Guardians, boxing, carriage driving and much else feature in this Heyer novel. Most of her historical novels are seen as “Regency”, but this is one that actually has the Prince Regent, later George IV, as a character, albeit briefly. The novel mainly concerns a couple of young people, Judith and her younger brother Peregrine, and those around them as they discover an exciting new world in London. They have an interesting relationship with their legal guardian, whose appointment comes as something of a shock to them, as well as the challenges of new friends and aquaintances. Judith in particular shows an interest in not only being a wealthy heiress and a lady of society and fashion, but also adopting some singular habits. She takes up driving a matched pair of horses from a fashionable vehicle, and becomes adept at taking snuff from a different “box to match each gown”, both of which accomplishments cause excited comment. Peregrine is a typical younger brother, full of new obsessions and the life of a young man with enough money to have a good time. With Beau Brummell giving advice and counsel which goes beyond a fashionable appearance, and royal Dukes turning up at social events, this is a Heyer novel which deals with high society in real detail. Not that Heyer ever lets her immense research get in the way of her excellent plot and characters. This is a lovely and exciting read, one of Heyer’s most convincing novels.
The novel opens with Judith and Peregrine travelling to London following their father’s death, to discover their legal guardian as specified in his will. They wish to leave Yorkshire where they have had a sheltered life and take a house in London, to enter society and discover a fashionable social life. Peregrine discovers that there is to be a famous prize fight between two well known champions near to a stopping point, and while Judith’s travel guide tells her of interesting sights in the area, he is determined to find a conveyance to take him to watch the fight. It is when he gets an ancient cart stuck across the road, a mysterious stranger is disparaging of their equipiage. They discover that the rather brusque man is in fact the Fifth Earl of Worth, and by a particular twist of fate their appointed guardian. On one level he seems disinterested, permitting some of their different ambitions, but also finding them a suitable house and a chaperon in the form of the wonderfully named Mrs Scattergood. Predictably Peregrine gambles and gets into trouble, and is discreetly rescued. It is only when he is in some danger that the plot really begins to get complex. Meanwhile Judith receives much interest and even proposals of marriage from a variety of gentlemen, but she is unexpectedly grateful for Worth’s help in turning them away. As her friends increase, however, life is not simple and Worth seems to keep a disturbing eye on his wards.
This is a novel which revels in the clothes, style and fashion of the period for both men and women. As well known real characters rub shoulders with Heyer’s fictional creations, the writing is seamless and always entertaining. There is a certain dry humour, especially in the dialogue involving Worth, and Peregrine is revealed as a really comic character at times. This is a really enjoyable book, and a memorable Heyer novel.
I am pleased to see that not only are there plenty of Heyers to keep me going, but also that I have quite a few – both historical and murder mystery. I will have to work out which ones I actually had, as when I read them years ago I borrowed a few to read. I can see I’m going to have to consult Fantastic Fiction https://www.fantasticfiction.com/again – as well as my Georgette Heyer Companion.