I was lucky enough to win this Sourcebooks reprint of Frederica from Austen Prose. It's one of my favorite Heyer novels and one of her funniest. The Marquess of Alverstoke is used to being encroached upon for his wealth, his title and his good looks. His family is no exception and he makes it a point to ignore them as much as possible. Bored with society and life in general, Alverstoke just can't be bothered to deal with anything that doesn't amuse him. For all else he employs a secretary, the efficient Charles Trevor. Mr. Trevor is no match for Lord Alverstoke's widowed sister and widowed cousin-in-law who both want him to hold a ball in honor of their daughters' come-outs. Alverstoke refuses until Mr. Trevor tells him of a beautiful angel who came calling with her sister, claiming to be cousins of the Marquess. Curious, Alverstoke arranges a meeting with the Merrivilles. Frederica, the eldest at four and twenty, manages to keep the family from falling to pieces though their ne'er do well father left them with very little. Frederica is self-assured, clever and confident most of the time, but she needs help launching her beautiful younger sister Charis into society. Frederica desires Charis to make a comfortable match in London. Though they are barely related, the Marquess is drawn to Frederica's quick mind and to Charis's beauty and agrees to help the Merriville sisters.
From then on, the cynical Marquess's life is turned upside down by the Merrivilles. He's roped into helping Frederica manage her unruly youngest brother Felix, a wild urchin with the mind of an engineer. Reluctantly, the Marquess falls prey to the young boy's charms. Middle brother Jessamy, also benefits from Cousin Alverstoke's generosity and the Marquess finds himself enjoying the company of school boys for the first time.
© The Bodley Head 1965
Charis and Frederica make a splash in London and catch the eye of Lord Alverstoke's young relatives and his bachelor friends and the entire family fall into a series of scrapes involving ardent young suitors, earnest dogs and new- fangled machines. The Merrivilles must rely on Alverstoke to help them out. The more time the cynical Marquess spends with the Merrivilles, the more he's drawn to them, especially the quick-witted Frederica. It bothers Frederica that she must ask for help, but she can't stop thinking about Alverstoke.
This is one of Heyer's witty comedies that makes me love her so much. The dialogue is sharp and fresh, free of the dramatic language that characterizes the romance genre. Frederica and Alverstoke are perfect foils and balance each other out nicely. I can't help falling in love with Alverstoke a little myself. I also find myself charmed by young Felix and his amazing adventures. Each chapter provides a giggle or several and the plot keeps one in suspense until the very end. The last scene has always bothered me because it ends in the middle of a dialogue, something that Heyer did often. She knew when to leave the reader with enough to tantalize them and not go overboard leaving the reader bored. There's nothing cliched about this novel (at least not until the copycats came along) and it's one of my very favorites! I expect my copy to be worn out quickly!
I'm not crazy about the new Sourcebooks cover. It doesn't convey anything about the story and the smiling gentleman doesn't resemble Alverstoke in the least. I prefer the original cover because it depicts a scene from the story and shows a bit of the Regency era outside the drawing room.