I just don’t think I’m cut out for Georgette Heyer. I wanted to like her, I really did, and I thought that this well-beloved novel would be a good place to start after I wasn’t fond of Powder and Patch … but it was more of the same. Perhaps I need to read a book of hers featuring a slightly older and less silly heroine, but this one was not my cup of tea.
Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, is a 40 year old gentleman with an awful reputation–so bad that his nickname is Satanas. In France, he comes across what at first appears to be a young boy running away from an older man. Struck by the resemblance to his rival (a very distinctive appearance of red hair, black eyebrows, and violet eyes), Avon impulsively buys the “boy,” Léon, from his erstwhile brother and makes him his page. The boy, of course, is no boy, but instead a girl named Léonie, who has been living as a boy the past seven years. Seeing Avon as her savior, Léonie adores him… however, Avon has deep plans that involve revenge, and Léonie might just be the weapon he uses to achieve it.
What follows is a slapstick mystery of mistaken identity, parentage, and some good old fashioned adventure, including kidnaps, abductions, bullet wounds and other ridiculous goings-on. Avon is never quite as awful as he’s made out to be–in fact, it was rather amusing hearing all of the characters gasping about how horrible and Satanic he is when there is rarely any indication that he is dangerous at all. Léonie is also ridiculous, slightly less so than Cleonie of Powder and Patch, but in a very different way. While she occasionally comes off as a bit of an imbecile in her conversation (I believe it’s meant to convey naivete?) she also enjoys fencing and is quite a bloodthirsty rogue. The May-December romance between the 19 year old Léonie and the 40 year old Duke is also a central focus of the book, which is a little questionable to a modern eye.
Heyer does dialogue so well, it really is “sparkling” and effervescent in the truest sense of the word. The plots are entertaining and imaginative, if a little given to deus-ex-machina at the worst of times, but the characters left me cold (except for Avon’s scapegrace younger brother Rupert, who was awesome). I just don’t think “the dandy” is appealing, and I do think I might enjoy one of her books if the heroine was just a little older and less ridiculous. These Old Shades took me forever to read because of it.