I’ve been on a Heyer binge the past two weeks, and I was surprised to find that I didn’t love all of the ones I read. I mentioned that to Krissie and she said, “Which ones?” and of course those turned out to be some of her faves because Krissie and I are Alpha and Omega (or as Krissie put it, she’s Pollyanna and I’m Medea). The only one we agreed on was The Grand Sophy, a book I loved so much I named my heroine in Welcome to Temptation after her. It still holds up after all these years, aside from a brief but nasty bit of anti-Semitism which the heroine does not commit (it’s the author’s narration, not Sophy’s thoughts, so I just skim past that part).
After that, Krissie and I parted company on most of our evaluations. So here’s what I think, with some Krissie quotes in there to provide a counterpoint;
The biggest failing, I found, was that there were stories where the hero proposed at the end and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. The Reluctant Widow is about a perfect man whom everyone admires and who is never wrong (bleah) and the woman he asks to marry his dying cousin so that he won’t inherit the cousin’s estate. I’m okay with that, but the woman he asks says no, then marries the cousin who promptly dies, then bitches about being “forced” to marry him for the rest of the book, even though she was given the choice and was penniless before and now has money and a house. I’ve never wanted to slap a heroine more. Her conversations with the hero are boring, and sometimes she laughs at something he said, and I think, “Why? That wasn’t funny.” In the end he proposes and she accepts him in rapture. Honestly, it was awful. But Krissie said, “In The Corinthian and Reluctant Widow I infer all sorts of things from the dialogue, actions. (Heyer never describes emotions). It’s not on the page, it’s suggested and hinted at . . .” For me, what was on the page was so awful, I decided the two of them deserved each other.
The Reluctant Widow: Krissie’s Grade: A My Grade: F
Then there’s The Corinthian, the book Krissie just referred to. It’s about a very wealthy, very popular man who catches a seventeen-year-old girl climbing out a window. He’s drunk and feeling trapped because he has to offer marriage to an ice-queen the next day, so when she asks for help to run away, he says, “Sure.” They go off together and have many improbable but fun adventures including theft and murder, and he treats her like the boy she’s pretending to be. It’s a great story, until suddenly at the end, he proposed and catches her up in a passionate embrace. Bleah. As I told Krissie, the thing that gets me is that she’s clearly a kid, she thinks like a kid, she acts like a kid, and while by the end she hero-worships him, she’s no more ready to be a wife than a twelve-year-old. And since he hasn’t had a single romantic thought about her, I’m just not buying it.
Krissie’s counterpoint: “If I’ve signed on for a book (been seduced into liking it) then I bring my own stuff. Maybe I’ll see stuff that isn’t there – I think Richard treats Pen like a child because he knows how improper it is for him to be out and about with her and is trying to keep a distance (of course he has the hots for her – she’s pretty and adventurous and charming, if naive). As for Pen, she’s on the cusp of womanhood (which can be reached at 15 or 16 in these books, her last gasp before putting away childish things. She’s attracted to him but too young to know what to recognize it or know what to do with it, and probably a little afraid to grow up. She’s holding on to fantasy and childhood. Because I love those characters (including Pen’s reaction to her old BF’s new lady love) and I want them to have the life I want for them.”
The Corinthian: Krissie’s Grade: A My Grade: C
Krissie thought that it was the age difference that was making me squick, but I’m okay with the age differences in The Convenient Marriage and These Old Shades, and they’re even greater than the 17/29 that are Pen/Richard. I think Horry/Rule is 17/35, and the age difference in These Old Shades is more than twenty years, 19/past 40. But Horry and Leonie are not children. Horry is very society wise and knows exactly what she’s doing when she proposes to Rule; the fact that she proposes to him and talks him into marrying her makes a difference, too. And Leonie has had a violent and dangerous life in the slums when she meets Justin; she’s no innocent and she knows how to protect herself. The fact that both of these girls know they’ll be much better off if they marry the older men makes a difference, too.
The Convenient Marriage: Krissie’s Grade: A My Grade: B
I realized I liked the stories of the older heroines that meet the hero toe-to-toe; Krissie doesn’t like those as much: “I don’t particularly like the books where the older heroine is working with the hero to settle the troublesome chit. Oh, I love Talisman Ring, but there are others with the same idea where it removes me from the story. I want the hero to fall in love with Horry of the eyebrows in A Convenient Marriage, not someone else (there’s a child marriage). And I think the reason these books work so well for me is I feel the youthful behavior of the young heroine is innocently charming and unaffected, unlike the older, marriage-minded women of the ton, and the hero loves that fresh new way of looking at things. It’s the normal time for him to change his life, and he could marry the proper person and live a proper life, or he could throw everything away on someone who is too young, too impulsive, too natural to let him live a boring life. (Think the hero in Sophy and the other woman. She has a great name, but I’ve forgotten it.) (Jenny edit: Eugenia.) Falling for the obstreperous child is disastrous for him, but he does anyway. As for child marriage, half the brides are that young anyway, they just have been molded into proper-having young women”. (Note: Sophy is not a child, she’s in her twenties; Krissie’s referring to Horry, Pen, and Leonie.)
I’ll grant the historical accuracy, but it still doesn’t work with my idea of romance. Krissie loves the innocent and the rake, I love the wordly wise woman who says to the rake, “Not so fast there, Sparky, I know a few things, too,” and engages him in a battle of wits so that of course he falls for her, she’s the only person strong enough to be his partner. “Rake” isn’t quite the right description of these heroes, but you can go with “domineering” and “determined to get what he wants.” That’s Black Sheep, The Grand Sophy, and The Talisman Ring.
Krissie and I both love The Talisman Ring, but that might be because there are two romances in there, one between an innocent and a highwayman, and the other between a high born lady and an exasperated peer of the realm. It starts out like a May/December romance between Eustacie, the orphaned ward of a rich man forced into marriage with his very proper and very much older nephew, Tristram, but any thought that this is going to be a story about opposites attracting is pretty much demolished with a great breakfast scene during which Eustacie prattles and Tristram wishes she would just shut the hell up. Realizing that she’s betrothed to someone who will not ride hell bent for leather to her deathbed (he tells her that if she was on her deathbed, he’d be there, not out riding), she runs away and falls into the arms of a highwayman, Ludovic, who is shortly thereafter shot, and goes with him to an inn, where she meets Sarah, a highborn lady traveling with her brother . . . . I think that’s the first chapter. Tristram comes to the inn looking for Eustacie and meets Sarah, and after that it’s Katy-bar-the-door as the four future lovers band together to find a talisman ring and solve a murder. The younger lovers story is cute, but it’s the older lovers who make me smile at the page. The brother is good value, too. Just a great book.
The Talisman Ring: Krissie’s Grade: A My Grade: A
I think I love that one because you can see why the older lovers connect; you can see the arc of their relationship grow on the page. Another great one for that is False Colours, about Kit, a military man, who comes homes to find out his twin brother is missing which leads to him going to his brother’s engagement party that night as his brother because it would be such an insult to the fiancee if he didn’t show up. Cressy, the fiancee, turns out to be a darling who’s not that sure she wants to be married, but changes her mind after spending the evening with the wrong brother; adding to the problem is that the military man thinks she’s pretty great, too. The arc of their falling in love is beautifully done as the screwball plot unwinds. Everybody else in this story is wonderfully ridiculous, and the lovers stand out as the only people with sense, dealing with everything that comes at them with wit and nerve.
False Colours: Krissie’s Grade: B My Grade: A
I also desperately love Cotillion, which has one of Krissie’s innocent heroines in love with a rake. Kitty cons her cousin Freddy into becoming engaged to her so she can go to London and possibly make Jack, the rakish cousin she really want to marry, jealous. I bought totally into the Jack-will-be-the-hero assumption until I met Jack and spent a little time with Freddy. It’s a marvelous bait and switch about two people who aren’t the brightest spoons in the drawer but who fit together beautifully. Add in a screwball plot full of screwball subplots, and it’s just a wonderful read. But having had this conversation with Krissie, I can see why it’s not one of her faves: she’d be rooting for Jack.
Cotillion: Krissie’s Grade: C My Grade: A
But my all time fave will always be The Grand Sophy because of Sophy. Sophy is no innocent and no child, having been her father’s companion all over Europe as she grew up. She is left with her aunt while her father goes to Brazil, and finds the family in a mess since the oldest son , Charles, is about to marry a cold, domineering woman who will make them all miserable (that would be Eugenia). Sophy sees that won’t do, plus the oldest daughter has just made a mess of her love life, so Sophy has to clean that up, and second oldest son has gotten himself into the hands of moneylenders, so that’ll have to be taken care of, and then there’s her father’s fiancee who is flirting with fortunehunters . . . . Sophy sails through the plot, handling it all, colliding with Charles at every turn and learning to appreciate his strength, his wit, and his skill, but not his fiancee. I told Krissie I could see them fighting for the rest of their lives, and then having great make-up sex, and loving each other to the day they died, it’s that great a romance. (I don’t think it’s a spoiler that Sophy ends up with Charles; this is a romance after all. Also, I have fondness for that hideous green cover because was the edition I first read, and it reminds me of how wonderful it was to read this book for the first time.)
The Grand Sophy: Krissie’s Grade: A My Grade: A
This, of course, doesn’t even scratch the surface of Heyer’s book list, and it doesn’t include her mysteries at all, but if you’re looking for comfort reads, you should definitely try The Grand Sophy, The Talisman Ring, Cotillion, and False Colours, and then go on to try the rest. Heyer wrote a lot of books, so you’ll have plenty to glom. (Another plus: Any writer who can write books that appeal to both Krissie and me has obviously got major chops.)