03/09/2007

These Old Shades (by Georgette Heyer)

I always enjoy re-reading Georgette Heyer's novels, particularly the historical ones. 'These Old Shades' is one of her very earliest - first published in 1926 - and I'm pleased to see it's still in print, although of course her novels are widely available second-hand too.

It's the story of the rather arrogant (and decidedly immoral) Duke of Avon. One night, on a whim, he buys Leon - a lad escaping a beating from his rather harsh brother - and adopts him as his page. Leon is not the usual kind of page, and indeed is not at all what he seems - but he develops an extreme devotion to the Duke of Avon, which the rest of his servants find very strange.

The world is that of the upper classes in the 18th century, in both Paris and the UK. There's inevitable snobbery, and the conviction that birth is more significant than upbringing in building someone's character and desires. There are also far too many minor characters described, for my tastes. I assume that most of them are in fact real historical figures (certainly the royalty are) but found it a bit overwhelming reading about them when they appeared in public.

But it was still an enjoyable novel, once it got going - and it took me nearly half-way through before I found myself reading it compulsively. There's a lot of excitement, kidnappings, a chase through the countryside... and a very low-key romance too.

Avon is not a particularly likeable hero, and the villain of the piece - the Compte de St Vire - isn't quite evil enough for his eventual fate. But there are some delightful characters, and some clever plotting. This book is certainly worth having if you're a Georgette Heyer fan, but I wouldn't really recommend it as an introduction to her work.

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