Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

With this review I have officially caught up with all the Georgette Heyer rereads my husband and I indulged in over the holidays, and what a note to end on! The Talisman Ring is definitely one of my favorite Heyer novels. I don't think I fully appreciated it the first time through. The plot revolves around the grandchildren and nephews of Sylvester, Baron of Lavenham, who is on his death bed as the book begins. His grandson and heir, Ludovic Lavenham, has not been heard from for two years, as he was forced to flee the country following an incident in which he was believed to murder the man whom had won from him his familial heirloom: the valuable talisman ring. In his place Sylvester's nephew, the dandified Beau Lavenham, stands to inherit the fortune, though not the title. Sylvester also has a granddaughter on his hands, the charming and impetuous Eustacie de Vauban (who reminds me greatly of Leonie of These Old Shades, read my review here), rescued from France on the eve of the Revolution. The story opens with the arrival of Sir Tristram Shield to Lavenham Court, another nephew, who has been summoned forth by Sylvester and promptly ordered to marry Eustacie. Both comply, but when Sylvester dies before the deed can take place, Eustacie flees the Court, not finding Shield romantic enough to fulfill her ambitions for a husband, but she doesn't get very far. Quickly she falls in with a band of smugglers lead by none other than her cousin Ludovic, and when he is shot by pursuing Excisemen they take shelter at a local inn, run by the sympathetic Mr. Nye. There they fall in with Miss Sarah Thane, one of Heyer's older and highly resourceful heroines (with a mischievous streak), and her brother, the highly amusing and somewhat muddle-brained Sir Hugo, thereby establishing our locale and our cast of characters. The remainder of the book focuses on creating the appropriate romantic alliances, recovering the talisman ring, and clearing Ludovic's name.

This story is a blast! So much humor, endless adventure, and we could barely put it down (even though we both knew exactly what happened). As usual in my Heyer reviews, I find she can speak for herself better than I can on her behalf, and so I will quote the scene in which Eustacie unfolds her situation before Miss Thane, when they first meet, as if not only establishes the plot and the characters' traits, but also beautifully sets the tone of the novel. It is lengthy, but very worth reading, as is the entire novel. I consider it one of Heyer's best.
Ten minutes later Eustacie was ensconced in a chair by the fire in Miss Thane's bedchamber, gratefully sipping a cup of hot milk. Miss Thane sat down beside her, and said with her friendly smile: "I hope you mean to tell me all about it, for I'm dying of curiosity, and I don't even know your name."

Eustacie considered her for a moment. "Well, I think I will tell you," she decided. "I am Eustacie de Vauban, and my cousin Ludovic is Lord Lavenham of Lavenham Court. He is the tenth Baron."

Miss Thane shook her head. "It just shows how easily one may be mistaken," she said. "I thought he was a smuggler."

"He prefers," said Eustacie, with dignity, "that one should call him a free-trader."

"I'm sorry," apologized Miss Thane. "Of course, it is a much better title. I should have known. What made him take to s- free trading? It seems a trifle unusual."

"I see that I must explain to you the talisman ring," said Eustacie, and drew a deep breath.

Miss Thane, a sympathetic listener, followed the story of the talisman ring with keen interest, only interpolating a question when the tale became too involved to be intelligible. She accepted Ludovic's innocence without the smallest hesitation, and said at the end of the recital that nothing would give her greater pleasure than to assist in unmasking the real culprit.

"Yes," said Eustacie, "and me, I think that it was perhaps my cousin Tristram, for he has a collection of jewellery, and, besides, he is a person who might murder people - except that he is not at all romantic," she added.

"He sounds very disagreeable," said Miss Thane.

"He is - very! And, do you know, I have suddenly thought that perhaps I had better marry him, because then he would have to show me his collection, and if I found the talisman ring it would make everything right for Ludovic."

Miss Thane bent down to poke the fire. She said with a slight tremor in her voice: "But then if you did not find the ring it would be tiresome to have married him all to no purpose. And one has to consider that he might not wish to marry you."

"Oh, but he does!" said Eustacie. "In fact, we are betrothed. That is why I ran away. He has no conversation. Moreover, he said that if I went to London, I should not find myself in any way remarkable."

"He was wrong," said Miss Thane with conviction.

"Yes, I think he was wrong, but you see he is not sympathique, and he does not like w9omen."

Miss Thane blinked at her. "Are you sure?" she said. "I mean, if he wants to marry you -"

"But he does not want to marry me! It is just that he must have an heir, and because Grandpere made for us a mariage de convenance. Only Grandpere is dead now, and I am not going to marry a person who says he would not care if I went to the guillotine in a tumbril!"

"Did he really say that?" inquired Miss Thane. "He must be a positive Monster!"

"Well, no, he did not say exactly that," admitted Eustacie. "But when I asked him if he would not be sorry to see me, a jeune fille, in a tumbril, and dressed all in white, he said he would be sorry for anyone in a tumbril, 'whatever their age or - or apparel'!"

"You need say no more; I can see that he is a person of no sensibility," said Miss Thane. "I am not surprised that you ran away from him to join your cousin Ludovic."

"Oh, I didn't!" replied Eustacie. "I mean, I never knew I was going to meet Ludovic. I ran away to become a governess."

"Forgive me," said Miss Thane, "but have you then just met your cousin Ludovic by chance, and for the first time?"

"But yes, I have told you! And he said I should not do for a governess." She sighed. "I wish I could think of something to be which is exciting! If only I were a man!"

"Yes," agreed Miss Thane. "I feel very strongly that you should have been a man and gone smuggling with your cousin."

Eustacie threw her a glowing look. "This is just what I should have liked! But Ludovic says they never take females with them."

"How wretchedly selfish!" said Miss Thane in accents of disgust.

"Yes, but I think it is not perhaps exactly Ludovic's fault, for he said he liked to have me with him. But the others did not like it at all, in particular Ned, who wanted to hit me on the head."

"Is Ned a s- free-trader too?"

"Yes, and Abel. But they are not precisely free-traders, but only land-smugglers, which is, I think, a thing inferior."

"It sounds quite inferior," said Miss Thane. "Did you meet your cousin Ludovic, and Ned, and Abel on your way here?"

"Yes, and when he seized me of course I thought Ludovic was the Headless Horseman!"

Miss Thane was regarding her as one entranced. "Of course!" she echoed. "I suppose you were expecting to meet a headless horseman?"

"Well," replied Eustacie judicially, "my maid told me that he rides the Forest, and that one finds him up on the crupper behind one, but my cousin Tristram said that it was only a legend."

"The more I hear about your cousin Tristram," said Miss Thane, "the more I am convinced he is not the husband for you."

"No, and what is more he is thirty-one years old, and he does not frequent gaming-hells or cock-pits, and when I asked him if he would ride ventre a terre to come to my death-bed, he said 'Certainly not'!"

"This is more shocking than all the rest!" declared Miss Thane. "He must be quite heartless!"

"Yes," said Eustacie bitterly. "He says I am not in the least likely to die."

"A man like that," pronounced Miss Thane, "would be bound to say the Headless Horseman was only a legend."

"That it what I thought, but my cousin Ludovic was not after all the Headless Horseman, and I must admit that I have not yet seen him - or the Dragon which was once in the Forest."

"Realyy, you have had a very dull ride when one comes to think of it."

"Yes, until I met my cousin Ludovic, and after that it was not dull, because when he discovered who I was Ludovic said I must go with him, and I helped to lead the Exciseman into the Forest. He mounted behind me on Rufus, you see. That was when I lost the other bandbox."

"Oh, you had a bandbox?"

"But yes, I had two, for one must be practical, you understand. But one I dropped just before I met Ludovic, and I forgot about that one. We threw the other away."

Miss Thane bent over the fire again rather hastily. "I expect it was the right thing to do," she said in an unsteady voice."

"Well, it was in the way," explained Eustacie. "But I must say it now becomes awkward a little because all my things were in it."

"Don't let a miserable circumstance like that worry you!" said Miss Thane. "I will lend you a nightdress, and to-morrow we will decide whether to go and look for the bandboxes ( though I feel that it would be a spiritless thing to do) or whether to break into your home at the dead of night and steal some more clothes for you."
And on that note, I say goodbye, at least temporarily, to Georgette Heyer. If I didn't consider it blasphemous, I would perhaps admit that a return to Miss Austen sounds almost dull after the antics with which I have recently been regaling myself, but such notions are, of course, inadmissible.


  1. Interesting - I can't say I'm impelled to do more Heyer-reading than I've done (I think it's mostly Friday's Child or somesuch and two of her mysteries, Why Shoot a Butler the one I enjoyed most), as I find myself wishing for the maturity and decency and depth of Austen's characters. But she is fun.

    On the subject of lighter, chick-lit-ish (and I wish that didn't sound as derogatory as it does, as I really quite enjoy the books I'm about to mention, which I should get around to doing, instead of parenthetically commenting) note, I've been enjoying the works of Meg Cabot quite a bit - she is very much in the same vein as Heyer, though generally in a modern setting (though I just finished her "Victoria and the Rogue," a YA definitely imitating both Austen and Heyer with a delightfully Emma-ish heroine). She managed to parody Twilight and wampires without being mean-spirited and while being actually funny (Insatiable), wrote a genuine epistolary novel (Boy Meets Girl), and generally provides nice, comfort food/Big Mac style literature. Dunno if you've read her or not, just thought it was fun and sorta fit.

  2. Hi ibmiller! It is actually exactly Heyer's lack of depth that I think makes her so suitable for the oral recitations my husband and I indulge in. It's her dialogue that carries her stories, and we laugh uproariously through each one. I am indebted to Heyer for helping me overcome the challenges of last year. When I really needed to escape and just not think, she served as a marvelous outlet. I have already warned my husband that he will be reading Heyer to me in the delivery room. Yes, her characters are frequently morally deplorable, but, rather amazingly, I find that the more shallow they are, the more they amuse me.

    I have no problem withe the term chick-lit, but I will say that, with the exception of JAFF, I read remarkably little modern literature, the major exceptions being Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Orhan Pamuk, Roddy Doyle, and J.K. Rowlings. I just have little desire to read about the world I inhabit, and these authors present a highly different reality for me to immerse myself in (amusingly, though, I never really got into fantasy or sci-fi, my husband's preferred genres, though I have tried). I think this is why I'm not terribly interested in modern adaptations of Austen either. My attachment to the characters allows me to get through these novels, but usually I do not even bother trying. That being said, I have heard of Meg Cabot, and your mentioning of her will keep her on my radar. Unfortunately, I have such a massive TBR pile on my desk right now that I am reluctant to expand my horizons, and as my husband keeps pushing to reread more Heyer (he's got the bug - bad), my reading time has been seriously cut up.

    And that end statement in this post is a joke - I hope everyone knows that - as no author has ever entranced me the way Austen does.