My library has very few Georgette Heyer books and I’ve read most of the titles they do have, so on a recent visit I was delighted to see this one on the shelf – one that I hadn’t read and in such a pretty edition. I think I still prefer the older Arrow covers with the historical portraits, but this one does look very attractive and I’m pleased to say that I thought the story inside lived up to the promise of the cover. Heyer’s novels are always fun to read and this one was no exception.
When the Earl of Rule proposes marriage to the eldest Winwood daughter, Elizabeth, she is faced with a dilemma. Her brother Pelham’s gambling debts are mounting up and she knows that the Winwoods are in need of Rule’s money. However, the man she really loves is Edward Heron, a humble soldier, and the thought of having to marry Rule instead breaks her heart. It is left to Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Horatia, to come up with the perfect solution – she’ll propose to Rule herself, leaving Elizabeth free to marry Edward.
Surprisingly, the Earl agrees to marry Horatia, not put off by her stammer, lack of height and eyebrows that won’t arch. But will the seventeen-year-old Horry and the thirty-five-year-old Rule be happy with their marriage of convenience or will the age difference prove too great to overcome? With a trio of enemies (Rule’s cousin and heir-presumptive, a jealous former mistress, and the vengeful Lord Lethbridge) determined to cause trouble and Horry’s brother Pelham equally determined to defend his sister’s honour, the plot soon descends into a series of farcical misunderstandings and moments of comedy.
Although I have read better Heyer novels and this one hasn’t become a favourite, I did really enjoy it. It was so entertaining, with never a dull moment – there are card games, duels, balls and masquerades, trips to the opera and to the circus, and encounters with highwaymen. This book is set in the Georgian period rather than the slightly later Regency and I loved the descriptions of the flamboyant Georgian fashions – powdered wigs, patches, silk stockings, blue velvet and puce satin, not to mention Crosby Drelincourt’s ill-fated straw hat with pink roses!
My only problem with the book, really, was that I didn’t like Horatia very much. I loved her opening encounter with the Earl of Rule and I warmed to her again by the end, but throughout the middle of the book she irritated me with her stubbornness and immature behaviour. I had to keep reminding myself that she was only seventeen after all.
I did love Rule. He’s one of my favourite Heyer heroes so far. He kept reminding me of the Scarlet Pimpernel, with his ‘sleepy eyes’ and lazy manner hiding a shrewd brain and quick wit. I loved the way he stayed so calm and patient with Horry, always trusting that she would do the right thing in the end. Horry’s brother Pelham, Viscount Winwood, was another great character. Some of the scenes involving the drunken Pel and his friend, Sir Roland Pommeroy were absolutely hilarious. I would have loved to include some examples here, but they really need to be read in context to be able to appreciate how funny they are!
Reading this book has reminded me of how much I love Georgette Heyer and how many of her books I still haven’t read yet!