Sunday, January 17, 2010

These Old Shades

Like The Masqueraders, Georgette Heyer's These Old Shades is another unabashedly romantic, exciting adventure story set in Georgian times, with one extra element. The novel is most importantly a tale of redemption. The hero, Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, is an amoral, jaded, ruthless nobleman, proud of the nickname "Satanas" given him by polite society. But even this dangerous, dishonorable man has a flicker of goodness left in him, which shines forth when he falls in love despite himself.

Avon impulsively rescues a Paris street urchin from a life of poverty and abuse when he notes the youth's resemblance to the Comte de Saint Vire, his old enemy. Avon makes "Leon" his page, knowing all along "Leon" is really "Leonie," a young woman dressed as a boy. What's more, Leonie is the Comte's daughter. Desperate for a male heir, the Comte placed the infant girl in the care of a peasant couple and passed the couple's newborn son off as his own.

Nursing a grudge decades old, the Duke of Avon intends to use Leonie as an instrument of revenge against the Comte. He brings her to his English estate as his ward and charges a female cousin with teaching her to become a lady. Slowly, Avon's thoughts turn from his own revenge to restoring Leonie to her rightful place. The young woman's innocence, mischievousness and forthrightness awaken tender feelings in him, and her love for Avon as her rescuer makes him strive to be the man she believes him to be.

I was afraid at first Heyer would make Leonie too wide-eyed and adoring for my tastes, but she balanced those elements of her character nicely with stubbornness, hot-headedness and an ability to take action on her own behalf. (In one of my favorite scenes, Leonie backs Avon's brother into a corner with a fencing foil, enraged the young man called the Duke "Satanas" in front of her.) When Leonie's father, the Comte, tries to kidnap her, she proves more than capable of engineering her own rescue. The romance between her and Avon at times seems more of a parent-child relationship, but she is able to stand up to the Duke when she wants to and is sometimes wiser than him, despite their 20-year age difference. She is definitely a heroine who knows her own mind.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the story was seeing Avon's acquaintances and family members reacting to the change in "Satanas." Many of them had reason to mistrust or even hate the Duke, but they all became his allies in the end because they cared for Leonie. Avon finally revealed Leonie's parentage to the world in a tense, exciting scene, with the villainous Comte getting his just desserts.

I very much enjoyed this unusual romance and look forward to reading the sequel, Devil's Cub. My grade: A.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Masqueraders

What a wonderful way to begin a new year of reading - lost in the pages of yet another excellent novel by Georgette Heyer.The Masqueraders might just be my new favorite; it certainly equaled The Grand Sophy and Arabella. Luckily I had New Year's Day off; I could barely put down this Georgian-era, wildly romantic adventure story.

Prudence and her brother, Robin, have lived their lives at the center of their opportunistic father's wild plots and intrigues. Their involvement in the recent Jacobite rebellion has left Robin with a traitor's sentence hanging over his head, so they decide to hide in plain sight - mingling in London society, Robin disguised as a fetching, vivacious young woman, and Prudence as a dashing young man.

The siblings play their roles to perfection but inwardly begin to chafe at the masquerade, especially when both lose their hearts - Robin to the enchanting Letitia Grayson, and Prudence to Sir Anthony Fanshawe, a distinguished mountain of a man. Then their flamboyant father arrives in London to launch his most daring scheme yet - to claim the title and riches of a viscount. Will he succeed in making himself and his children respectable? Can Robin and Prue ever abandon their disguises and declare themselves to their true loves? Is this a Georgette Heyer novel?

The plot was deliciously convoluted, humorous and suspenseful, but once again, Heyer's wonderfully drawn characters charmed me the most. I adored Prue, who played the part of a courageous young man with such wit and resourcefulness, but retained a womanly desire for a lover to cherish her, and even to take care of her. I also loved how her brother Robin threw himself so unreservedly into a woman's role, even while inwardly itching to cast aside his petticoats in favor of a sword or pistol.

The siblings' adventurer father was an absolute scream: a man of unshakable confidence and breathtaking audacity who puffed himself up like a peacock and proclaimed his genius to anyone who would listen. (And, darn it, the way he brought his intrigues to a successful conclusion made at least some of that bragging justified!) My favorite character, though, was the seemingly indolent Sir Anthony, an endlessly fascinating man with a sharper eye and quicker wit than anyone suspected and with the capacity, beneath his respectable surface, to throw himself headlong into danger for love's sake. He and Prue were well matched, indeed, and I will admit, their romance set my heart all aflutter. Sigh.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you're still having fun with the challenge! I know that I am! How many Heyer novels have you read so far? Do you have a favorite so far? Are there any you're hoping to get to in the next year?