects to the story which I rather disliked. For one thing, I couldn’t stand the mention of wigs and powdered hair and suchlike, all of which I find decidedly unattractive where romantic interests are concerned. For another, there was a healthy smattering of French words in the book and, although I could make a decent stab at some of it, I’m sorry to say that Heyer did not take into account the possibility that her readers might only have Junior Cert level French.
Furthermore, and this is something for which Heyer has been both lauded and criticised, the level of historical detail in the book was incredible and suffocating. I can appreciate the enormous effort she must have put into her research in order to be able to describe clothes and snuff boxes with such meticulous accuracy but it was beyond necessary and didn’t really do anything for me, detracting rather than adding to the overall reading experience.
However, I can forgive all that.
Because the story was just that good. Heyer has a humorous style of delivery and the interaction between Vidal and Miss Challoner was brilliant, with sharp and witty dialogue fired back and forth between them. The plot twisted and unravelled in ways I didn’t foresee and I was gripped to find out what would happen, as though I were reading a thriller rather than a romance. I simply LOVED it.
This story is set in 1817 and Heyer’s signature Regency era. There was no blurb on the book jacket but I was able to guess the premise from very early on. Mr Kit Fancot’s twin brother Evelyn has temporarily disappeared and Kit needs to impersonate him for an evening in order to save face with Evelyn’s newly-betrothed, Miss Stavely, and her rather formidable family. When Evelyn still does not appear, Kit is obliged to keep up the impersonation for longer than intended and comes into closer contact with Miss Stavely.
One drawback with the opening was that there was a large info dump right at the very start in order to bring Kit and the reader up to speed with the background to Evelyn’s disappearance. Another element which I found somewhat trying was that Heyer employed an awful lot of historical slang in the dialogue – for the most part I could make educated guesses as to their meanings but sometimes I was plain baffled.
Throughout this story (and also the one above), Heyer employed an omniscient point of view, giving a variety of character perspectives within scenes. I’m not particularly keen on that style of writing and prefer when there is just one fixed perspective per scene. In addition to this, I found that her characters did an excessive amount of ‘smiling’ and there really was an overuse of the exclamation mark.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the story a lot. I do love situations where marriages might not be approved, especially because marrying for love was such a luxury in those times. Above all, Heyer knows how to create very likeable characters and that alone kept me turning the pages.
Of the two tales, I preferred Devil’s Cub; the volatile relationship between Vidal and Miss Challoner eclipsed the more sedate romance between Kit and Miss Stavely. However, I was more partial to the character of Kit than to Vidal. Vidal is the embodiment of an alpha hero, aggressive and overbearing. On the other hand, Kit is a beta hero, kind and courteous. Some people are of the opinion that beta heroes are boring but I disagree – I find that alpha heroes can be quite obnoxious whereas I love the charming nature of beta heroes. What more can I ask for when losing myself in the depths of a nineteenth century love story…?
So, having thoroughly savoured my first foray into Georgette Heyer’s prolific collection, I have a strong suspicion that I will be back for more. 🙂