These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sparkling dialogue - a hero just as bad as he should be - a heroine who can actually stand on her own feet (even if she's only 19). The Duke of Avon (aka Satanas) buys a page - Leon - who is really Leonie, with a sordid family history. Avon has an interesting history of his own, including fighting in the '45 rebellion.
Heyer is brilliant - others just try to reach her level. I'm pretty sure I read a Barbara Cartland take-off, but that would have been over 20 years ago... so hard to remember!
additional review: November 2010:
There's something about re-reading an old favourite. It's like changing into your old snuggly slippers and dressing gown. You know they're a bit shabby, a bit worn down, but you - without being aware of it really - skip over the holes and instead revel in the comfort they provide.
So it is with These Old Shades. I'd hate to think how many times I've read this - which was first published in 1926.
I adore Avon, the hero. He has the perfect mix of tenderness and suppressed violence - and a shady past. He is probably whom I base all romance heroes upon.
Leonie, the heroine, is a wonderful mixture of innocence, wisdom and world-weariness.
I can see how this May and December romance works. Avon is in his 40s, Leonie is 19. They have time to develop a real relationship, without any romantic overtones, and learn to appreciate each other as people - pretty much warts and all.
Leonie's development, growth and change from mischievous page boy to irrepressible young lady, is also believable, within the world developed.
Avon is a force of nature - unwielding and secretive - so it is difficult to read him at times - that is, to get inside his head.
Ah, the relationship between Avon and Leonie. Trust, honesty, respect, adoration, acceptance and freedom between them. One of the best lines ever is from Leonie: I would so much rather be the last woman than the first. Yes they change, all do in relationships - but they remain themselves. In Devil's Cub, the story of their son, Leonie is a well-established, middle-aged duchess, and Avon is heading towards elderly (he'd be in his 60s I suppose - and that's probably why I don't re-read this one. My Avon is in his prime, and that's how he'll stay, thank you very much!). However, Leonie is irrepressible and forthright - still with that touch of Leon, the page. Avon remains inscrutable.
The supporting cast are all well-drawn and have sustained personalities. There are Avon's siblings - Fanny (who is very silly - well, focused on fashion and society - believable for the times) and Rupert - a gadabout young man. And the very sober Edward Marling, Fanny's husband, Hugh Davenant and Tony Merivale - friends of the family. The pig-person, or baddie, is also believable within this world.
There is mystery - the dénouement and details are somewhat foreshadowed - which is well-handled, as you'd hope from someone who also wrote mysteries!
The historical detail is convincing - Heyer is renown for her research and accuracy.
The dialogue moves the action forward and gives glimpses into the characters' thoughts and personalities.
There is no sex - one kiss, very briefly mentioned and interrupted. There is some violence - again, detailed just enough so you know what has happened (no matter how bloodthirsty Leonie is!). There are lots of parties and LOTS of descriptions of clothing.
Oh, and you might struggle with the French expressions scattered throughout. I just skip what I don't understand. Mind you, I'l still trying to figure out what Pon Rep might be an abbreviation of - and that's English! Readers in the 1920s obviously were bilingual!
All of this is wonderful - in my eyes, at least. And I'm not alone - it's still in print and still read and enjoyed.
Now - the holes. For me, there's only really one - and it's major. It's the old 'nature versus nurture' debate. (My years studying anthropology come to the fore now.) Leonie's genetic heritage is obvious to all - she must be well-born. Helpfully, some of her behaviour and mannerisms - and education - are explained by the years she was taught by, and live with, the village priest - an aristocrat. The vicomte is a clod and all he wants is a farm, although raised in society and frequent attendant at Versailles.
But, if you accept this premise - that nature is paramount - then enjoy the read.
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