Sunday, June 21, 2009
I confess I had high hopes for this one considering it features a double crossdressing. Unfortunately, Heyer didn't quite bring the rest of her formidable talent to the table.
Don't mistake me. The brother in drag was marvellous, absolutely marvellous. But he was quite let down by our heroine. Our hero was quite unflatteringly described as a mountain, over and over again to the point where I never felt like I was given a chance to fall in love with him. And there was a curious distance between the characters and the narrative, like Heyer hadn't quite managed how to get into the hearts and souls of her lovers, really unpack the intricacies of their personalities so we could love them for all their faults and idionsycracies.
Thing that disappoints me the most? Our heroine didn't do anything. Even in drag, all she did was attend parties and stand around and talk a little. There was no real vivacity, no engagement, no power as a protagonist. And the one time she got into serious trouble, our hero literally rode in and saved her. *sighs heavily* She was entirely too passive and too stolid for my liking.
I mean, part of me really admires Heyer for having such a range of heroines --- the naive pretty young thing, the sarcastic bluestocking, the spirited hoyden, the quiet respectable type --- and how she never writes the same character twice. And one day in the distant future, I fully intend to read all the Regency romances of Heyer in chronological order because I'm beginning to suspect her heroines get a lot more interesting as she grows older. *nods*
It didn't help that it's set pre-Regency so the fashions were not at all sexy to me. All those details of fashion and visuals that I usually adore and savour and cherish here verged on boredom and even caused an occasional cringe.
It could have been so marvellous if Heyer had given both brother and sister an equality of temperament, fierce and volatile and spirited. I know she does like to balance her siblings out which is fair enough but it worked to a completely deleterious effect here. I'd like to have seen them both struggle with their roles, have all sorts of comical mishaps and introduce all sorts of gender discourse. This was just so placid ...
As it was, I turned to the front to check when this particular book was written, thinking perhaps it was a Seventies book. Nearly fell out of my chair when I read 1928. GOOD GOD, HEYER! Would this have been racy then? I don't know nearly enough about the gender discourse and fads of the Twenties to know whether having a guy in drag for three quarters of the novel would be a shocking or a delicious thing then. So perhaps Heyer went as far as she could for the times. I can't help but wish she'd gone further.
Certainly I recognised the whole highwayman romance homage/parody. Pity it's not a trope that appeals to me any more. I think it did at one time, perhaps when I was in the throes of my Scarlet Pimpernel loff. It was glamourous, yes, but far too serious, not nearly enough of Heyer's thrilling sarcasm. And the occasional killing left me a little queasy, with the characters reacting as casually as they did.
Mind you, I did like the cleverness of the final twist. Made me laugh at myself. There's that glimmer of Heyer wit I adore.