Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Classics Circuit: Those devilish Alastairs

Today I am glad to be participating in the Classics Circuit for Georgette Heyer.  When I signed up for the blog tour, I was asked what I was going to be post about, and because I had just borrowed it, I said that I would post about The Devil's Cub. I then realised that I hadn't actually reviewed the book that comes before it which is These Old Shades, so I thought I would do a post about my experience of reading Georgette Heyer, and a comparison of the two books. In addition, I am also using this post as my entry for the letter H in the Historical Tapestry challenge, Alphabet in Historical Fiction.

Up until a few years ago I hadn't read any Georgette Heyer novels, which in some ways was quite surprising given that I love both romance and historical fiction. Georgette Heyer is often creditted with creating the Regency Romance sub-genre, and over the years I have read quite a lot of those types of romances. I am not really sure what it as that I was waiting for. Since I started reading this author, I have read one of her straight historical fiction novels, one of her mysteries, and now three of her romances. I liked the first romance I read, but I didn't really know what to expect when I picked up These Old Shades. It was therefore a pleasant surprise when I enjoyed it as much as I did!

Here is the synopsis for These Old Shades (the recent Sourcebooks rerelease)

A notorious duke with a devilish bent...

Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, is called "Satanas" by enemy and friend alike. In the aristocratic circles of both London and Louis XV's Paris he has a reputation as a dangerous and debauched rake.

A cast off urchin with a secret past...

Late one evening, the Duke stumbles upon Leon, a red-headed urchin fleeing a certain beating at his brutal brother's hands. On a whim, Avon buys the boy and makes him his page. But it soon becomes clear that Leon is not what he seems...

When the grubby Leon turns out to be the enchanting Leonie, the Duke is not prepared for the breathtaking transformation or the tender emotions she awakens in him, or the unconditional love she has for the man who saved her.

One of the issues with being a pioneer of a genre, is that in the 80 plus years of subsequent imitators, many of the tropes used in the novel have become pretty standard tropes of the regency romance sub-genre. In this one alone there is the cold, distantly aloof aristocrat, the girl dressing as a boy and the suspense subplot, and yet, despite the fact that these are all storylines that have been reproduced numerous times over the years, there is still a freshness to them in Heyer's writing.

Justin Alastair is in Paris when he comes across a young boy being accosted by others, and decides on a whim to make the boy his page. He very quickly realises that his page is actually a girl and sets out to find out more about her. It seems that she is most definitely something more than a young peasant, and soon Justin finds himself plotting and scheming to unveil a villain of the French Aristocracy.

I really enjoyed that this book was partially set in pre-revolutionary France.

When I rated These Old Shades, I gave it 4.5/5. Some times though the gut reaction rating that I initially apply isn't what I would have rated it a couple of weeks later. I will leave it at 4.5, but having now read The Devil's Cub, I would probably amend that to 4/5, not because I didn't still think I had enjoyed it immensely, but rather because when I put the two books together and compare my reading reaction, then These Old Shades is left in the shadows.

In this novel Miss Heyer has woven 'affairs' of lovely ladies and handsome, if some times wicked, men into a design as intricate as old lace. Love and desire, abductions and escapes, gaming and duelling are inevitable incidents in this full-blooded eighteenth-century story. The many thousands of admirers of Miss Heyer's These Old Shades will meet familiar friends again in Devil's Cub

The main male character in The Devil's Cub is Dominic, Marquis of Vidal, and son of Justin and Leonie, the Duke and Duchess of Avon. Dominic shares many of the same traits that his father possessed. They are both dark and broody, cold and aloof, but where were told that Justin is a man with a deserved reputation as a rake, it is really with Dominic that we see this for ourselves. Dominic is a man who trifles with young women with little thought for the consequences for the lady concerned, the man who fights in duels with the slightest of provocation, and the man who takes on the most ludicrous wagers, and to my mind, he is more overtly amusing than his father.

As a result of an illegal duel, Dominic is hustled out of the country to France, but not before he makes arrangements to have his current young lady, Sophia Challoner, accompany him. When her older, and much more sensible, sister inadvertently finds out about the plan, she is determined to save her sister from certain ruin, and therefore shows up at the rendezvous in her place. Mary expects that she will be able to be back before most people realise that she is gone, but she had not counted on Dominic's temper, and determination, to travel onto Paris urgently. When she wounds him, Dominic begins to realise that Mary is not as dull as he thought she might be, and that he may have at last found a woman who could live up to his mother in terms of spirit, and her sense of adventure.

There was only one scene very early in the book where I didn't like Dominic, and I must confess that I was a bit concerned that I was not going to be able to connect to him as a reader as a result of those actions. Whilst not forgivable, it was not repeated and I got no sense that it would be in the future, and I was therefore able to move on from.

I must confess that there were times that Mary came awfully close to making stupid decisions, but she was saved from being a TSTL (too stupid to live if you aren't sure what that acronym means) heroine by the fact that for most of the time she is no simpering young woman (something that Leonie had down pat in the previous book). In fact, I often found myself wondering what exactly it was that Mary was supposed to be living up to!

It was an absolute delight to watch the chemistry between Dominic and Mary leap from the pages, and to watch a rake whose family members despair of ever reforming (not counting his devoted parents of course) fall in love with a woman that no one would have thought would have been attracted to, and to do so with the utmost care for her reputation once he started to fall for her.

All through both of these books there is a superb cast of supporting characters. Justin's brother and sister, and their respective children in the later book, provide colour, vibrancy, depth and humour, meaning that The Devil's Cub in particular, is an incredibly balanced and readable novel. Leonie and Justin also worked better for me in this novel, having been married for many years now. I still found it a bit hard to connect with Leonie, but I did enjoy that no matter how well she thought she had managed to conceal Dominic's doings from her husband, Justin was almost omnipotent - always having ways of knowing exactly what his firebrand of a son had been up to!

As an aside, the edition of The Devil's Cub that I read was printed in the late 1970s, and it is very interesting to look at the differences between the synopsis and the covers! The other thing that I didn't realise until I was writing this post, is that Barbara from An Infamous Army is a member of the Alastair family! Given that An Infamous Army was the first Heyer I read, I feel as though I have come full circle, and in fact I think if I was to reread her book, I would appreciate more fully Barbara's character. I can totally see myself picking up These Old Shades and beginning my adventures with the fantastic Alastair family again, and this time reading through Devil's Cub and onto An Infamous Army.

In the end I rated The Devil's Cub 5 out of 5.

Thanks to Sourcebooks for the review copy of  These Old Shades.

If you are interested in reading more posts from the Classics Circuit, here are the other stops on the Georgette Heyer tour this week:

March 15, 2010 Booklust Review: Penhallow
March 16, 2010 Carol’s Notebook Review: Cotillion
March 16, 2010 Musings Review: These Old Shades
March 17, 2010 Reading Adventures Review: Devil’s Cub
March 18, 2010 Blog Jar Review: Royal Escape
March 19, 2010 Reading, Writing and Retirement Review: Friday’s Child
March 20, 2010 Staircase Wit Review: The Grand Sophy or Devil’s Cub
March 21, 2010 Medieval Bookworm Review: Cotillion


  1. I am so glad you are now familiar with the Alastairs! I also prefer Vidal to Avon. Avon creeped me out, and I hated Leonie and I can't imagine they were happy together... I agree Mary was really close to the edge on idiocy sometimes, but she eventually pulls through :-) I like that book much more.

  2. Fun reviews! I think I'll try these ones after I recover from my most recent Heyer.

  3. I have only read one book by Heyer (An Infamous Army) which was really heavy on the history and light on the romance. I think I would like these books a bit better than I did that one. I have been seeing Heyer's books all over the place lately, even at Sam's Club! I think I have finally decided that I am going to try again with The Old Shades. Your review makes me think that I would really enjoy that one. Great detailed review, it was nice to see the comparison between the two books.

  4. I had no idea there was a sequel to These Old Shades! I may have to read this one someday ... thanks for the review!

  5. I recently became a GH fan too. I read The Black Moth and just loved it. Simple, fun, and easy to get lost in. Excellent post Marg!

  6. Devil's Cub is my favourite Heyer. I learn something new about the Regency era every time I read her. Not too fussed on most of the endings, but she writes a good bit of escapist nonsense. :)

  7. I'm glad to see how much you enjoyed these. I was so glad Heyer was chosen for this tour, since I may never have actually gotten around to reading something by her otherwise, and I really enjoyed. I'll definitely be reading more.

  8. Reminding me yet again that I really need to get me some Heyer! I'm so appreciative of these posts--the more I learn about this author's work, the more I realize I need to dig in and read them!

  9. How fun that the characters from all the Heyer novels overlap between the books!