The Grand Sophy
by Georgette Heyer
Lady Ombersley is overcome by her brother's plea to welcome his "little Sophy" into her home while he is away on a diplomatic mission to Brazil. Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy is quite a force and Lady Ombersley does feel sorry for her poor motherless niece. When "little Sophy" arrives, she does so in full force. Sophy is neither little nor to be pitied for being motherless. She is an immediate hit with the children for bringing them an exotic pet and for her lively and open manner. Charles, the heir, however, is less than impressed. He holds the purse strings in the family and is engaged to a very proper lady. He can't have Sophy's wild ways ruining his family and his relationship. Sophy has other plans for Charles and for the entire family. She sees they are badly in need of someone to rearrange their lives and Sophy is just the person to do it. The madcap "Grand Sophy," sets London on it's ear and manages to charm everyone, except Charles and his fiance, Eugenia.
This is one of Georgette Heyer's best novels and the zaniest of all the Regencies. I'd give it somewhere between 4-5 stars - 4 3/4 maybe. The plot starts off slow but picks up quickly once Sophy arrives. Her adventures are very funny and there are a few plot twists and surprises along the way. A lot of people say an Anti-Semitic comment ruins the book for them. I wasn't terribly bothered by it. The first time I read it, I missed the adjective describing the villain's nose and thought it was just a typical depiction of a villain - kind of cartoonish. Take out that one word and you pretty much have the same description of Severus Snape. As an historian I know that an author doesn't exist in a vacuum. They are real humans who lived at a certain time and were influenced by external factors. Combine this with the time period the novel takes place. I would have expected vastly more racist and Anti-Semitic remarks. Other authors of the same generation, writing around the same time, used much worse language and the farther back in time a book was written, the less politically correct it's going to be. (Numerous Victorian novels refer to "red Indians" from America in contrast to "blacks" from the Indian subcontinent, not to mention dropping the n-word and other terms in common usage at that time). I've read way worse so I move on to see what happens next. The next scene is largely improbable but it's so much fun that I enjoyed it. The ending keeps me from giving this book a full 5 stars. It's not romantic and it's very abrupt. I can guess where her lover falls in love with her but not the other way around, if she's in love at all. It's a little more ambiguous than some of the other novels.
Sophy is like a tornado in full force, coming in and picking everyone up and tossing them back down again. Tornado though she may be, she has plans for everyone and she knows what she's doing. She does what she does out of the purest motives and has a generous and loving heart. That makes her one of Heyer's more endearing and memorable heroines. I liked her very much though like Charles, if she were my cousin, I would want to throttle her.
I like the Rivenhall family, except for Lord O. He's a rackety sort of fellow. Though Lady O is nervous, has spasms and overly cautious at times, she seems to be a loving mother and is willing to be a kind, surrogate mother to Sophy when asked. Cecilia and Hubert are young and rather silly at times. Cecilia is a little annoying in her infatuation with a ridiculous poet. Hubert has some growing up to do but he acknowledges this like a man and some of the blame falls to Charles. The little ones appear and disappear randomly but they're very lively and loud little children. Amabel is the only one who gets scenes all to herself but she doesn't really get fleshed out. I'm not a huge fan of Charles. He has a nasty temper but he defends his family, including his cousin and he has more of a sense of humor than he cares to admit. He's just not at all romantic.
Other wonderful characters include a lazy Spanish Marquesa and a foppish poet (who is hilarious and steals every scene he's in, especially at the end). Lord Charlbury, who is Cecilia's beau, seems like a nice man. He's too old for her and I don't really get why he's so insistent he's in love with a 19 year old girl.
Then there's Eugenia, the fiance of Charles. She's annoying, pedantic, snobby and rude. Yet, I feel sorry for her because she was brought up to be like her mother (who is clearly a very awful person who thinks too highly of herself) and now Eugenia is at a certain age where the suitors have mostly gone away. She needs to marry Charles because she can't be sure of getting another proposal. She's been taught to think too highly of herself and can't understand why others don't view her as exceptional and take her advice. That makes her truly annoying and a character readers love to hate.
If you're new to Heyer, I wouldn't necessarily start here but if you're a fan of her other Regency novels, you'll love this one too.