We don’t normally focus on non-Austen-related books, but for this we will make an exception. Sourcebooks is offering ebooks of Georgette Heyer’s novels for $1.99 each–the historical novels as well as the mysteries–in celebration of The Divine One’s 109th birthday. Also, Jennifer Kloester’s book Jane Austen’s Regency World is also available for $1.99. We own it in hardback from when it first came out in the UK, but were happy to repurchase it for our Nook at such a great price!
If you haven’t read Georgette Heyer’s books, and you’re a Jane Austen fan, you will very likely enjoy them. Her writing is clever and extremely funny, and her historical research is legendary. Austen gave few details about clothing and manners in her time period, because she was writing for a contemporary audience; Heyer fills in all these delightful details, particularly about clothing. Unlike in Austen’s work, these details inform the story as much as they are not particularly needed for Austen. As we’ve written before, the time period setting was incidental for Austen, and intrinsic for Heyer. It should be noted that Heyer’s books are set among the aristocracy–most of her characters are titled or related to those who are–and Austen’s novels are set more among country gentry, and there are differences in the way such groups behaved.
Like Austen’s novels, the historical books, which nowadays are marketed as “romances,” are really more comedies of manners with romantic plotlines. That’s why we think Austen fans are more accepting and fond of Heyer’s books than hardcore readers of the romance genre, who have certain expectations for structure, characterization, and content. (we don’t mean to generalize; naturally there is a great deal of crossover. Like with Austen, extremes should be avoided.) There is absolutely no sexual content in Heyer’s novels except crushing embraces that involve smooching; though Heyer’s characters discuss the facts of life and know where babies come from, and with the marriage-of-convenience novels, it is clear whether the marriages have been consummated. We don’t think the books suffer from this absence of sexual content.
Some drawbacks are an occasional overuse of thieves’ cant and “flash-talk” as the characters call it; Austen, of course, rarely allowed her characters to use slang, except the vulgar and silly characters, and there is some evidence that, though there is a historical basis for the cant, that no one actually used it to that extent. It is, however, part of the Heyer style, and once you get used to it–and learn what some of it means–it’s not that difficult to read. Heyer also really! likes! exclamation points! Which can be jarring for modern readers; but her grammar is impeccable, her language rich, her references scholarly, her style inimitable. We can’t recommend her books more highly to our Gentle Readers. Sourcebooks has done a real public service by republishing them for a U.S. audience. We are old-school and had to send overseas and comb secondhand stores for our collection!
Of the historical novels (we won’t call them romances, as they don’t really fit the modern romance genre, as some recent reviews have shown) we recommend:
Cotillion, which still makes us laugh until we cry and has one of the most unlikely and adorable heroes ever;
A Civil Contract, which is pretty much the anti-romance, but the characters and story are so beautifully constructed and written that it haunts us for days after a re-read;
Venetia, which we did not grow to appreciate until after Richard Armitage read it to us–it is romantic and sexy and beautiful, and still fall-down funny, with great minor characters and a beautiful, strong-but-not-annoyingly-feisty heroine and a hero wounded in spirit and redeemed by love;
The Grand Sophy, which has our favorite Heyer heroine and one of the craziest, madcap, funniest setups for a big final Christie-style setpiece at the end that we’ve ever read (and unfortunately a brief bit of nasty and extremely unfortunate stereotyping that has ruined the book for some people; it makes us cringe, but we’ve read the book so many times that we sort of sidle by that part with our eyes averted);
Friday’s Child – another marriage of convenience novel and fall-down hilarious, particularly the hero’s collection of friends;
False Colours – not considered a favorite among Heyerites, but it is with us as it was our first Heyer (and we read it fifteen years before we ever read Jane Austen, by the way; but didn’t read a second until many years later). The characters are delicious–the practical but lively heroine, the dashingly dependable hero, his delightfully flighty and beautiful mother, and her hilarious suitors and relatives–there is a bit of a Hercule-Poirot-get-everyone-in-a-room-and-tell-us-the-ending ending, making one think that Heyer wrote herself in a corner and tired of it so decided to end it in one fast scene. But the romantic couple is irresistible and there are just so many fall-down hilarious moments that it’s worth a read;
The Alastair series–The Black Moth, These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, and An Infamous Army, read in that order (and read Regency Buck between the third and fourth, as characters from that novel show up in An Infamous Army). Regency Buck was Heyer’s first Regency, and therefore the Ur-Regency, and can be a trifle info-dumpy. Not all of Heyer’s historical novels are set in the Regency–the Alastair books, except the last one, are all set in the mid- to late 18th century;
We actually already had ebooks of all the historical books, so we picked up all of La Heyer’s mysteries, which are contemporary to the time they were written (in other words, the 1930s and 1940s). If you like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayer, as we do, you will find these mysteries enjoyable and stylish. Footsteps in the Dark was the Nook Free Fridays selection a couple of weeks ago, and we inhaled it and thoroughly enjoyed it (and we think Austen fans, particularly NA fans, will LOVE it–it takes place at an old abbey that is haunted by a ghost called The Monk! C’mon!). We are currently enjoying The Unfinished Clue, which reminds us tremendously of not only NA (irascible former General who is mean to his wife and rakehell eldest son is murdered–probably what some people were looking for in There Must Be Murder) and, in being an English house-party setting, also of the film Gosford Park. There are two detective series–Inspector Hemingway and Inspector Hannasyde, which is not at all confusing–and a couple more standalones.
Due to unforeseen circumstances (which included power outages and train misbehavior) we had no time or energy to blog this past week, so we are sorry that we did not bring this to our Gentle Readers’ attention sooner, but hope that many of you see it, or saw it elsewhere, in time to take advantage of this great offer.