Beautiful, headstrong, self-possessed, and unconventional, Miss Judith Taverner leaves her country home for London, accompanied by her younger brother, Sir Peregrine Taverner. The orphaned siblings intend to "cut a dash" with their staggeringly large fortune and confront their guardian, Lord Worth, a man they have never met, but with whom their recently deceased and long reclusive father was once friends. Their only other connection in town is an uncle, from whom their father was bitterly estranged, and his son. En route, they pass through a town where a boxing mill is taking place, and Peregrine is delighted to break the journey so he may attend. All the light vehicles in town are let out for the event, but Peregrine manages to secure a rather ramshackle gig to convey him to the event. He takes his sister for a ride in this unattractive conveyance and very nearly collides with with a highly fashionable curricle-and-four, precipitating the following encounter (for the uninitiated, a "tiger" is not a feline but a small, usually young, liveried groom):
She righted herself, aware that her bonnet was crooked, and her temper in shreds, and found that the gentleman in the curricle was sitting perfectly unmoved, easily holding his horses. As she turned to look at him he spoke, not to her, but over his shoulder to a diminutive tiger perched behind him. "Take it away, Henry, take it away," he said.As I hinted earlier, readers of Austen will instantly recognize such determined prejudice as a most promising sign of love. This exquisite gentleman is none other than Lord Worth, not the old Baronet's crony, but his son and one of my favorite heroes in Heyer. The Taverners do not learn his identity until after the arrive in London, by which time they have had several more encounters with him that have confirmed their dislike. They have also met their cousin Bernard Taverner, who has made a very favorable impression on them. Once in London and properly introduced, Lord Worth opens society's most exclusive doors to his wards, while Miss Taverner battles him on every decision made for her own benefit.
Wrath, reproach, even oaths Miss Taverner could have pardoned. The provocation was great; she herself longed to box Peregrine's ears. But this calm indifference was beyond everything. Her anger veered irrationally towards the stranger. His manner, his whole bearing, filled her with repugnance. From the first moment of setting eyes on him she knew that she disliked him. Now she had leisure to observe him more closely, and found that she disliked him no less.
Lord Worth is a wonderful creation. Terribly highhanded, as is his right due to his general superiority in everything, the reader has no idea whether to love him or hate him. So when Peregrine has some very near dances with death, the question becomes who could benefit from his demise - his uncle, to whom the ancestral house would fall, or someone who wants to marry Judith, perhaps Lord Worth or Bernard Taverner, as she stands to inherit the bulk of the fortune if her brother dies?
This novel isn't quite as humorous as some of Heyer's other works, but the historical details are absolutely incredible. I love her depiction of Brummell, whom Miss Taverner meets at Almacks and mistakes for another member of his party:
"Do you know, Miss Taverner, you make me feel that I have been out of town longer than I realized? said the gentleman, with one of his comical looks. "When I left London for Cheveley Mr Mills was not leading Society, I assure you."The descriptions of the royal residences are likewise marvelous, everything told with detail as dizzying as the Prince Regent's decor. For enthusiasts of the Regency period, this book is an absolute must read, and for fans of Austen, in Lord Worth you will discover the direct descendant of Mr. Darcy. More than any of her other books I have read thus far, it is in Regency Buck that Heyer's love for the period and debt to Jane Austen are most apparent.
"Oh," she said, "you must not think I do not know who does that! I have had the name of Beau Brummell dinned into my ears until I am heartily sick of it! I am told that I must at all costs win his approval if I am to succeed, and I tell you frankly, sir, I have not the least notion of trying to do it!" She saw a slightly startled look in his eyes, and added defiantly: "I am sorry if he should be a friend of yours, but I have made up my mind I neither wish for his good opinion nor his acquaintance."
"You are quite safe in saying what you think of him to me," replied the gentlemen gravely. "But what has he done to earn your contempt, ma'am?"
"Well, sir, you onlu have to look at him!" said Judith., allowing her eyes to travel significantly towards the gorgeous figure at the other end of the room. "A spangled coat!" she pronounced scornfully.
His gaze followed the direction of hers. "I am in agreement with you, Miss Taverner," he said. "Though I should not myself call that thing a coat."
"Oh, and that is not all!" she said. "I am for ever hearing of his affectations and impertinences! I am all out of patience with him."
She had the impression that he was laughing at her, but when he spoke it was perfectly solemnly. "Ah, ma'am, but it is Mr Brummell's folly which is the making of him. If he did not stare duchesses out of countenance, and nod over his shoulder to princes he would be forgotten in a week. And if the world is so silly as to admire his absurdities - you and I may know better - but what does that signify?"
"Nothing, I suppose," said Judith. "But if I cannot succeed without being obliged to court his approval I had rather fail!"
"Miss Taverner," he replied, the smile dancing in his eyes again, "I prophesy that you will become the rage."