Author: Georgette Heyer
UK Publisher: Arrow
Genre: Romance, historical fiction
Rich, handsome, darling of the ton, the hope of ambitious mothers and despair of his sisters – the Marquis of Alverstoke sees no reason to put himself out for anyone. Until a distant connection, ignorant of his selfishness, applies to him for help.
Plunged headlong into one drama after another by the large and irrepressible Merriville family, Alverstoke is surprised to find himself far from bored. The lovely Charis may be as hen-witted as she is beautiful but Jessamy is an interesting boy, and Felix an engaging scamp.
And, most intriguing of all, their strong-minded sister Frederica, who seems more concerned with her family’s welfare than his own distinguished attentions…
Am I retreating into well-known, comforting Regency romances as a coping mechanism while the world slowly catches fire around me? Perhaps. Am I sorry about this at all? Nope. There’s something so comforting about re-reading these books, particularly after such a long gap as this one. My mum introduced me to Georgette Heyer when I was around 14, and we used to bond over them. I vividly remember trying to convince my friends to read them too, pitching them as “like fanfic, but real books.”
This is one that I haven’t read for a long while, and that’s probably largely due to the most 80s cover in the world. I think she even has a perm. But it has the exact sort of chaos which Heyer does so well, which I talked about in my review of These Old Shades. Frederica arrives in Alverstoke’s life with four younger siblings, three of whom she has occupied the role of sole carer for, even though she’s not the legal guardian. She is only interested in their wellbeing and happiness, and not at all bothered about her own. This makes her immediately interesting to Alverstoke, as she doesn’t try to catch his attention, or care for his opinion except in how he can help her siblings.
One thing that Heyer generally leans towards, in my experience, is that her romantic heroines aren’t usually the prettiest in the book. Léonie is perhaps the one example of this that I can think of off the top of my head, at least amongst the books I have read regularly. In general, however, they don’t make their mark on the dashing leads because of their appearance, but because of their character. They are smart, fiery, confident, independent, and perhaps not quite comfortably sat within the society around them. While this can have a tendency to read a little ‘not like other girls’, it was also quite nice escapism for a teenage girl who felt a little at-odds with her peers. It still feels quite nice as an adult, who sometimes struggles with confidence in her appearance.
This book has all the notes which Charity Girl missed for me. The friendship, growing into love without either of the two really noticing or expecting it, or entirely knowing what to do with it. There are lots of wonderful interactions between Frederica and Alverstoke, and lots of hints that this relationship is slowly building between them over a couple of months. Alverstoke is in denial because he’s never wanted to be married, and Frederica just doesn’t seem to really think about it or examine it, because she’s so preoccupied with her siblings. It’s just the right sort of warm and fuzzy, particularly because Alverstoke spends the first half of the book questioning why he keeps letting the children walk all over him, honestly baffled by his own reactions, and then the second half of the book going “oh no, that’s why”, and finding excuses not to take it any further.
If you’ve read any of my other romance novel reviews, you might be beginning to understand why I enjoy this book so much. Yes, I am a trope fiend, and yes, this book is absolutely STUFFED with them, in the best and fuzziest way. There’s Everyone Knows But Them, there’s In Denial About Feelings, there’s Both Dense About The Other’s Feelings, there’s Okay I Admitted My Feelings To Myself But They Must Never Know… All these things which hit exactly the right tone for making me feel warm and fuzzy.
There were two things that didn’t quite hit with me. The first was Charis’ storyline, which was fairly tedious. Charis is repeatedly, continually, described as beautiful but dim. When she’s first introduced, she seems sweet, and unassuming, and I quite liked her, but as the book goes on she becomes overly emotional and childish, and she did become actively quite dull. Particularly as this happens at the same time things are getting really good with Frederica and Alverstoke, and the last thing I wanted was to jump to a far less compelling storyline.
The second was, unfortunately, the confession scene. Frederica has repeatedly said she doesn’t know what love is, has never been in love, and has no plans to fall in love. Alverstoke’s confession is quite perfect, but then comes the painful moment where Frederica compares her feelings to the way Charis behaves in love, and then “Now I know, I am in love!” which feels very childish and stilted. It doesn’t fit with the subtle way everything has built to this point, and how capable and no-nonsense the whole thing has been.
That said, it is literally one line, and not even the final line. Otherwise it’s quite a wonderful book, and perfect escapism.
- Another wonderful Regency romance from Heyer, pitch-perfect, between two compellingly competent leads that have excellent chemistry.
- As always, there’s a lot of wit and it makes the most of a bright cast of characters to weave chaos in the best way. She has a great talent for creating quirky and charismatic characters to follow, and it makes you want to keep reading.
- With all Heyer’s work, you have to consider that it was written in the 1920s and 30s, so there’s not much in the way of diversity. These books are enjoyable and great examples of character development, scene setting, and dialogue; what I hope is that people can look at her template and create books that have a richer range of representation.
Rating: 4/5 – it was actually quite delightful to rediscover this book, I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it and how many of my boxes it ticked.