These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer
Historical romance of the Regency period has never been written better than by Georgette Heyer, who in some ways initiated the genre. In this book she demonstrates her skill in creating memorable characters, setting and a detailed, wonderful plot. It is well known that her research was not only impeccable but ongoing, and when this book was written in 1926 she did not have the benefit of as many research options as today’s authors, who yet still get things wrong! The story is a little complicated, and it depends on personalities, a delicate social world which must be negotiated, and journeys between Britain and France. Heyer’s confident handling of her material adds consistency to the character’s behaviour, while she appreciates every detail of dress which plays an important part in this particular book. She revels in the details which have much to do with the construction of the image of several characters during the book, and while there several twists and turns here, the gender issue is well explored. I really enjoyed reading this mature and exciting novel.
The novel begins with the languid Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, who discovers and buys a boy, Leon, who he resolves to keep as a page. This is regarded as strange and even conceited behaviour by several friends and acquaintances, especially Hugh Davenant, but overall Avon is notorious for outrageous behaviour and affecting strange behaviour. He is a wealthy man with a past, but Leon seems to be devoted to him. When they travel to England, Avon reveals he knows more about Leon than he is willing to divulge at this point. When Leonie is forced to appear, her behaviour and dress becomes a bone of contention with his sister Fanny who he seeks out to help him with his ward. She is the first person who is brought into a circle of friends and family who seek to help, and the dialogue with which they speak is funny and entertaining. An adventure in which a horse is stolen and sold, an evil drink is consumed and a “pig – person” behaves badly, is exciting and a little frightening for a young woman and an otherwise dissolute young man. A plan must be formed for a launch into society and the glorious description of balls, parties and clothes ensues.
This is a book of an author writing at the height of her powers. The main characters are well drawn and consistent and the humour which pervades the conversations between a group of friends is very funny; I was particularly amused by the references to Mr Manners, angry ex-owner of a stolen horse, “who will be satisfied with nothing less than our lives” as Avon grimly observes in jest. Tiles and names are important in this book, but the characters are suitably different from each other even in the French aristocracy to be understandable. It is a book with real depth, with the clever suggestion that even less than central characters have a backstory. It has a real plot and is enormously entertaining. The characters are engaging and the settings realistic. I really enjoyed this book, and recommend it as a wonderful example of an historical romance.
When life gets tough, it is wonderful to find a comfort read, or reread. I have not read Heyer’s book for several years, when family issues meant I needed an ongoing distraction. I had bought a few of her books, and borrowed others, so I have never being sure if I had a full set or if I had read them all. Some of my copies are a bit tricky to get to at the moment, so some one gave me some to read. As I am trying to review a book a day at the moment I thought that this really enjoyable book deserved a post, if only for my own interest, and I hope that it is perhaps a reminder of the skill and talent of this very special author.