The last review I wrote was of These Old Shades, the romance set amidst adventure, set in pre-regency era. The budding relationship between Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon aka Satanas, and Leonie aka Leon.

‘Devil’s Cub’ follows the path of this couple, twenty odd years down the line. The strong characters of Avon and Leonie are present, lending their flavor to their son Dominic Alastair, the Marquis of Vidal.

And there the resemblance to the prior book ends. While These Old Shades had a lot of style and a hero which the world loved to hate and the reader adored no matter what, and a heroine impetuous and flouting social norms, yet totally submissive and in love with her hero, Devils Cub has a hero who is all wrong and a heroine who could almost be called boring.

Clearly, we can see how Heyer loved the characters she created in the earlier book, because Justin Alastair is unforgettable. Here he is older, yet still retains his characteristics, still madly in love with Leonie and a truly reformed, wiser person. As he tells his son at the end of issuing an order

“The road I travelled is not the road I should desire my son to take. And you will no doubt agree that a liberal experience of vice gives me some right to judge”

The people of England still observe him in awe, and though Vidal also has his reputation, he is justifiably uncomfortable in his fathers presence, and deferential too, like any good boy should be. And, as can be observed in many passages in the book, proud of him as well.

“No doubt you will shut that door in your own good time.”

To Miss Challoner’s utter astonishment the Marquis shut it at once, and said stiffly: “Your pardon, sir.” He tugged at his cravat.

Leonie is a little more emotional, but then she is a lot more feminine as well. And not only is she still a worshipper of her husband (while noting all his flaws) she loves her son to bits.

“Twenty-four years of marriage had given her dignity, when she chose to assume it, and much feminine wisdom, which she had lacked in the old days, but no wifely or motherly responsibility, no weight of honours, of social eminence had succeeded in subduing the gamin spirit in her”

Leonie still enjoys the company of Fanny, and together they now loosely plan the future children. Leonie shows her fierce possessiveness and pride on her son and waves away all negatives with justifications and a few laments, while Fanny with the pretty Juliana in love with the non-aristocrat Mr. Comyn and staid John secretly envies Leonie and Vidal.

The book starts by giving us a very fitting summary of what the handsome, young Vidal is like. Careless, carefree and living up to his name of the Devils Cub. He also has a reputation with guns, and is considered un-challengeable in duelling, gambling, and racing.

“Well?” said the gentleman again.

The coachman seemed rather discomposed. “You’ve killed the other, my lord.”

“Certainly,” said the gentleman. “But I presume you have not opened the door to inform me of that.”

“Well, my lord—shan’t we—do I—his brains are lying in the road, my lord. Do we leave him—like that?”

“My good fellow, are you suggesting that I should carry a footpad’s corpse to my Lady Montacute’s drum?”

“No, my lord,” the coachman said hesitatingly. “Then—then—shall I drive on?”

“Of course drive on,” said the gentleman, faintly surprised.

As we read on, the reader is instantly sympathetic, wondering if this diffidence is born out of a wish to be an acknowledged son of his father, Satanas, or whether it really runs in his blood. And of course, he is a hero like only Heyer’s hero’s can be. Stylish, yet ignoring the running fashion of the time, Vidal has presence.

“As usual, he was richly, if somewhat negligently dressed. Miss Challoner, incurably neat, wondered that a carelessly tied cravat and unpowdered hair could so well become a man. Not a doubt but that the Marquis had an air.”

The lady in the story is the lesser beautiful daughter of a Cit mother and an aristocratic (and dead) father, educated in a convent and hopelessly un-mercenary. Though seemingly stoic, she has rather romantic ideas, which often get overturned by her calm sense of logic and judgment. Miss Mary Challoner, the elder daughter has black hair, and a ‘fine pair of grey eyes’. However, her younger sister Sophia, though a shatter-brain, was extremely pretty with blue eyes, golden hair, lovely complexion – the works, and a flirt to boot. As compared with her, Mary was considered quite plain.

“She had, moreover, grave disadvantages. Those fine eyes of hers had a disconcertingly direct gaze, and very often twinkled in a manner disturbing to male egotism. She had common-sense too, and what man wanted the plainly matter-of-fact, when he could enjoy instead Sophia’s delicious folly?”

The Marquis, being the irresponsible flirt that he is, is out to woo Sophia, and though he has noticed Mary (though Mary thinks he doesn’t remember her at all), it is only because she is different from the rest of Sophia’s family.

The story really begins when Vidal, in a night of gambling and drinking ends up duelling, and of course winning, by seriously injuring the other man. Considering the number of duels he has fought and the death of another aristocrat in the recent past through his hands, this is now a legal matter. The details as to why it is so, is mentioned in the book – which is an interesting aspect. This is the time that England was moving away from the fad of duelling. The time when Law was enforcing rules and trying to control murder under the honourable name of duels. Forced by his parents, Vidal plans a retreat to Paris, to his French relatives. However, he has unfinished business, and so he plans to take Sophia Challoner with him.

Mary Challoner chances upon the mission, and in a bid to save her family from the imminent disgrace plans to take Sophia’s place and fool Vidal, in a moment of uncharacteristic risk taking. Her plans go badly out of place as Vidal refuses to accept that she is there to make him see his folly, and not to take Sophia’s place on an indecent adventure across the Channel, though saved by a few fortunate circumstances to be closeted with Vidal en route.

(aboard the ship and sea-sick): “Sir,” she said , self-possessed to the last, “I do not care whether you go or stay, but I desire to warn you that I am about to be extremely unwell.”

By the time Vidal finds out that she really is earnest (and that too through rather entertaining read of sea sickness, threats, and pistol firing), they have already crossed the channel, without a chaperone. The only way out is for Dominic Alastair to marry Mary, and that is the one thing she will not have. He believes in not ruining girls of Virtue, and feels its the smallest thing a Man of honour can do. While she does not believe in marriage without Love, no matter how rich the husband may be.

Miss Challoner rose from her chair, and curtsied. “You are extremely obliging, my lord, but I must humbly decline the honour of becoming your wife.”

“You will marry me,” said his lordship, “if I have to force you to the altar.”

What follows is a series of misunderstandings, complications, and travel. The adventures of Justin’s sister Fanny’s daughter and her love Mr. Comyn get inseperably entangled with those of our lead pair, and the story unfolds in a tumultuous manner, while the subject remains a confused comedy of errors, tragic in its romantic element.

Thoroughly entertaining!

The climax is all that one could wish it to be. Our favourite characters once again assemble in France, and matters are settled in an Inn… and I will not give away the ending any further, it solely is worth the read of the complete book.

The book can be picked up anytime, at any point for an entertaining re-read. There are enough characters with enough shades to appease any kind of read, right from Justin Alastair to Mary Challoner.

Here are my Ratings:

Protagonists: A complete cast from These Old Shades, with a new equally interesting one of a younger generation. The interactions between these two generations is especially interesting in the face of changing England, fashion and laws. The generation gap of Regency times!

Side Characters: Limited, some of them from the prior book and some new. All very interesting.

Plot: Twisting and turning, predictable yet unpredictable. Entertaining and definitely worth reading.

Environment: Action, suspense

Regency Information: Information of the Regency world are indirect – as shown through the many costumes and parties in England as well as Paris. The difference in the cultures and their styles is showcased, Paris is still the fashion capital. The changes in England with respect to laws can be seen, as can the fashion changes.

Recommendation: Recommended for any one who has read These Old Shades, simply for returning to their favorite pair, now as a family. Also recommended for an romance reader who also likes wit and fast action.

Rating: Five on Five!

To date I dont know why the book is called by this particular name. But it is an enthralling book. Though Heyer is known as a Regency author, this is one of her few books that are pre-Regency.

This book is set in the late 1700’s, and mainly in France. This was the time France and not England was the main center for fashion and relations between France and England were not strained yet – the Napoleanic Wars had not yet started (they started in 1803). Thus the British still travelled a lot around Europe, partied in France and frequently stayed for long durations in France/ Paris if they were well-off owing to the aggregation of high-society and better food as well as social entertainments.

Fashion was opulent and men as well as women decked out in loads of jewellery – diamonds, emeralds, sapphire etc. in every form possible. Right from shoe heels to scarf pins. This was the time faces were covered in white paint and rouge, and extravagant powdered white wigs were worn by all, if the hair was not powdered. Womens clothes had hoops and mens clothes had whaleboned skirts. Lace was popular, and cravats and hessians as we read in other books, is totally absent.  Beau Brummel had not yet entered the fashion scene and any colour, design and extravagance was allowed to both sexes. It was the time when all was well, or so it seemed.

These Old Shades - G HeyerOne such upholder of fashion, Lord Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, is found residing in Paris and on a certain evening picks up a boy Leon from the streets and saves him from his brothers beting. Leon has big violet eyes, red hair (‘Titian’ as Heyer calls it) , aristocratic features, good bearing and is small for his age. Avon buys “his soul for the sum of a Diamond” from the lace at his neck. And Leon certainly gives him his soul, and not just thanks or appreciation.

Avon likes Leon’s unconventional looks and makes him his page decked out in black with a sapphire necklace and is taken to all places around Paris to show off his red hair and blue eyes, even to the court where he observes The King. Everyone, of course, is curious and startled by the unusual picture this sober small person painted, expecially when the reader considers the highly colourful dressed-up people with powdered white hair.

Soon Avon realises Leon is a She, i.e. Leonie. And then the mystery begins. Avon takes up her guardianship and sends her off to London, to his beautiful sister Fanny, where she is ‘taught to be a girl again’. But why is Avon doing all this? Avon, the person who is called Satanas because of his absence of any humane-ness. Avon, the man reputed to have lost all his fortune, and re-made it by gambling another man till the other man lost all of his and committed suicide. Avon is all that is proper in society, and all that is evil. He is heartless and passionless. He is extremely shrewd (known to be Omniscient) and does not believe in anything except himself and fashion.

“I never have intentions. That is why mothers of lovely daughters eye me askance. I am constrained to return to England.” He drew from his pocket a fan of dainty chicken-skin, and spread it open. “What constrains you?” Hugh frowned upon the Duke’s fan. “Why that new affectation?”

So why is he going into all this trouble for a boy/girl he picked up off the street? Avon is known not to care for anything but the nobility, hence this particuar indulgence is even more marked.

What is the ulterior motive guiding Avon? Is he in love with her? But then Avon has no heart, and even more than that, he will never marry beneath his rank. Why is the family of Sain-Vaire so interested in Avon’s new page?

Meanwhile, Leonie is reconciled to being a Lady but is still a spitfire, charmingly French and unusually beautiful. Living in the country residence of Avon she strikes up friendship with her neighbours – people whom Avon has not been on speaking terms with for years. She also becomes close to Avon’s younger brother. On returning to France she shows her more feminine side, indulging in dressing and going to all lengths to ensure she is admired. Of particular mention is the time when she prepares for her first ball, ensures that all the men are waiting at the bottom of the staircase and makes a Grand Descent, only to see no one notices her. In her characteristic style she then says:

“But Look at me!

And is rewarded. Leonie thus we see is someone who demands, and gets what she wants. Except from Avon. Almost.

The plot twists and turns as Avon tries to uncover the real identity of Leonie and prove it to the world, and Leonie meanwhile braves a kidnapping and murder attempt.

With lots of action, deception and acting the main cast reach back to Paris where the final drama unfolds. And what a drama. This book keeps one on tenterhooks, never knowing what the next page will bring. Will social proprietery manage to keep Leonie safe? Or is the villain bad enough not care about what is acceptable?

Leonie’s devotion and unshakeable faith in Avon is irritating and endearing at the same time. The only person to see him as human, and in fact better than anyone else in the world makes him undergo a change and turn less selfsih. The villain is everything a villain should be yet only human.

The book is as grand and stylish as the setting allows it to be. Excesses define the book and all its characters. No one is mild, and no one is boring. Not even the poor tenant of Avon whose horse is ‘borrowed’ for a chase sequence. The dialogue is entertaining and short. Unlike other Heyer novels where some characters tend to talk in paragraphs, here there are short sentences full of meaning.

“Remind me one day to teach you how to achieve a sneer, Hugh. Yours is too pronounced, and thus but a grimace. It should be but a faint curl of the lips. So. But to resume. You will at least be surprised to hear that I had not thought of Léonie in the light of a beautiful girl.”

“It amazes me.”

“That is much better, my dear. You are an apt pupil.”

The end is all that one could wish for.  And the book totally re-readable.

Here are my Ratings:

Protagonists: Larger than Life. Even the villain.

Side Characters: Few and all of them wonderful!

Plot: Interesting, complicated, and full of intrigue and action! It is the true story of a villanous Hero, a true-blue villain and an enchanting girl who is almost a tomboy.

Environment: Intrigue, action and suspense!

Regency Information: The book touches upon the pre-Regency customs and dresses. It gives a good idea of the social entertainments available (poetry parties, court parties, gambling excesses etc) as well as country environment in England and France. Fashion is well described including the introduction of Fan usage for men and importance of powdered hair. Economic occupations of all strata of society is covered, right from countryside to town to the rich. In short, it is rich in historical information.

Recommendation: Recommended for any book reader who likes a light mystery and a throwback to Olde England.

Rating: Five on Five!

“By all that’s wonderful, it’s the Grand Sophy!”

What can I say about this book? It was one of my favorites as a kid. There is nothing spectacular about the book (except of course, Sophy). This book does not particularly have romance in it, neither does it have a lot of action or a huge amount of period information.

What is does have it wonderful characters and a beautifully told story.

(My ratings at the bottom of  this post)

The Grand Sophy begins with Sophia’s inimitable father Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy informing his sister Lady Ombersely that his “little Sophy” (who is a shocking twenty years old and single) would stay with her for for some time while he went to Brazil for his diplomatic work. While Sir Horace is a handsome bachelor-at-heart who works in the Diplomatic Service and is intelligent, his sister is a middle aged, comfortably married, somewhat feather brained lady.

She does not have much choice in front of Sir Horace’s will to oppose him, and so he vanishes as quickly as he came, and the family waited the little Sophy’s appearance – expecting a small, cowed girl (having lived her whole life with Sir Horace and his erratic ways), lost and embarrassed at having to come stay in an almost-unknown house. And considering Sir Horace mentions his daughter isnt exactly pretty, her Aunt looks forward to launching her in London, and getting her married.

Meanwhile we understand that Lord Ombersely lost all his fortune in gambling, while his eldest son Charles Rivenhall got a fortune from an Uncle settled in India upon his death. So Charles now provides for the family and hence makes most of the important decisions. He is also engaged to Miss Wraxton, daughter of an Earl – very ‘correct’ and disagreable and much disliked by the rest of the family. Apart from them there is Cecilia, Charles’ younger and extremely pretty sister who is engaged to Lord Charlbury. However, Lord Charlbury has Mumps, which is quite unromantic for the Romantic Cecilia and she finds herself preferring the beautiful poet Augustus Fawnhope. There are further younger brothers and sisters, but Hubert who goes to Oxford is the only one worth mentioning for the plot.

After months of waiting, Sophy finally arrives.

“Miss Stanton-Lacy’s arrival was certainly impressive.  Four steaming horses drew her chaise, two outriders accompanied it, and behind it rode a middle-aged groom, leading a splendid black horse.  The steps of the chaise were let down, the door opened, and out leaped an Italian greyhound, to be followed a moment later by a gaunt-looking female, holding a dressing bag, three parasols, and a bird cage.  Lastly, Miss Stanton-Lacy herself descended, thanking the footman for his proffered help, but requesting him instead to hold her poor little Jacko.  Her poor little Jacko was seen to be a monkey in a scarlet coat”

She takes the house by storm. Not only by her many pets, but also her disarming manner which makes instant friends with all the children as well as Lady Omberely. She is rich and dressed extremely well, and unconsicous of herself. She enters the house laughing, talking, and unconsicouly imposing her will on everyone.

Sir Horace was right.  Sophy would never be a beauty.  She was by far too tall; nose and mouth were both too large; and a pair of expressive gray eyes could scarcely be held to atone entirely for these defects.  Only you could not forget Sophy, even though you could not recall the shape of her face or the color of her eyes.

Soon the house is turned topsy-turvy. Sophy’s energy is infectious, but more than that, her carefree vibrant nature and her attitude is something that was missing in the house and affects everyone. Sophy is also someone who likes to make everyone around her happy. So she meddles. Only, when Sophy meddles, no one minds and everyone loves her all the more.

So Sophy embarks on helping Cecilia decide between Augustus and Lord Charlbury. She takes every opportunity to anger Charles whenever she can, and has some wonderful exchanges between her and Miss Wraxton (who has a very high opinion of herself).

She drives around the park in a perch phaeton – and carries it off to the admiration of London. Far from being new to the city, she finds Diplomatic and Army acquaintances from her sojourns in Spain and other war places. And takes the town by storm from her first Ball, has numberous admirers and many marriage proposals. Even though she is not a Beauty, she is, as nicknamed by her old acquaintances, ‘The Grand Sophy‘ – and you, the reader, believes every bit of that phrase.

We soon discover that Sir Horace is engaged to a Marquesa, Sancia, a spanish widow who is indolent and rich, and Sophy is trying her level best to keep Sancia engaged and loyal to Sir Horace while he is in Brazil. Sancia is wonderful as the lazy exotic woman who lives and let live.

“but Hubert, making a hearty meal, began to thank the Marquesa a very good sort of a woman after all.  When he saw how many coffee creams, Italian risks, and brandy cherries she herself consumed, in the most negligent fashion, his manner toward her became tinged with respect bordering on awe.”

Augustus Fawnhope is as comic as he is sincere and abstract. He does not realise when he is unwelcome and his manner makes it difficult for anyone to be angry at him directly.

‘I, with my fair Cecilia, to Merton now will go, Where softly flows the Wandle, and daffodils that blow‘–What an ugly word is Wandlel How displeasing to the ear!  Why do you frown at me?  May I not go with you?”

Soon, things start heating up at Obersely House. Hubert, a playful boy studying in Oxford is unable to manage his gaming debts and Sophy comes to the rescue – and How! She manages the money and holds the money lender at gun-point in his own lair. That passage alone is worth the book!

Mr. Goldhanger had the oddest feeling that the world had begun to revolve in reverse.  For years he had taken care never to get into any situation he was unable to command, and his visitors were more in the habit of pleading with him than of locking the door and ordering him to dust the furniture.

The Grand Sophy is full of small adventures. The everyday kind that make the them real, yet can only happen in the presence of Sophy. Like locking people up in gardens, women driving through roads where only men go, mayhem caused by animals, shooting indoors to prove mettle, breaching propreity,  racing away with some else’s horses, meeting moneylenders and on and on. Thoroughly entertaining! There is not a dull moment in the book. Slowly the very serious and correct Charles is seen to be unbending and becoming more human.

At the end all of Sophy’s plots and actions intermingle into one huge drama  where if anything were to go wrong, the house of cards would collapse. But with Sophy around nothing can go wrong. Every aspect is considered and everyone well provided for. The story ends very well in high tempo with Sir Horace returning and his unused house Lucy Manor crowded with couples and Sophy the toast of Poet Fawnhope:

“My opening line now reads Goddess, whose steady hands upheld–  But I must have ink!”

And as Sophy says:

“Well, I think,” said Sophy “confidentially, “that he now means to be in love with me…  He likes the way I hold a lamp, and he says he would like to see me with an urn.”

And so ends the Grand Sophy. Most satisfactory, leaving you thirsting for Oh-so much more!

It is impossible not to read the book more than once and be enchanted all over again.

sophyHere are my Ratings:

Protagonists: Lovable.

Side Characters: Many side characters, and all of them wonderful!

Plot: Interesting, complicated, and yet not confusing. All of them involve Sophy and tied in with the main storyline very well.

Environment: Fun!

Regency Information: The book lightly touches upon the Regency customs and dresses as well as what women were allowed and not allowed in Regency times – the reason Sophy is so special to the society. There is light mention of the war and the needs and importance of diplomatic relations.

Recommendation: Recommended for any book reader who likes a good laugh.

Rating: Five on Five!

(Picture source: Austen Prose and Thought Cat)

A Corinthian was probably the term used to denote the best that Nobility had to offer in Regency England in terms of men. These men were fashionably dressed (not necessarily Dandy’s), had interest in sporting and were generally considered good at it, were of good birth and usually rich. This also meant they had access to the best places and clubs and socialized in the best settings. By virtue of being interested in sports – which meant boxing, hunting, riding and driving their curricles – they were muscular and well built. Nothing could suit Regency lifestyle better!

(My ratings at the bottom of  this post)

the corinthianAnd so this book revolves around poor Sir Richard Wyndham, 29 years old, bored, jaded, extremely eligible for marriage, and yet unable to like a single woman enough to wed her. Deemed to be a cold-hearted person by everyone around him, the reader is allowed to realise that there is a Romantic lurking in his depths.

And so his Family (mother and sister) force him to offer for Melissa Brandon, the eldest daughter of Lord Saar. Unimpeachable birth, beautiful, yet extremely cold a lady. By offering for her he will also repay Lord Saar’s and his son’s debts while winning a wife promised to him when he was just a babe.

Like his sister explains:

“‘If he doesn’t wish to marry Melissa, I’m sure I should be the last person to press her claim,’ said Louisa. ‘But it is high time that he married someone, and if he has no other suitable young female in his eye, Melissa it must be.’”

The notion is enough to make him give up hope on life, drink himself silly and wander off in the middle of the night. Poor Sir Richard.

And then he meets Pen Creed hanging from a window. Penelope Creed, a pretty blonde, is a 17 year old heiress (and hence still not launched into society), living with her aunt who is forcing her to marry her cousin against her wish. Her answer to this force? Running away disguised as a boy (since single women were not allowed to travel alone, she has to dress up as a boy). Her intention is to run off to her childhood friend with whom a pact had been made earlier in her life to be married to, in case they did not like anyone else.

Since Sir Richard has not yet offered for Melissa, her plan to run away from the evils entices him as well. Plus, being a very correct Gentleman he has never done anything so imprudent ever before and the Romantic hidden within him emerges. He embarks on the journey with Pen, acting as the young “boy’s” tutor/cousin -without leaving a message with anyone.

“‘Do you know, Pen Creed, I fancy you have come into my life in the guise of Providence?’
She looked up enquiringly. ‘Have I?’ she said doubtfully. ‘
That or Disaster,’ said Sir Richard. ‘I shall know which when I am sober. But, to tell you the truth, I don’t care a jot!
En avant, mon cousin!’”

And so the adventures of Pen and his tutor begin in a common stage coach – a very lowly vehicle shared by poor people while traveling long distances. They meet many interesting people, including someone whom Sir Richard suspects of being a robber.

Meanwhile, Lady Saar is robbed on her way by highwaymen of her famous Brandon Diamond Necklace, from a hiding place in her carriage known only to the family. Not only is the family now on brink of definite financial ruin, but suspects a robber amongst them.

Sir Richard and Pen are also embroiled in deep trouble, being chased by Bow Street Runners, traveling in carriages meant for peasants, narrowly escaping the need to share rooms and having to lie to all and sundry. If that was not enough, Sir Richard averts getting robbed, but Pen finds herself in possession of the Brandon Diamonds. Soon they are witness to a murder, are retained in a town because of the same, and, to top it all, get inadvertently involved in the love story of an idiotic couple.

So what happens to our couple? After having traveled a long distance in the company of a single man without a chaperone, will Pen be accepted by her friend? Who is the murderer? What is the danger befalling our Hero and Heroine? Will they be caught for robbery, or murder? Or worse, will Pen be found by her evil Aunt before she reaches her friend, and married off to that horrible cousin before she ends the journey?

All this and much more lie in wait for the reader of this eccentric and highly entertaining book. Sir Richard is all a Hero should be, not to mention lovable at one moment and haughty at another.

“Sir Richard’s hand sought his quizzing-glass, and raised it. It was said in haut-ton circles that the two deadliest weapons against all forms of pretension were Mr Brummell’s lifted eyebrow, and Sir Richard Wyndham’s quizzing-glass. Captain Trimble, though thick-skinned, was left in no doubt of its blighting message.

We don’t see Penelope Creed in a woman’s garment even once in the book, but the trials Pen has to go through to achieve a cravat that meets the basic requirements of Sir Richard, to pass off as a boy, make you sympathise with her.

“His gaze travelled slowly over her borrowed raiment. ‘Horrible!’ he said. ‘Are you under the impression that you have tied that—that travesty of a cravat in a Wyndham Fall?’”

And if this book does not make you look up the recipe of the perfect Rum Punch to be made and drunk on a winters evening, I will be surprised!

The characters are eccentric yet real, and have the qualities wanted in the best of protagonists. A dashing, intelligent, much admired hero. A pretty, intelligent, fearless heroine. Together, their adventure is one that is too short for just one read!

So, here are my Ratings:

Protagonists: Likable.

Side Characters: Very few side characters are involved, and when they step in, they are completely believable and real. Sly, menacing or plain idiotic – all of them are just as they should be.

Plot: Interesting, complete with forceful marriage, robbery, running away disguised, murder.

Environment: Fun and intrigue!

Regency Information: The information available focuses on the traveling mechanisms of the times, and the reader will get a very good notion of how difficult and tedious it was, and what the hotels were like, and what the social strata translated to in terms of traveling more than a few miles.

Recommendation: Recommended for any Heyer fan. Also recommended for those who enjoy mysteries, irrespective of the Romance angle, which is  quite subtle.

Rating: Four on Five!

The Cotillion is (was) a dance involving two couples, where they have to constantly change partners. It was originally french, but became ‘all the rage’ in England soon enough.

And that, is what the book is about. A dance between couples, some French some English and some both. Quite entertaining. If, that is, you last through the initial chapter.

The book begins rather bleakly, in a cold countryside mansion at Arnside, with a few cousins conversing. Unlike the other Heyer books, there does not seem to be a Hero. Though one man is well dressed, he is a strict disciplinarian; another is married and well settled, talking about his brother at War; and the third, an Earl is cowed and seems a little mentally disturbed (Lord Dolphinton). Finally the irate old man with Gout (their Grandfather) arrives on the scene and forces them to offer for Kitty (his friend’s orphaned daughter who has stayed with him all his life) so that they can inherit his fortune and estates. If none of them marry Kitty, the fortune goes to charity, leaving Kitty penniless in the bargain. Kitty, living on a very meager income as it is, of course, hates the idea and rejects the offers, and secretly runs away, only to meet another of the cousins, Freddy, at an inn.

Freddy is no Hero. He is well dressed, a fashion icon, rich, but pleasant looking and cares too much about his clothing for Kitty to feel anything but ‘like’ for him. Her main purpose is to make Jack (a sixth cousin!) feel bad that he did not come to the gathering and offer for her. The whole family of course knows how much she likes him.

Jack, is a Hero. He is handsome, a wonderful rider, has women falling for him all the time, is “an accomplished flirt”, a gambler, and Kitty’s childhood equivalent of Knight in Shining Armour. Freddy knows that, and tries his best to make Kitty go back home, and wait for Jack.

To no purpose. Kitty decides the only way possible to move ahead would be to be ‘engaged’ to Freddy, so that she can finally go to London and meet an eligible match. The engagement can then be called off. In short, through lack of a formal London ‘Season’, Kitty plans to be launched to Society by Freddy’s affluent mother, and have her own Season and find the man she loves (Jack!).

There is little Freddy can do, for the story melts his heart and Kitty is persuasive, and agrees. And so, finally, the story begins!

Or so you think.

The book is good. It has all of London in it – the balls, the sightseeing, the high-society, the not-so-well-to-do nobility as well as the poorer Cits. Kitty moves into London to Freddy’s family, and headlong into the society of Freddy’s married sister Meg. Though financed by Kitty’s uncle (I shall call him Uncle for ease), Freddy is aware that the money allotted will be too little for good dresses. So he lets Kitty thinks that the Uncle’s money pays for all her dresses while personally financing her purchases from his ample bank balance.

Kitty embarks on choosing wonderful dresses, cuts her hair in the latest fashion, looks pretty (to her own surprise) and choosing unenviable friends. In fact her knack of choosing people of bad breeding and no money are something that one has to marvel at. Olivia is a Beauty, but her family is awful and she has no money. Her French cousin, a Chevalier, (Kitty is half French from her mother’s side) reeks of ‘something wrong’. And she hangs out with Dolphinton all the time! Really!

Everyone smells a rat when the couple act engaged and then forget all about it, and all the while want to keep the engagement a secret. The whole world knows that the engagement is a farce so Kitty can induce Jack to see what he missed and offer for her (everyone including Jack).

But then the book revolves around the perils that Olivia, Dolphinton and the Chevalier have to live through and how Kitty helps or tries to help them. Jack and Kitty, when they meet, have engaging repartee’s for each other, and Freddy is a solid help in the form of the ‘man-engaged’ throughout.

While Jack is handsome, Freddy is pleasant. While both are rich, Jack loves to gamble and Freddy never does. While Jack flirts and has lines of mistresses, Freddy stays away from women except for polite social causes. While Jack is well dressed, Freddy sets fashion statements. While Jack is flippant of convention, Freddy is the Pink of Pinks and convention could be set by his manners. While Kitty loves Jack, Freddy is the one at her elbow providing support to her.

So who does Kitty end up with? I kept wondering throughout the book. Getting embroiled in so many subplots as to make me almost tear my hair out in frustration at times, Heyer kept me guessing till the final chapters. And then, in wonder I read the rest of the book and fell in love with it.

All the characters are well-drawn and deep. The scrapes Kitty gets into are entertaining and (living in modern society as we do) feel for her rationality.

The best of course is the fact that the characters could be the real life version of a P G Wodehouse book! Really! If you don’t find yourself thinking ‘So this is how a real PG Wodehouse Nobility would have been’, well, I will be surprised!

I would say read the book, and find out how a Romance can be anything but! The complete book is a guessing game for the reader, making you eager to turn the pages to discover the secret! A novel mystery, which does not include murder!

By the end of the book you will feel very warm towards the Hero and decide that the Villain deserved it! Kitty grows up, and everything else is sorted. A very satisfying read indeed!

So, here are my Ratings:

Protagonists: Likable.

Side Characters: Dolphinton evokes your pity and frustration! Olivia – well, either you feel like slapping her or helping her. She is the true Beauty in Distress. The Chevalier for all his pitfalls is like-able. Freddy’s family especially his Father are lovable!

Plot: Though slow to start, it picks up at a steady pace through the book. Convoluted plot and keeps one guessing.

Environment: Fun, fun, fun! (There are three main women involved!)

Regency Information: Limited. Past describing the dresses and the latent tension between England and France, the book focuses more on the characters than Regency England. That said, there is mention of the museums and their latest offerings – an insight into what was considered historical and important then.

Recommendation: Recommended especially to those who have read a few Heyers and can somewhat recognise her plot-lines.

The book can be re-read for lighthearted fun anytime.

Rating: Three on Five!

Noble Ajax, you are as strong, as valiant, as wise, no less noble, much more gentle, and altogether more tractable!”

When Anthea Darracott finally says these lines (at the end of the book) the reader heaves a sigh of relief, and may also think she could have used a little less literary reference ;)

To help with that, here is the history of Ajax, and how Heyer often uses Shakespeare in her books.

(My ratings at the bottom of  this post)

The Unknown Ajax

That aside, The Unknown Ajax is an entertaining read. Set in the country, this book is about the grandchild of an irate, imperious and not-so-good landlord Lord Darracott who sets more store by his Family Name than by management of his estates and family. He now has to introduce the Heir to the family – the man having shown interest in knowing better what he will inherit and having quit the Army where he was a Major, and heads  ‘home’ – to Darracott Place. To receive him Lord D assembles his complete family. While he stays with one of his daughter-in-laws and his grand-daughter Anthea and grand-son Richmond, he invites over his Politican son and his very correct and well-bred wife, and their two sons Claud and Vincent. It is a full house to which Major Darracott is introduced.

And what a grandchild. Hugh Darracott, or Hugo as he prefers to be called, is a tall, blonde man. Though handsome, he does not really favor his family in anything except his height. To top it all, he is a provincial. Not up to the mark of the Noble Darracotts. Brought up by the family of his mother who were weavers, Hugo had never met his grandfather or cousins – and therefore, neither them him.

The book is entertaining to say the least. The moment Hugo perceives the preconcieved notion of his relatives, he tries his best to fit into that notion.  Especially after Lord Darracott decrees his grandchildren to teach him to be a Lord, in manners, dressing and speech! He starts speaking in a broad Yorkshire accent, toys with his very dressing-conscious cousin Claud, listens good humoredly to Vincent jibe at him and secretly worries about the youngest Richmond.

Meanwhile Lord D hatches a plan to wed Anthea to the Major and thus keep the estates in good hands. What more can a girl want? She hates him. The Major thus informs her of his being already secretly betrothed to a Yorkshire Beauty and the two soon become good friends.

While Anthea suspects Hugo to be as  ‘up to the mark’ (if not more) as the rest of them, the family loves to hate him. Intermingled with his fun repartees are suspicions of ghosts, a troubled boy Richmond who is not allowed to join the Army and smugglers!

This book is about the country and the rising problems of smuggling on the coastal towns. The marshlands are lovingly described, even as Hugo a newbie to them needs to be told all their virtues.

The highpoint of the book comes at the end, Hugo wonderfully plays with the family and the local authorities to keep the former out of legal trouble. proving he is not just an Ajax, but a smart one.

Of course, meanwhile Anthea has fallen in love with Hugo, and realises his fiancee was nothing but a figment of his very fertile imagination. Lord Darracott too slowly and steadily finds himself ensnared by the charms and subtle dominance of his heir, giving up completely by the end of the book.

Of course, there is a surprise element which makes Hugo all the more acceptable to his family. But I suggest you figure out the gaps on reading the book. Eventually, Hugo of course, redeems himself as a true Darracott of Darracott.

The book is a pleasure to read, and rests almost completely on the charms of the Hero. Initially I was a little surprised to see a Hero so unlike the usual Heyer ones. Not only was Hugo good natured, laid back and not someone anyone could be in awe of, on  first meeting. But he wins over the readers with his smartness and good intentions. Anthea is the perfect heroine for this man with her caustic tongue and passionate nature.

So, here are my Ratings:

Protagonists: Likable, but took me a little time to fall in love with

Side Characters: Lady Aurelia is magnificent. Claud and Vincent the perfect opposites, and Richmond manages to make you feel like boxing his ears. Lord Darracott is real! Overall very well developed characters.

Plot: Lots of action emerges mid-book, going on till the end, complete with smuggling, ghosts, bullet injuries and legal men.

Environment: Fun, small element of danger and toying with the Law.

Regency Information: Deals with the dilemna of the people dealing with smuggling thanks to the war.

Recommendation: Recommended especially to new Heyer readers. The Yorkshire accent is a take-home! The romance is low-key. Brings out the Nobility’s view on the common man, and of course, smuggling.

The book can be re-read for lighthearted fun anytime.

Rating: Three on Five!

Though my mother owns almost all the Georgette Heyer books, I would not dream of separating them from her. More so because I am a book lover, and I stay in a city quite far away from hers. I can understand the pain of being separated from a book you would like to re-read.

And so, after years of thinking about it I bought my first, very own, Georgette Heyer. And the book was Regency Buck. It re-ignited my interest in the author and her wonderful works.

(Jump to my Ratings at the bottom of this post)

Regency Buck is what I consider a classic Heyer novel. Prior to reading this, I had been devouring Jane Austen. And this book formed the perfect foil for it.

If you want to read a “happy” book, this is it. The main characters all rich, unimpeachable in birth, and “pink of the Ton” as Heyer would say. So they savour the best Life can offer them, and we witness them.

The Girl, though not fashionably dark, is a classic Blonde Beauty (rare in Heyer books) – though not ‘ethereal'; and of course, the Hero is handsome, fashionable, a trifle older, and “a complete hand”, or “an out-and-outer” if you wish.

It starts off when Judith and her brother Peregrine go off to London to savour the wonders of Town life, without informing their guardian “The Fifth Earl of Worth, Julian”.  The introductions are in a small town on the way, when the Earl, captivated by Judith’s beauty and mistaken by her country dress as well as the cheap gig, takes liberties with her. It is only when Perry challenges him to duel, that he realises who they are and mysteriously walks away.

Soon of course, they do too. And so, the enmity between them is founded – the base of the book. The Guardian of course, is a man younger than they had imagined. (Quite eligible to be marrying our spitfire heroine.)

Since all the characters are rich and of good birth, good looking and mannered well enough, they move in the ‘first circles’. We get a good view of what entertainments, garments and peculiarities the social elite witnessed in that era. Also, through tempestuous Judith, a very good idea of what was allowed to women of that era. Judith walks borderline between what was allowed of genteel women, and what an eccentric heiress may carry off without provoking enough people or being cast off by Society. If you are  Heyer reader, you can expect the many entertaining verbal dialogues between Worth and Judith on account of all these adventures of hers.

Perry of course, is a young fellow with a heart in the right place and lots of money in the bank, and little else (unlike his wise sister). There is a cousin of theirs, whom Judith favors who is genteel-ly dressed, soft spoken, polite, and not rich – the exact opposite of Worth. And then there is Judith’s correct, fashionably dressed ‘extremely expensive’ chaperon.

The plot of the book includes a little adventure – someone is trying very hard to kill Perry. Of course, it is about the inheritance. Who is this person? Worth?

One of the striking bits about the book is that personification on Beau Brummell. A real life character, this is one book in which Heyer has made him talk to and be good friends with our protagonists. The Prince Regent and his extraordinary Royal Pavillion in Brighton are also described and form an important part of the narrative.

The book ends quite satisfactorily, after a suitable amount of kidnapping, chasing through country, and fisticuffs between our Hero and the Villain.

All in all, an extremely entertaining read. It has the right mix of romance, propriety, intrigue and shock. Also, because money is of little object here, we get to see the best that the Regency period had to offer to its people.

So, here are my Ratings:

Protagonists: Extremely likable

Side Characters: No one talks too much, and I liked them. No irritating character here!

Plot: Strong, with adventure, boxing, cock fighting, threats, racing and murder plans!

Environment: Fun, lighthearted

Regency Information: High on the style and high-society side
(we get to meet Brummell and visit the Royal Pavillion)

Recommendation: Recommended to all Heyer fans, and also to New Readers.

Rating: Five on Five!

This Blog

I had read Georgette Heyer first as a schoolgirl, on the sly, even on days before exams.
And loved every moment of it.
Today, more than a decade later, I am revisiting each book of hers and all the Romance and Adventure the regency period can offer through her.

This blog is a list of all the books as I read them, with my ratings for it.
I wholeheartedly suggest Heyer to any avid book reader! Not just for the stories, but her inimitable writing style.

-D Chaudhury

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