01 June 2012

These Old Shades

I've been meaning to read Heyer for some time - An Infamous Army was recc'd to me ages ago in my Literature by Women group but I never got around to it. Then come to find out it's part of the Alastair trilogy...guess I better start with the first one.

Which is These Old Shades. It's Georgian, set mostly in Paris (and French environs, with a jaunt to England), and opens with the main character, Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, buying a teenage (but rather delicate-looking) boy from his boorish/criminal (?) elder brother. Justin is rather struck by the similarity of the boy, Leon, to someone (an enemy) he knows and he makes Leon his page.

Leon is rather devoted to Justin.

Everyone thinks Justin is an awful person - apparently he tried to kidnap a young lady to make her marry him?  And his nickname is "Satanas"....  In reality he's probably no more or less awful than anyone else, he just doesn't make nice to everyone.  Sure, he likes visiting his mistress and lives an extravagant lifestyle but he's not nasty.  He strikes me as a prettier version of the Vicomte de Valmont from Les Liaisons Dangereuses - rich, powerful, disdainful, and would rather die than have everyone realise he has a kind heart under all that. He's quite the pattern-card for historical romance rakes everywhere.

And then Leon turns out to be far more than just a pretty page with red hair - he's really Leonie, and she has quite a story.

Heyer doesn't dwell on her characters' inner monologues. No one ponders their feelings unless it's integral to the plot. She does everything through dialogue (except the clothing descriptions - those are rather detailed). As such, the marriage plot sort-of comes out of left field at you. I knew it was coming but I was still surprised because neither character had expressed a great deal of strong emotion of that nature (Leonie yelling "bah" all the time isn't really a strong emotion).

You can tell this is an older book not by Heyer's style but by what she leaves out. There are bits and pieces of Leonie's story left to the imagination: when she details life with her "brother" a significant chunk is glossed over so the reader is never fully informed as to what she went through between the ages of 12 and 19. Justin is suitably angry, but the reader is left to imagine.  Were this a novel written in 2012 the reader would get all the gory details.  (I would have liked footnotes - you hear me, Sourcebooks?  My French isn't very good so I would appreciate footnotes for the less-obvious French phrases.)

Now, for those who find the style had to get through - keep going. The denouement is a great stroke of genius and very much worth the reading to get there.

Next up for my Heyer reading: Devil's Cub

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