Naxos Audiobooks. Narrated by Laura Paton. 2014
This is the most entertaining Georgette Heyer book I have read (or listened to) since These Old Shades.
The story opens with the dowager Lady Maplethorpe summoning her nephew, Mr. Ravenscar, to her with the dreadful news that his young cousin Lord Maplethorpe has just announced his engagement to a young lady who works in a gaming hall. His attempt to buy the lovely Deborah off, who runs the gaming house with her aunt, doesn’t go well and a bitter tug of war over Lord Maplethorpe starts between them.
At first I thought I’ve seen this before. They’ll quarrel and fall in love, The End. Actually the argument turns into a stone cold battle that ends up encompassing bills, the mortgage on the house and debtors prison. We get halfway through the novel and the characters are still ruthless in their campaign to humiliate and tear down the other with no hint of warmth. It was a very satisfying relationship to watch grow.
Deborah, being one of the few Heyer heroines who actually has a job and a traditionally male one at that, is pragmatic, competitive and hot tempered. The whole story verges on the comical but underneath is her desire to be able to commit formal violence against an enemy, also traditionally a male activity, is woven throughout the book.
“Oh if I were a man to be able to call him out and run him through and through and through.”
Lady Bellingham, who appeared quite shattered, said feebly that you could not run a man through three times.
“At least I don’t think so,” she added, “of course I never was present at a duel but there are always seconds, you know, and they would be bound to stop you.”
“Nobody would stop me!” declared Miss Grantham bloodthirstily. “I would like to carve him into mincemeat .”
This wasn’t quite the sugary confection I was expecting (being well acquainted with Georgette Heyer) but more like a bright cup of tea and is one of the most entertaining historical romances I have read. There is still the froth of declarations of love and lashings of lace (this is Heyer after all) but the ruthless battle of wits that makes the heart of the story kept me hooked for hours.