This book is actually getting a 4.5 rating, and it’s official. I have a Georgette Heyer addiction.
Either the books are getting better as they go, or I’m getting better at picking them, because sacré bleu! That might have been the best historical romance I’ve ever read!
These Old Shades is a comical Georgian romance, concerning the dastardly Duke Justin of Avon and his page Léon, who is later revealed as the young minx, Léonie…
It is an aggressively lovely book, and reads as a work both finely-tuned and witty. It is a rarity, for me to actually laugh at a book, but Avon’s bitter sarcasm, accompanied by the foil of Léonie’s biting tongue make for a wealth of humorous exchanges, and this is besides an amusing secondary cast. My favourites were the Duke’s boisterous English siblings – the scoundrel Rupert, and indomitable Fanny.
‘”Mr Marling has no doubt warned you that I am no fit companion for the young and – ah – innocent, infant?”
“No-no.” Léonie tilted her head. “I know all about that, you see. Me, I am not very innocent, do you think?”‘
As with all of Heyer’s books that I have read thus far, These Old Shades is light and a tad farcical. To read such novels with a serious mind to literary criticism is to remove their charm, but that is not to say Heyer’s work lacks intelligence. Deftly plotted, and coloured with delightful true-to-the-era colloquialisms, there is an undeniable depth of research which gives this romp depth and character.
Again with the age gap though, and this time a scandalous union between a sordid man of forty and a nineteen-year-old ingénue. Ah… indeed it is an inch shy of uncomfortable, but though I cringe in the more rational side of my heart, I can’t deny that Heyer pulls it off. Monseigneur and his enfant are nothing if not unconventional from the first, and as much as Léonie is an embodiment of innocence, her spirit belies criticism of her choices, which are always her own.
‘”Did you think we had eloped?” Rupert inquired.
“That explanation did present itself to me,” admitted the Grace.
“Eloped?” Léonie echoed. “With Rupert? Ah, bah, I would as soon elope with the old goat in the field!”‘
Just shy of perfection, is my verdict on this novel, and having consumed it in the space of a few hours, I declare These Old Shades enchanting, and just about everything a proper old-fashioned romance should be. Oui. I will stand by it, though I don’t deny it’s not a book for everyone.