Oh, but a fun romance novel is nothing if not a guilty pleasure, and a feat so rarely done well.
The best thing about Georgette Heyer is that she was not only talented, but prolific, and Venetia, as compared to the handful of other Heyer regency romances I have read, is one her best.
Heyer’s books are devoid of explicit sex and real passion, focusing instead on the lighter and more humorous aspects of budding courtship. However, Heyer is one of very few writers I’ve ever read who can make the misty-eyed something more than mush, and here she does what she does best. The dashing rogue, the headstrong lady, and an unequivocal evocation of a bygone age.
Our protagonist, Venetia Lanyon, is a sassy young woman of the gentry living out a selfless kind of exile in the company of her younger brother, Aubrey. Orphaned by unloving parents, it might be expected that Venetia would be the most insufferable, self-pitying wretch, but with her sharp tongue and independent, no-nonsense attitude, she is entertaining to follow. Aubrey is also an excellent character, and there is great charm in this book’s depiction of their sibling relationship.
‘”But he’s dead, Venetia!”
“Yes, but I don’t suppose he has any more fondness for us now than he had when he was alive, ma’am. He never made the least push to engage our affections, you know, so he really cannot expect us to grieve for him.”‘
But of course this is a romance, and we’ll leave incest to A Game of Thrones, so enter the love interest, the wicked Lord Jasper Damerel, reputable womaniser, blackguard, and thirteen years Venetia’s senior…
To be honest, age gap romances don’t usually do it for me. Call me a cynic, but my mind is always fast-forwarding to the unhappy fate of having a lover in their dotage. That being said, Heyer does handle the situation convincingly, with neither of the characters sweeping at once into each other’s arms.
Scoundrel though Damerel is (and there is no doubting, from his first meeting with Venetia, that this is far from an act), he is lovable, and Venetia, for all her inexperience, is a clever and engaging heroine, who knows, as much as she can, what she is getting into.
The gradual development of feelings between the two is slow, but tender, as Venetia goes from Damerel’s sort of pet, then his friend, and only later, when they are much better acquainted, his dear one. Likewise, Damerel is not at first an object of ardent desire, but instead a friend and advisor. Womaniser he may be, but in this novel it is Venetia who does most of the chasing, and only after she has been given sufficient experience to know what it is she wants, contrary to the grip of societal expectations.
‘”No, but you know what that Prince in the fairy tale is like, ma’am! Young, handsome, and virtuous! And probably a dead bore,” she added thoughtfully. “Well, my usurper is not very young, and not handsome, and certainly not virtuous: quite the opposite in fact. On the other hand, he is not a bore.”‘
Of course there are terrible complications, among them Venetia’s unwanted suitors, meddlesome relations, and Damerel’s burgeoning conscience, but we read safe in the knowledge that this book is a historical caper, with the delightful touch of a master at her craft. Intelligent and fun, it manages, despite its lightness, to stay just shy of frivolity. Just be sure you like the historical setting, because Georgette Heyer knew a lot about it, and was determined to impart her knowledge!
A satisfying read for a Sunday afternoon, and unromantic though I profess to be, I can’t deny there is a sweetness to this book that melts my chilly heart.