Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Heyer's Duke of Avon and His Descendants

The Classics Circuit posted their Heyer tour retrospective yesterday, and I thought I would use the opportunity to comment on a few more of the books I have already read (I discussed several of the Regency romances reviewed here). Please forgive the imprecision of some of my references, but we are in the process of moving and my husband (with good, if mistaken, intentions) already packed these books. Today's topic is Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, hero of These Old Shades. The story tells how he meets his brash, volatile, and totally charming Parisian wife Leonie, thereby unleashing a race of miscreants upon polite society. We are in a world quite remote from Austen's: a world of French aristocrats, villainous morality, and cross dressing. The period is sometime in the early 18th century (I think) and Alastair (known by Satanas, for good reason) is walking down the dark, unsavory streets of Paris, as if he hadn't a care in the world, when he is suddenly plunged into by a young boy, whom he first expects is a thief, running for his life. His pursuer isn't far behind and proves to be his older brother. On a lark, the Justin buys the child from his sibling and makes him his page. Thus begins a tale of intrigue, mystery, deception, and wild good fun.

In every archaic sense of the word, Alastair and Leonie are a most exceptional characters. Despite their impeccable blood lines, I can assure you that Lady Catherine, as well as every other matron in Austen, would be seriously displeased with their behavior. Nonetheless, they are thoroughly charming and must be adored, especially Leonie. One of Heyer's great strengths is taking characters who you want to not like and forcing you to do so, regardless of any intentions otherwise. Indeed, it is the desire for more of this remarkable couple that made me instantly seek out both Devil's Cub and An Infamous Army upon completing These Old Shades. The first is the story of their son, the second of their great-granddaughter. Neither enthralled me like These Old Shades, but both have their merits. Read The Classics Circuit review of These Old Shades at Musings.

Devil's Cub (so aptly named) is a frolicking story about the abduction of the wrong lady who, of course, turns out to be exactly the right wife. Dominic Alastair, the Marquis Vidal, is just as rash and reckless as his father, though sadly not as indomitable. For him, shooting a man and being forced to flee to the continent is an everyday adventure, so it takes a rather extraordinary lady to pierce his heart, as Mary Challoner almost literally does. I'll say no more, but for a very approving review of this book and a comparison between it and These Old Shades, please read The Classics Circuit review of both at The Adventures of an intrepid Reader. Michelle's Masterful Musings found Devil's Cub less impressive. 

Unfortunately, no one reviewed An Infamous Army on The Classics Circuit tour, a story which brings together three delectable topics: Lady Barbara Childe, the grand-daughter of Dominic and Mary, Colonel Audley, the brother of Lord Worth of Regency Buck (which I will get to in a moment), and Waterloo. According to one Amazon editorial, An Infamous Army "must be the most accurately researched and detailed battle description that has ever appeared in a book of romantic fiction." It would be rediculously presumptuous of me to attempt to properly review it without a copy of the text on hand, especially after having read it more than a month ago. It is unlike any other of the Heyer novels I have read: epic in scope, almost entirely consumed with scenes of battles rather than ballrooms, and there is this curious background character,Wellington, who orchestrates the whole while remaining enigmatic, much in the manner of a mythic hero. I much preferred this story to Devil's Cub, mostly because it bring back two favorite characters, Lord and Lady Worth (formerly Judith Taverner), who hold more interest for me than Justin and Leonie's descendants (from who I expected much more). No one reviewed Regency Buck for The Classics Circuit either, so I will have to make a point of doing so at some point once we have moved and unpacked the books, as it is an excellent Regency romance.

These Old Shades, Devil's Cub, and An Infamous Army can't really be viewed as a trilogy,for one is a mystery, the second strictly a romance, and the third a military history, but it is delightful to read them altogether. I would definitely recommend reading the first two and Regency Buck before embarking on An Infamous Army. I would also, depending on your fluency at French, keep a French-English dictionary or a translator handy, as there is a lot of it, especially in These Old Shades. Ne parlez pas Francais? Don't be intimidated. Like all Heyer books, you wont be missing anything overly deep and meaningful if you choose not take the time to do the translations. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. You are in very good hands.


  1. Thank you for the informative post! I read Devil's Cub back in November and it was my first Heyer novel! I loved it and I can't wait to read These Old Shades! I hope to get to it soon and then I will be sure to read Regency Buck before reading An Infamous Army. Thanks for all the insight!

    I wish these books came with a little translation glossary in the back. That would help us lazy people!

  2. Hi Meredith. I'm glad the post proved useful. Yes, a glossary would be quite handy. These Old Shades was wonderful, and you will absolutely adore Regency Buck.

  3. I've been debating recently whether I wanted to try Ms. Heyer's novels, but I think this post has finally settled me on the "try" side. Thank you!

  4. Hi simplepastimes. You are very welcome. I hope you enjoy the Heyer ride!

  5. Wonderful review Alexa and so informative. I like Heyer better and better the more I read reviews/recomendations and plunge in. I will give These Old Shades a try next. Thanks.

  6. You're welcome, Laurel Ann. I'm glad you found the information useful. Enjoy These Old Shades!

  7. Great post Alexa, I'm a big fan of Heyer's. I really need to read These Old Shades, I recently read Devil's Cub. There's something about her books, they are almost comfort reads for me.

  8. Thanks Naida. Her books are comforting, aren't they? You know that, somehow, everything will always work out in the end. Sometimes it's nice knowing what you are in for.

  9. Hi Alexa, many thanks for your blog! I've been a Heyer fan for decades but guess what? I've only just read An Infamous Army!
    However I do have a few comments on the Alastair family who I must admit are one of my favourite fictional families:
    Firstly, you don't seem too sure about the date of These Old Shades, but we're given a hint about half-way through the book when Léonie is at Avon Court, the Alastair country seat: "(Léonie) heard a small part of Justin's own adventures, ten years ago, for King Charles II". Now this doesn't make sense since Charles II Stuart died in 1685, but if we take the obvious inference that Justin and co. were dedicated Jacobites, this must be King Charles III (alias Bonnie Prince Charlie) who, alas, was defeated in 1745. So this would place the novel at, say, 1755. Heyer also mentions that George II was on the throne at that time.
    Point two: In view of the fact that they're Jacobites I'd say that the Alastairs are Roman Catholics. Justin's mother was French so she would probably be Catholic. Certainly when a French priest marries Justin and Léonie (who must also be a Catholic) without any problems, we may assume that Justin is Roman Catholic. However in Devil's Cub we come across something that doesn't add up: Dominic (presumably also Catholic) can't marry Mary out of hand because he can't find an Anglican priest to marry them! Of course, this might be a ploy by Heyer to make the plot more exciting but it doesn't tally with the info in These Old Shades.
    Also Lord Rupert Alastair speaks fluent French in These Old Shades, but has apparently forgotten all his French again in Devil's Cub!
    One more discrepancy: the timeline for the Alastair family in the Infamous Army just doesn't add up. If we take These Old Shades as being set in circa 1755, that puts Devil's Cub (24 years later) at, say, 1780. Suppose Dominic and Mary get married in that year. Then we jump forward 35 years to 1815 (Infamous Army), when Lady Barbara Alastair (I refuse to call her Childe, and I think Bab herself wouldn't like it either) is about 25 and supposed to be Dominic and Mary's granddaughter! How did Dominic and Mary manage to have grown-up grandchildren after only 35 years? Surely Bab and all her brothers should be Dominic and Mary's children, not their grandchildren!!
    I would love to hear what other readers think of these discrepancies, and whether they agree with me.
    Thank you so much for this blog, and for your patience in reading my long-winded comments!!!
    Sorry I'm posting as Anonymous but it will take too long to give myself a name.

    1. Very interesting note about Barbara Child relationship with Alastair family (I prefer to call her such as a pun to Heyer's bold and infamous copy-cat Barbara Cartland). Bab Childe could really be the granddaughter of Mary and Dominic if These Old Shades were actually set around 1745-1746 and not in 1755 which is arguable. Jacobites existed even in the end of 17th century. The 'adventures for Charles (Stuart) 10 years ago could refer to his involvement of Siege of Gaeta in 1734). Accordingly, in 1745 George II was in power, as were Louis XV and de Pompadour. Also, if I remember correctly, in the Devil's Cub book it is mentioned that Gunning sisters 'took the town by storm' more than 20 years ago which would set the Cub's time around 1770s not 1780s as Elizabeth Gunning married in 1752. Given that, it is very likely that Barbara Childe was a granddaughter to Dominic and Mary, some 45 years after their marriage, assuming their son married at 19-20.

  10. I have recently re-read both These Old Shades and Devil's Cub after first reading them as a teenager. I love them both although must admit These Old Shades is by far better than the sequel. However, getting to see all the rackety Alistairs again in Devil's Cub is great fun. I always wondered why Rupert did not get a story of his own as I really liked him and he was hilarious... Sally

  11. I gather very few people know that An Infamous Army is required reading at Sandhurst as well as other military colleges because of the accurate details of the Battle of Waterloo. It is my favourite Georgette Heyer novel. Many years ago when I shared a flat in London there was the complete paperback works of Georgette Heyer, and I read them all!

  12. Aparna NarasimhamApril 14, 2016 at 7:35 AM

    These Old Shades is the best work of Georgette Heyer and Justin is the best hero.No matter how many times you read These Old shades you feel it is not enough.It is my favourite Georgette Heyer novel.

  13. There is reference to Lord Merivale and his wife Jennifer, who was abducted by the duc, is that storyline an earlier novel?