What I've Read This Week . . .
Daphne Whilton and Lord Graydon Howell grew up the best of friends. She hero-worshiped him and he thought her a great gun. They arranged their own marriage as children but their parents put off making any formal announcement until Daphne comes of age. In the meantime, Gray went off to school and off to London to sow his wild oats while Daphne remained in the country caring for her two nearly orphaned cousins. After the death of Lord Whilton, his disreputable brother Albert inherited the Barony and the estate. Only Lord Hollister, Gray's father, can keep Albert from causing too much trouble. Lord Hollister, recently widowed, welcomes Lady Whilton and her family into his home for Daphne's debut. Daphne makes a big splash with both the gentlemen and the ladies, secure in the knowledge that Gray is hers. One evening Daphne spies Graydon in public with a fashionable impure and all her dreams come crashing down. She retreats to the country to nurse her wounded heart while Graydon joins the army on the Peninsula. Lady Whilton prefers London to the country and after a time convinces Daphne to return to London. Lady Whilton acts as a political hostess for Lord Hollister, who is a rising political star. Two years later, the old friends have fallen in love and are planning a wedding. Daphne is thrilled to help her mother but dreads meeting Gray again. She's certain he's on the path to becoming just like her uncle: caring only for wine, women and wagering. Dealing with her tumultuous feelings towards Gray takes a back seat when Uncle Albert arrives for the wedding and puts the whole household in an uproar. He soon expires with none to witness his death except for Daphne. She knows that his death will upset her mother and delay the wedding so she's determined to hide the body. Gray wants nothing more than to prove to his Daffy that he's the hero she thinks he is. When he discovers Uncle Albert's body, he's determined to save the situation. When Uncle Albert disappears, it's up to Daphne and Gray to join forces to save the wedding and find Uncle Albert. A gang of bumbling thieves and their dog are on the loose in the neighborhood and Daphne's persistent stuffy suitor Miles, as Justice of the Peace, is determined to thwart them and track down exactly what happened to Uncle Albert. This comedy of errors resembles a screwball comedy movie of the 1930s. While it's not exactly laugh out loud, I enjoyed the mystery and wondering what crazy thing would happen next. Daphne is an admirable character. She's strong-willed, opinionated and not afraid of anything. Her relationship with Gray develops over the course of the novel but it's mostly on her part. He says he's grown up and changed but he's not a very well-developed character to really understand how he's changed. He's charming and eager to please and I can see readers falling in love with him. The secondary characters are mostly one dimensional but provide the comedic moments to balance the romantic plot. My only real complaint about this novel is that the story takes too long to set up. I would recommend this book to fans of Barbara Metzger's other novels and those who like mysteries and screwball comedies.
These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer -- Historical RomanceThis second novel by Georgette Heyer is a companion of sorts to The Black Moth. She changed the names of the characters and most of their backgrounds while retaining the sobriquet of her villain, now turned hero. The hero, Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, is in exile in Paris where even the French are so scandalized by his reputation that they call him "Satanas." Walking home after a night of gaming, Justin is nearly bowled over by an urchin. The boy swears he wasn't picking Justin's pocket, merely running from a horrible punishment dealt forth by his brother. When the brother confirms the story, Justin intervenes and buys the boy body and soul. Léon worships Justin, calling him monseigneur and following the man wherever he goes. The Duke's pretty redhaired page attracts attention and some doubt the Duke's motives. However, the Duke's motives are not at all sinister this time, or at least they aren't for Léon. Justin sees Leon as a means to enact revenge on an old enemy. First he needs some help from his silly sister Fanny. His younger brother Rupert enters the picture to complicate matters a bit but serves the family well when the villain sees to thwart the Duke's plans. The question on everyone's lips becomes: "Has Satanas reformed at last?" I don't wish to spoil the plot by adding more description but this is a rollicking adventure that doesn't stop almost from the beginning. Though the plot is predictable, I couldn't put it down until I found out exactly what happened. The resolution with the villain actually came as a bit of a surprise and a shock. The writing is infinitely better than The Black Moth. The characters are larger than life but sparkle with their own unique personalities and the descriptions of the lifestyle and clothing help make the characters come to life. The only character I did not really care for was the heroine. At first she's so subservient she's obnoxious and then she turns around and teases until she gets her own way. I did admire her spirit and her sense of adventure though. My favorite character is Rupert. He deserved his own book where he could have been the dashing hero. The biggest problem with this book is that Miss Heyer shows her upbringing as an upper Middle Class Edwardian. A son of an aristocrat who wants to be a farmer is described as dark, coarse, and clumsy. The desire to farm is inherited from one generation to the next and can't be erased. In contrast, aristocratic features and bearing are also inherited and described in praiseworthy terms. It's still a good story but the stereotypes bothered me a bit. There's also a brief appearance by a black page that is a bit distasteful but it's only two lines and unimportant to the story. This book is not for everyone. Some people, including myself, may be bothered by the "romance" between the hero and heroine. It's awkward and I can't stand that sort of thing but in this book it didn't bother me so much. I just wanted the characters to be happy in the end. There's quite a lot of old French which I had trouble understanding though I took French for 5 years and read French literature during that time. There's also very lengthy descriptions of court life and upper class customs and manners which may seem strange to modern readers or readers more familiar with the Regency period. I do not care much for the styles of this time period but I liked the story a lot. It's a grand adventure and a wonderful early novel by someone who was quickly proving herself as one of the world's best writers.