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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!

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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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