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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!

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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