1800’s England, France
Heat Level: Sweet
Reviewer rating: 5.0/ Top Pick
REVIEW BY PATRICE
I’d like to think that everyone appreciates a bad boy. Whether he’s from the annals of history, music, politics, or literature, we appreciate the wicked male who whets our imaginations, titillates us, consumes and ensnares us. No matter how bold, sinister or downright vicious, if the bad boy has looks, sex appeal, style, supreme skills, status and razor-sharp intelligence, he can do no wrong. We long to warm his cold heart, to heal the hurts that have made him mad, bad and truly dangerous to know.
And then we have those who are born and bred to be…bad. Like Lord Justin “Satanas” Alastair, the Duke of Avon; a rakehell, dandy, gambler and skilled swordsman. Avon is no one’s friend, everyone’s enemy and nobody’s fool. He is alone, ruthless, and each year grows colder until his plot for revenge is shifted in an unexpected direction, and his life is forever changed by Leon/Leonie de Bonnard. So it goes. We have the beginning of what proves to be a remarkable tale of love, sacrifice and the evolution of two lost souls.
Strolling along the streets of Paris after an evening of debauchery, Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, is nearly knocked over by a red-haired youth, he mistakes for a pickpocket. The Duke keenly notices that the youth is striking, and resembles his archenemy, the sinister Vicomte de Saint-Vire. Ever the opportunist, he bribes the stripling’s guardian and older brother into selling the boy to him. Avon is aware that his new page, Leon, is actually female and makes plans to spirit her away to his English estate so that she can be groomed into becoming a proper lady. His plans take shape but his motivations are a mystery to everyone who knows him as a cold-hearted, self-serving villain. Leonie worships him, and over time, captivates everyone with her beauty, wit, naiveté and mischievous ways. But when she discovers the devastating secrets of her past, she knows that her time with Avon must come to an end.
Leonie is strong-willed, courageous, proud and loyal. Her disposition and temper is as fiery as her ginger hair. In every way, she has the heart of a lion, or at least a fierce, wounded lion cub. Her devotion to “Monseigner” Avon is sweet and funny, while she has no illusions about his true nature. Leonie has seen the ugliness of humanity and has been brutalized by it, remaining unspoiled. Watching her blossom into womanhood, is as rewarding as seeing the Duke’s cold heart melt until his love for her is obvious to everyone around them.
The Duke is a self-absorbed rake, but he is elegant, intuitive and unpredictable. His uncanny ability to unravel any situation is what makes this remarkable story. Despite the elaborate, and what many would consider effete—he carries and gestures with a painted fan!—costumes required of men of his stature and time, Alastair is deadly with a sword and words. He is ruthless, calculating, and unabashedly masculine with a sexual appetite that is hinted at, but not lessened by Ms. Heyer’s discretion in not recounting gory details; all attributes of an alpha male in evidence behind the manners, frills and frippery. He is a ‘presence’ throughout and I missed him when he was not in every scene. Then suddenly, he reappears, out of thin air, a gorgeous panther wearing the fancy skin of a man, slicing and clawing everyone in the room with words.
All the secondary misfits, relatives, servants and nobles dance merrily around or scatter frantically away from the chaos known as Leonie and Avon, as they stagger into that timeless duel of male and female. Avon’s siblings add loads of fun to the storyline, along with the Duke’s long-time friend and companion. And just when we can’t wait to see when the villainous Vicomte de Saint-Vire Saint will make his next move, all’s well that ends in love between two of the unlikeliest people, who are more alike than anyone can imagine.
The timeless tale recalls George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, and it makes the case because Shaw’s play was written in 1912 and These Old Shades was created in 1926. Also, I glimpse shades of Gigi; the movie is based off infamous French author Collette’s work that was transformed into a spectacular film featuring Louis Jordan and Leslie Caron. Since the start of the novel begins in Paris, I so enjoy the likeness, even if the era is Georgian and Gaston is so much nicer than Justin. The gaiety and energy of Paris and social swirl remains timeless.
Unlike the story of Eliza and Higgins, Justin and Leonie do wed in the end, in manner of Galatea and Pygmalion from the old Greek classic. What is delightful, is that Leonie warms Justin’s bitter soul and brings him to life with her youth, fire and vibrancy; banishing his misgivings, she will not be denied and no other will do once she realizes that she loves him with the passion of a woman. At first, she is saved and recreated by him, and then Avon is on the receiving end before it is all done. Higgins proves he is not capable of sacrifice or change, and so he loses Eliza forever to her future happiness with another.
I honestly can’t think of any. For some readers who prefer modern devices in writing, there might be an issue about what is NOT said rather than what is. The best parts about this book isthat you have to pay attention and it is not all laid out for you. The action and dialogue rule and run the course, and so as the reader, you are along for the ride and the element of surprise. Others may take issue with the climax, where Avon and Saint –Vire have their showdown but I felt it was true to the characters and the world in which they traveled.
It’s said that Georgette Heyer created the genre of regency romance, or at least, influenced countless authors all proclaiming her as their muse. I will admit, I’ve read and see some offensive material here and there, but I’m not here to sling mud or dismiss ‘the bad’ points either. Ms. Heyer’s work has been perused by historians and amateurs, all seeking to find a chink in her illustrious novels, and failing. She is accurate without fail in every direction, including the attitudes and morals of the circles traveled. One can certainly appreciate the beauty of her writing, marvelous characters, and superior dialogue skills. For in a world where so much is uncertain, without fail, Georgette Heyer is one of the greatest writers of her time, our time, and beyond.