Saturday, September 11, 2010

Georgette Heyer

The Unknown Ajax

image by Arthur Barbosa © Heinemann, Australia 1959

Lord Daracott has recently lost his heir and grandson in a boating accident. He long ago disowned his second son for joining the army and marrying a weaver's daughter, but now he must accept Hugh's son, a weaver's "brat" as his heir! The irascible Lord Daracott has little hopes for his country bumpkin heir, but sends for Hugo whom he plans to place under the tutelage of his more proper grandsons. Finally, Lord Daracott's plans include marrying his granddaughter, Anthea, off to her cousin Hugo to "keep him in the family." The outspoken Anthea is furious with her grandfather's plot and plans to keep this new cousin of hers at a distance. Fresh from the army, Hugo seems to fulfill his family's low expectations. Hugo patiently accepts his cousin Vincent's jealousy, cousin Claud's lessons in dandyism and young cousin Richmond's adoration. Hugo, however, is no match for Anthea. As Anthea spends more time with Hugo, she begins to suspect that this unknown Ajax isn't exactly all he appears to be and quite loses her heart to her quirky cousin. A near brush with a family scandal brings to light Hugo's redeeming qualities .
This is an odd book for Heyer. It doesn't follow any of her usual conventions. It isn't truly a mystery, though there is a bit of a mystery and it isn't a screwball comedy, though there are comedic moments. The plot moves slowly. It's difficult to understand Hugh until he wants people to know his story and then his personality becomes clear. The romance is also very subtle and not really the focal point of the novel. I did not understand the references to Ajax, however, a quick search of one of the quotations in the novel brings up Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, a play which I have not read. I enjoyed the last quarter of the book the most but wished for more scenes with Hugo and Anthea to finish up that plot thread. This isn't my favorite Heyer novel but it's worth a read for her fans. I wouldn't recommend novice Heyer readers starting with this one because there is an enormous amount of slang, almost too much and the story is character based rather than plot based.

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