Tag Archives: georgette heyer

Georgette Heyer — These Old Shades

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.

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Georgette Heyer — Powder and Patch

Ever since the wonderful Austenprose has been running a Georgette Heyer appreciation month, I’ve been itching to try reading her finally. I tried once before but I believe that I started with The Black Moth and eventually ended up putting it down and losing interest. I finished Powder and Patch but I’m not so sure if I’m just not a Heyer fan, or if this one was just unappealing to me. I’m definitely going to give her another chance, but this is not a book I will be picking up again.

Powder and Patch stars Philip Jettan, a blunt, honest, manly many farmer boy who’s happiest speaking his mind, getting his nails dirty, and admiring the charming (well, she’s described as charming anyway, but comes off as anything but!) Cleone, his childhood playmate and, after she returns home from convent school with an additional polish and, presumably, boobs, he falls in love with her. Of course, because this is a romance, there is a catch: Cleone is interested in fashion, especially the ridiculously feminine, dandyish fashion so common in the Georgian period, and Philip is having none of it. She could never marry a man so… so… uncouth! Philip, of course, wants her to love him as he is. After much fighting back and forth, especially about the foppish Bancroft, who Cleone flirts with outrageously in order to annoy her one true love, Philip storms off to Paris to become the man that Cleone wants… or thinks she wants. Because of course, Philip is really perfect for her.

The things that I enjoyed about Heyer were numerous; she writes engagingly, even her descriptions have a sort of sparkling verve to them. Her voice is pitch perfect, it has the dryness of Austen and her historical research is top notch. The descriptions of the clothes that her dandies wear are even more ridiculous because they are totally accurate to what was worn, right down to the high heels that forced the men to walk in mincing steps. There were some enjoyable slapstick moments, especially a duel in Paris. Some of the dialogue was witty (even if my not being able to speak French was quite a handicap in a lot of the scenes!)

But perhaps I am just too modern to enjoy her, or at least to enjoy this book. All of the talk about Cleone not knowing herself and really needing a man to just master her made me a little ill. She was so empty headed and ridiculous it was hard to imagine anyone going through so much trouble for her at all, especially when her “charming qualities” were acting like a complete idiot at all times possible. Philip wasn’t much better, either, alternately sulking or simpering. The message was basically that she had no idea what she wanted and needed to be taken care of and told because she had absolutely no sense whatsoever. Again, perhaps I’m just not in the right mindset to enjoy Heyer. Or maybe I just couldn’t connect with this character. I’ll read a few more of her books to give her the benefit of the doubt but this one was just not for me.

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