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.
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!