Sunday, May 31, 2009
Heyer, Georgette. 1965/2009. Frederica. Sourcebooks. 437 pages.
Not more than five days after she had despatched an urgent missive to her brother, the Most Honorable the Marquis of Alverstoke, requesting him to visit her at his earliest convenience, the widowed Lady Buxted was relieved to learn from her youngest daughter that Uncle Vernon had just driven up to the house, wearing a coat with dozens of capes, and looking as fine as fivepence.
I love Georgette Heyer. I know not every reader will find her writing a traditional, delightful treat to savor slowly but surely. But for me, it's just as much about the experience as the end result. I won't lie. Georgette Heyer never offers an easy read, a fluffy read. If the modern day romance novel is the wonder bread of the literary world, Georgette Heyer would offer readers the fiber-heavy complexity of whole grains.
It's romance. Never doubt that. Her books are all about (often unlikely) heroes and heroines finding love. And her books almost always have more than one couple finding love and deciding for marriage. But her books are never just about romance. They're about society and family and life itself. Her characters are human: in other words, she's smart enough to make her characters--all her characters--flawed. I think the fact that they're so complex makes the comparisons to Austen so natural and so right.
And her books are satisfying. But instead of the quick-and-easiness of modern romance novels, her books offer a lingering satisfaction. (I'm not knocking modern romance novels. Not really. I'm as guilty as can be of enjoying a nice smutty book now and then. But you've got to admit that at least some modern romance novels are mindless and forgettable often starring mix and match heroes and heroines.
Frederica Merriville is a charming heroine who doesn't want to be the heroine. As an older sister, and as a woman in her mid-twenties, she feels the spotlight should always ever be on her younger and oh-so-beautiful younger sister, still in her teens, Charis. She has come to London in hopes that she can launch her sister into society, into the ton. She wants her sister to have a chance to find love and happiness and marriage and family. You know, all the things she thinks she'll never have for herself. And Charis isn't her only consideration. She's got three brothers: Harry, Jessamy, and Felix.
Lord Alverstoke is frustrated and amused. In the past few days, he's had both of his sisters beg him to give a ball in honor of their daughters coming-of-age. He's said no, not once but twice. But the third time may just be the charm. When Frederica--the daughter of a slight acquaintance--shows up unexpectedly, asking him for his help, he's surprised to hear himself say yes. In part because he knows that launching the oh-so-beautiful Charis into society will annoy his sisters because their daughters are oh-so-plain. Yes, his nieces will get the ball. But he'll expect Lady Buxted to introduce the Merriville sisters. To welcome them both into her fold and take them along with her own daughter into society. It's blackmail of the amusing sort: his money will pay for her daughter's chance--the clothes, the shoes, the hats and bonnets, the gloves, etc.--but he will get to see her squirm at having to 'help' these strangers.
Soon Lord Alverstoke is acting as guardian of the Merriville family. He proclaims them distant cousins, and society opens their arms...true, Charis, is quite beautiful, and true, Frederica knows how to hold her own in conversation. But it is his wealth and his prestige that get the ball rolling so to speak.
What did I love about Frederica? How fully-fleshed the characters are. We don't just see Lord Alverstoke falling in love with Frederica. We see him come to love the whole family. We see Frederica's brothers up, close, and personal. We see the lovable but troublesome Felix have one adventure after another. We see the lovable eagerness of Jessamy. Both brothers became favorites of mine.
I loved the characters. I loved the slow-and-easy (in no hurry to get there) pace of the romance. The book is not boring--far from it--but it's comfortable not excitable.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews