The Convenient Marriage – Georgette Heyer

This is an entertaining early romance by Heyer, and some of the plot construction issues hadn’t been smoothed out yet, but the delightful characters make up for it. To get my plot beef out of the way, it is pointless to have the humorous/suspenseful misdirection occur after the climax rather than on the way to it. Yes, the characters don’t know that the situation has been resolved, but the reader does, and this undercuts both the suspense and (as the misdirection becomes annoying/lengthy) the humor. Also the main character is somewhat dropped in the second half and not as involved in the resolution as I’d like.

Despite this structural failing, this was a wonderful read. In a time when news of rape and other sexual misdeeds is everywhere, I enjoyed reading about the diminutive, stammering, and generally heedless Horry getting the better of a would-be rapist by hitting him over the head with a poker. Yes, the plot has a very 30’s attitude toward gender, and the characters are from an even less enlightened time (a sympathetic character suggests Horry’s husband beat her–Heyer doesn’t try to make her heroes and heroines better than their age). There’s also a bit of casual anti-Semitism–not as bad as the later The Grand Sophy, but still not good.

If you can deal with these flaws, you will be rewarded with a madcap tale of fake highwaymen, masked balls, mistaken identity, gambling and, of course, falling in love where it’s least expected–between two people who are already married! Heyer is great at writing disturbingly sexy villains, competent heroes, non-passive heroines, and hilarious side characters. The drunken antics of Horry’s brother and his friends had me in stitches. She’s also good at portraying three-dimensional portraits of people whose flaws genuinely hurt others, yet who have great virtues. You’ll want to punch and applaud the same person.

It’s not as well put-together structurally as some of her other novels such as Faro’s Daughter, but it packs in tons of entertainment. Even if you don’t read romance (I usually prefer other genres), Heyer’s books are accessible, funny, and generally worth a try.

The Quiet Gentleman – Georgette Heyer

        ‘But this is Gothick, Frant, quite Gothick!’

Unlike most of Heyer’s novels, this is not primarily a romance, and it has a good deal of plot. That is probably why I enjoyed it despite having recently given up on Frederica. The protagonist is is less worried about who he will marry and more about who is trying to murder him.

Gervase Frant has returned alive from the wars, in which most of his relatives hoped he would perish, and claimed his inheritance. No sooner has he arrived in the same house as his sullen half-brother, awful stepmother, and protective cousin, than strange, potentially fatal accidents start to befall him. Meanwhile, his best friend visits him, the local belle is pursued by everyone, and a furtive, slangy valet attracts suspicion. The identity of the culprit is quite easily guessed (I was sure before I was halfway through) but the quiet final revelation is still emotionally effective in terms of both the betrayal involved and the reasons the culprit turned out the way he did.

There are two romantic subplots, one involving a flirtatious young girl whom everyone is in love with and whom the half-brother twice tries to force himself on- of course, everyone and the narrative think she’s at fault for flirting in the first place. However, she gets a nice happy ending with a much nicer man. The other romantic subplot involves the hero and a highly sensible girl raised by progressive parents, who are gently laughed at by the text, but who are noted to have given their daughter a strong sense of duty toward her dependents. Her practicality, however, is all her own. Though for plot reasons she must be kept out of the finale, Drusilla Morville does save the day when Gervase is shot, and afterward argues with herself amusingly:

‘He would have liked me better had I fallen into a swoon!” argued Drusilla. ‘Nonsense! He would have been dead, for well you know that no one else had the least notion what to do!” said Miss Morville.

But this is Gervase’s story. By the end the title has a double meaning, but it certainly refers to Gervase, a “quiet gentleman” in his easygoing manners and fear of scandal, but the most obstinate man his friends (and foes) have ever known. He has a steel backbone and canny way of outwitting others and getting his way despite appearances, all of which serves him in good stead as he matches wits with his unknown enemy.

‘…I am really very much harder to kill than any of you can be brought to believe.’

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle – Georgette Heyer

I find myself without a lot to say about this book as a whole, just some scattered points.

1. The idea that a father could leave a kid to someone other than the kid’s mom, and people are happy about this since anyway kid’s mom is not a very good parent and rather stupid, and the actually more disturbing aspect that kid’s mom cannot live with kid if she remarries, is all fascinating in a sick way (and presumably historically accurate).

2. I’ve read two reviews that doubt that the main couple, Phoebe and Sylvester, will “do anything but bicker” or that suggest their relationship probably won’t work out. I think quite the reverse- Phoebe baits Sylvester because she isn’t afraid of him. This is explicitly set up in terms of the shrinking violet she is around her abusive stepmother. She argues with Sylvester because he might actually listen- unlike her weak and uncaring father, with whom she quickly gives up the fight.

3. Sylvester’s mom is a great character and her scenes with her son enchanting. The transition from Sylvester wanting above all to find a girl who will please his mother to wondering how on earth he should know what his mom would think of his beloved is clearly saying something, but I’m not sure what. Especially since his mother finally does the wooing for him. There’s something a bit Freudian going on, highlighted by the fact that both Sylvester’s mother and Phoebe are writers (and the only people who see his big flaw). However, Phoebe is totally different in her lack of poise and her bluntness where the mother tiptoes or delicately manipulates. Finally, there’s a contrast to Phoebe’s dead mother (whom she takes after) and her abusive stepmother. All in all, I didn’t fully understand what was going on with this narrative thread and parallel, but I enjoyed it.

4. The ending reveal of why Sylvester is as reserved and cool as he is and the subtle continued grief over and repercussions from the death of Sylvester’s brother are very skilfully handled.

5. I also liked the friendship between Phoebe and Tom, and the way having a best friend of the opposite sex in a context where unmarried men and women aren’t supposed to interact unsupervised much is explored.

Faro’s Daughter – Georgette Heyer

I picked this up after reading Mari Ness’s review, and am quite glad I did. It’s a slim book (~280 pages) which doesn’t flag for a minute. The plot: Deb, who works in a gambling house, is the object of the naive Lord Mablethorpe’s affections. His cousin Ravenscar tries to bribe her not to marry him. Deb never intended to do so, but outraged by Ravenscar’s assumptions, she decides to pretend she will as revenge. Deb and Ravenscar’s battle escalates to blackmail and kidnapping as the two prideful and combative antagonists gradually come to respect one another. I really liked both protagonists, though Deb is a little flighty for my taste, with her wild threats of boiling people in oil and her lack of an actual plan to restore the family finances, though she definitely knows what cannot be honorably done to restore them. But the way she both overawes and takes care of the younger characters, rescuing a young girl from a forced marriage, shows that she has some real substance. Of course, being a romance heroine, she can’t actually like her work in a casino, but this actually makes her look better compared to her overspending brother, who looks down on the casino while spending its money. She frequently quotes Beatrice (“Oh would that I were a man”) as she wishes to fight Ravenscar, thus backing up my (unoriginal) theory that the romance genre is descended for Much Ado About Nothing. The main pair make stupid decisions as they become increasingly caught up in their contest, in a very recognizable way. They ultimately prove a match for each other in both cunning and honor, with Deb actually gaining the final victory, though Ravenscar shows enough magnanimity to be a worthy opponent. Ravenscar himself is a jerk, but a principled jerk who doesn’t much care what others think of him, and he does his best to protect his cousin and sister without spying on them or curbing their freedom. His cool, sarcastic defiance when Deb kidnaps him hits my narrative sweet spot. The side characters are all entertaining, from Ravenscar’s playful and flirtatious sister to young Mablethorpe to Deb’s older friend, the unsavory but loving Lucius Kennet. I was slightly disturbed by the ending of Kennet’s thread- Deb is once again mad at him for overstepping the bounds of honor after she basically gave him a blank check to get revenge, and we don’t see an interaction between them on the subject as the book ends a few pages after Deb learns what he’s done. I hope they stay friends as while he’s a slippery character, he clearly cares for Deb and his misdeeds are mainly in the service of her feud. As well, I was somewhat uneasy with the way Deb leads Mablethorpe on just to get revenge on his cousin, though she makes sure it turns out for the best for him and he’s amused and relieved when he finds out what she did. It’s nice to see such vividly defined and unconventional women. Ravenscar’s sister flirts recklessly with multiple men and is not ruined. Though she needs some guidance from her brother, she retains a sense of fun even as she becomes more mature and proper. Deb gets to rescue the book’s damsel-in-distress, and while said damsel falls in love with the man who helped rescue her, the readers know who was really responsible for her salvation. And the main romantic pair combine a fierce competitive urge with an appealing magnanimity. Highly recommended.