Devil's Cub (by Georgette Heyer)

I have loved Georgette Heyer’s historical fiction since my aunt gave me half a dozen or so of her books in my mid teens. Over the years I have collected almost the entire set, mostly from charity shops, but I’m delighted to see that they have all been reprinted, and are more widely available nowadays. I re-read most of them every nine or ten years, and the most recent one I picked up was ‘Devil’s Cub’.

This book isn’t particularly pleasant in the first couple of chapters. We meet the wild Lord Vidal, only son of his Grace the Duke of Avon and his wife Leonie, who were the main characters in Heyer’s earlier novel ‘These Old Shades’. Vidal is both violent and promiscuous, an unlikely figure for the hero of a romance. Yet Heyer’s skill in characterisation enabled her to create an apparently evil young man who, by the end, is surprisingly likeable.

There are a lot of characters in the early chapters, and I found their relationships somewhat confusing at first. However that didn’t much matter, as it gradually becomes clear who the main ones are. Sophia is a very beautiful and flirtatious girl in her late teens, who has captured Vidal’s attention. To date he has kept his women to working ladies of the stage (as respectable men of the 18th century apparently did).

But Sophia, although rather vulgar in attitude, is the granddaughter of a gentleman. Even Vidal’s broad-minded parents draw the line at him ‘ruining’ the reputation of a young lady. But Sophia is foolish and mercenary, and thinks she can force Vidal into marrying her. Her mother is equally grasping. But Sophia has an older sister, Mary, who is not as pretty or engaging, but full of common sense, with a dry sense of humour.

I very much liked Mary. She’s courageous, truthful, principled, and also very affectionate. And she determines to save her sister from the lures of Vidal… by doing something remarkably stupid, which could well have led to her own ruin. Indeed, for a while it seems as if it must…

It’s a fast-paced story, one I could barely put down once I’d started. I didn’t much like the violence of the early chapters, or the extreme gambling and drinking, but I wasn’t supposed to. They set the scene for Vidal’s escape to France - where apparently it was acceptable for criminals to hide out for a while.

I haven’t read this book as many times as I’ve read some of Heyer’s better-known books. It's over thirteen years since I last read Devil's Cub. Although I vaguely recalled the conclusion of the book, I had quite forgotten how the plot moved in its direction. I appreciated the humour of several situations, and the repartee between Vidal and Mary when they are travelling together. For both, despite being somewhat unprepossessing at first sight, are very interesting characters whom I liked very much by the end.

I also loved the final chapters; rather than everyone gathering together for the denouement, as so often happens in Heyer’s books, Mary is persuaded to tell her story to an unknown older friend… I had guessed immediately who this person was, as I’m sure I was supposed to, and this makes the conversation quite humorous.

It’s not my favourite of Heyer’s novels, but I still liked it very much. Recommended to anyone who enjoys historical romances with a bit of a bite, and who doesn’t mind the authentic 18th century language and a bit of unpleasantness (and many innuendos) in the earlier chapters. Not that I was really aware of that kind of thing as a teenager - and with the archaic language, it's not always immediately obvious what is meant.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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