Author: Georgette Heyer
UK Publisher: Arrow
Genre: Historial Romance
Book One: These Old Shades
Mary Challoner must protect her sister at all costs.
When she discovers that the notorious Marquis of Vidal is planning to run away with her little sister, Mary will not stand idly by.
To save Sophia’s reputation without destroying her own, Mary will take her sister’s place – and once the Marquis ses through her disguise, he will be humiliated and forced to return her home.
But the irresistible Marquis is a wilder rake than even Mary anticipated, and her growing feelings for him are proving and unexpected complication…
This book has always ranked fairly highly for me among Heyer’s work, largely because it is the sequel to These Old Shades and therefore gave me more of my favourite characters. I don’t think that Heyer has done many sequels, so this makes it fairly unusual, although interestingly this apparently has a third part I’ve never read (An Infamous Army) that also joins it together with Regency Buck. That said, while I wrote about some of the issues in These Old Shades and how they’re side-stepped (the age gap and power imbalance, in particular), I do feel that Devil’s Cub doesn’t quite manage to get around its own issues quite as neatly.
Primarily, the issue that bothered me the most is Vidal’s temper, which he has allegedly inherited from his mother, Leonie. Except, Leonie’s temper is rarely displayed, and she is a petite teenager in These Old Shades. Vidal is a man in his mid-twenties, and he is outstandingly volatile. I’d cautiously mention a trigger warning here if I’m honest, simply because his behaviour at the beginning of the book at least does raise some alarm bells for alcohol-fuelled violence and physical violence against a woman who is entirely at his mercy. It’s not a pretty picture.
He drinks deeply, duels, and is perfectly willing to throttle Mary when he finds out she has tricked him. Mary, meanwhile, sees him as a spoiled, angry little boy and knows she can “manage” him if she just gets the chance. That doesn’t mean she isn’t afraid of him, his moods are volatile, and she does become anxious of his anger and – later – his jealousy. When I read this as a teenager, I remembered her standing up to him more, but instead she mostly manipulates his mood to get him to do what she wants. She is pragmatic, and intelligent, with a great sense of humour, but unfortunately she finds herself running from Vidal in fear of his temper more than she does enjoying his company.
That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the book. There’s a deep, fantastic seam of mutual pining where she believes that marrying him would be the worst thing she could do for his reputation; he believes that she loathes him but he loves her, and marrying her is the only way he can save her reputation. I also enjoyed the gentle parodying of romantic ideals – Vidal is the ultimate dashing, romantic hero, but he’s also pragmatic and has no time for swoons and vapours, which is why Mary matches so well with him. When he and Mary end up paired with others, they find themselves frustrated when their partners suddenly want to play into the romantic excitement of the situation rather than getting the job done.
The characters I loved from the previous books sort of appear. Fanny is now widowed, and has a flighty daughter and a boring son; Rupert has slid comfortably into middle-aged alcoholism, and has decided that the drama of These Old Shades will do him a lifetime; the Duke of Avon has softened, and is continually described as elderly, but based on book one, he must only be in his mid-sixties, and he looks like a sinister presence over Vidal’s life. Vidal seems to fear him, resent him, and respect him all at once, although I’m not entirely clear why. Perhaps it’s only Avon’s supernatural powers of deduction, perhaps it’s his chilling effect on people, but honestly I don’t know. What I do like is that Vidal is about as besotted with Leonie as everyone else, and the only things that will reign him in are fear of his father’s wrath or his mother’s disappointment.
Would I enjoy this book as much if I read it for the first time as an adult? Probably not. But re-reading it taps into a nostalgia of how I felt reading it as a teenager. It’s an imperfect book, but it’s one that connects me to a book I loved as a kid, and has that positive association with it.
There is also a strong suggestion that Vidal is willing to change completely for Mary, and that his early displays of temper won’t be repeated. Given the nature of Heyer’s other works, I do believe that’s the case, because her romantic heroes are all good men, and the relationships she builds are strong and well-matched.
- A romance built on mutual pining, with both characters convinced they’re the worst possible choice for the other, even though they’re remarkably well-matched.
- Vidal is something of a difficult character with his violent moods, but the definite message is that this is because he is young and he’ll grow out of them/mature out of them given the right incentive. It turns out that Mary is the right incentive.
- One thing I did find funny was Vidal constantly referring to Mary as “my girl” when he is like max five years older than her. Yes, you long-toothed 25-year-old, you carry the wisdom of the world on your shoulders.
Rating: 3/5 – I do enjoy this, because damn am I weak for mutual pining and self-sacrifice, but I don’t necessarily love some of the bits towards the start, and I realise that they might be a little off-putting for people who are sensitive to those issues, or are unfamiliar with Heyer’s work.