Monday, February 22, 2010

Devil's Cub

A young nobleman sprawls nonchalantly inside his coach, despite the dangerously fast pace at which it is traveling. When highwaymen hold up the coach, his demeanor does not change. Without a second thought, he pulls the trigger of the small pistol in his pocket, blowing a hole through both his coat and an unfortunate robber's head. In a bored voice, he commands his coachman to drive on, leaving the body in the road.

With this opening scene, Georgette Heyer tells the reader all they need to know of Dominic Alastair, Marquis of Vidal. He is cold-blooded, reckless and quite dangerous. However, the frivolous beauty Sophia Challoner and her greedy mother do not recognize this. Both imagine Sophia can behave scandalously with the marquis and eventually force him to propose marriage.

Only Mary, Sophia's sensible sister, recognizes who would come out the worse from such an encounter. When she intercepts Vidal's note instructing Sophia to meet him late one night so they can run away together, Mary decides to disguise herself and take her sister's place. She imagines the marquis will let her return home once he discovers the deception and will think twice about approaching Sophia again.

What Mary does not realize is Vidal has been sent into exile by his father after nearly killing a man in a duel. Vidal intends to go to Paris, where he plans to make Sophia his mistress. When he finds Mary in his coach, he imagines she has the same loose morals as her sister and forces her onto the boat instead.

So begins another delightful romp by the incomparable Ms. Heyer, featuring a deliciously tangled plot filled with romantic misunderstandings, in which true love wins out over all.

Vidal soon realizes the practical, resourceful Mary is no lightskirt but a lady of quality. Chagrined (for he does not make a habit of abducting virtuous women) he offers her marriage as a way of salvaging her reputation. To his shock, she refuses. He cannot help but grow intrigued by this unusual miss who seems to know just how to manage him. Before long, he's desperate to wed her, not out of duty, but for love.

Mary, meanwhile, resists Vidal at every turn despite her growing affection for him. She believes the marquis's family will never accept a lowly gentleman's granddaughter as a spouse for their son. While staying in Paris with Vidal's cousin, Juliana, Mary becomes involved in the relationship between the flighty girl and her sober, correct suitor, Mr. Comyn. The different romantic plotlines become hopelessly entangled, and Heyer once again shows how deftly she can get her characters into trouble, then get them out again.

Yes, Heyer charmed me with another witty, wonderful tale. I wasn't sure she would be able to redeem the marquis, who if anything was even more wicked than his father, the Duke of Avon (introduced in These Old Shades). But by subtle degrees, she showed he did, indeed, have a heart. I greatly enjoyed becoming reacquainted with several characters who played key roles in These Old Shades, including the Duke of Avon, still head-over-heels for his lovable wife, the Duke's mischievous brother, Rupert, and of course, the irrepressible Leonie, Duchess of Avon.

My grade: A.

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