Georgette Heyer is one of the few authors who has created and sustained a whole new genre of fiction writing. Regency romances are not everyone’s first choice of reading; they can be formulaic, they are light and not asking too many deep questions, and they can be incredibly predictable. As to the formula, it is often the case that a couple meet or reunite after many years, there are barriers of society or temperament between them, there is a crisis which often involves a journey at breakneck speed, before the happy couple are united in marriage and live happily ever after. At least that is the basic plan of many regency romances that appear regularly today. The difference is that Heyer wrote them first, and wrote them better than anyone else. She was not worried by political correctness; her women can be startling for their beauty in a disguised way rather than their brains, her main characters are at least of good birth and end up with enough money to be considered rich, and men always have some redeeming quality. I am being negative about the Regency romance patterns but Heyer always added so much to her novels and in this case her short stories. The women always have courage and intelligence, even if temporarily misapplied, the settings are definitely correct in the smallest detail. Only fastidious research can guarantee the correct clothing, language and social behaviour, and Heyer has never been bettered in her incredible writing of the facts. Her books have been held up as almost teaching resources for not only social history, but also military details of Napoleonic battles.
As you can imagine, I was delighted to get my hands on a copy of this book. Yes, I probably had read some of the stories in old and battered editions, but this book promised recently discovered stories and an altogether concentrated collection of short stories. I found it enormously good fun to read; Heyer has always been my comfort reading but this would be even more ideal for short waits in tricky circumstances. Each story here ticks all the boxes of an unpromising start between a small number of people, a journey and at least one misunderstanding. Often an elopement is proposed, but Heyer is far more sophisticated than depicting a straight dash to Gretna Green as something is always resolved without deceit and enormous hurt to at least the happy couple and the ‘good’ characters. To be honest these stories do get a bit much if read altogether, as in their rich plots and characters can tend to merge. Sometimes Heyer packs an enormous amount into a short story in terms of character development and change, but she was such a skilful writer that implication and characters will work out for the reader without being spelled out.
These stories, and Heyer’s novels, can be an acquired taste. Only one or two stories in this volume involve snow as implied in the title, so while it is an ideal read for winter evenings, it can be read at anytime you need a light read, confident that every setting, costume, language and gesture will be historically accurate, and anything except boring!
As you can imagine, I am a big Heyer fan but have not got round to rereading her books for ages, let along her mystery novels. This book does persuade me to go and see how many Heyer classics I own…