Did you know you can download eighteen Georgette Heyer novels to your Kindle, for about $2 apiece, right now, from Amazon? I discovered this the other night, and was absolutely thrilled. If there was one collection of books that I didn’t like leaving at home, it would be Heyer’s. Then, I discovered that at least one of my friends over here had never heard of her. How is this possible? What’s amiss with the world?
Ever since the year 2000, I’ve been reading The Lord of the Rings at least once a year. No, I don’t look at the calendar and think, “Oh, the year’s almost up, I better start reading them”. It’s because they’re SO good that, after about a year, you’re longing to pick them up and dive into the adventure once more. Do you have a favorite book that you read every year?
Ok, so how about a favorite author, that every once in a while, you pick up one of their books, and then you have to reread them all? And between those times, you pick up one or two of them, whenever you can’t decide on what else to read…. when you want something beloved and familiar. They’re your always and immediate fallback books. This is the category that Heyer’s novels fall into, for me. At least every six months, I reread as many of her books as I can find, and between those times, they’re the ones I pick up the most, to read while I’m eating lunch (I lived alone for a while, remember?). My mom, aunt, cousin, and I have been reading them since I was a teenager, and these books never get old.
When I moved to Pennsylvania for several years, I took my library with me. My books were no longer at my mom’s fingertips, and she couldn’t just go and pull them out of my closet, whenever she wanted them (yes, I used to keep a lot of my books in my closet). So, at Christmas, we bought her a few of her favorites, and when I replaced some of my older copies, I gave her the old ones. No, don’t think I’m being cheap. I like to buy books and my mother does not, she’d rather spend the money on other things. So having beat up copies of some of her favorites… she has absolutely no problem with that.
Then, when I moved back home from PA, I left most of my stuff in a storage unit… but of the books that came with me (only enough for one shelf), the Heyers were among them. All of them.
And then, I decided to head to Australia, and even for my favorite books, I was unwilling to pay full price for them (on Kindle), when I’d already paid full price for them at home. I told myself I’d borrow them from the library, once I got over here. But now I don’t have to! Some of my favorites are right beside me, loaded onto my Kindle! Hooray!
This whole time, I know, you’ve been wondering what’s the big deal, and what kind of books are these? Well, I led up to it carefully. You see, Georgette Heyer is the queen of the Regency romance, though that’s not all she ever wrote. What, you say? Why would you want to read some “garbage-y” romance? Not so fast. Make no assumptions, just because I used the word romance. And, though I’ll mention this more later, she also wrote several historical fiction novels (heavier duty stuff) and a bunch of detective novels. Keep it in mind.
You see, Georgette Heyer was following in the footsteps of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and Elizabeth Gaskell, though she was writing in the 1900s. She picked up where they left off, and defined the genre for future generations. Her romances were everything that Regency romances are supposed to be… and though many have tried, very few have been able to follow in Heyer’s footsteps. All those “garbage-y” romances out there? They’re the result of female authors trying to be like Heyer, and failing. Don’t blame Georgette, or think that her books were anything like the others.
What makes her stories so wonderful, so readable (and re-readable), so fascinating? Her characters are amazingly well-drawn, and her stories are like no other. They will make you laugh out loud, and lead you where you never expected the story to go. They’re also G-rated. The heroes are sometimes strong and silent, and sometimes talkative and seemingly flippant. I think Heyer probably created the anti-hero, the “hopelessly” wicked man that is practically forced to change his ways, for the love of the right woman (the perfect woman for him, but remember, she is not perfect). These men do not become angels, you might say, but perhaps they stop being devils. And all the accompanying characters…. oh, they’re such fun. No two-dimensional side characters, they’re all fleshed out, with little quirks of their own.
And if any of the guys have continued to read, let me assure you that I know some guys who read them, because they can appreciate a good book, and don’t judge the book by its genre.
Remember how I mentioned that Heyer wrote other types of books? She was most famous for the books set during the Regency period, but several other romances were set in the Georgian era, in England. A few more are serious historical fiction, such as Simon the Coldheart, The Conqueror (well-researched historical fiction on William the Conqueror), and Royal Escape (a tale of Charles II and his escape from Cromwell). And then there are the detective stories, which follow Inspectors Hannasyde and Hemingway, as they try and unravel which of the clever and hysterically funny characters could possibly have been the murderer. I’m not much of a mystery reader, never having gotten into Agatha Christie’s books, but I find Heyers detective novels to be fabulous.
Lest I ramble completely from the point, I’ll just talk about one or two of my favorites, which I now have loaded onto my Kindle. If you want to hear me ramble on about another of her books, you can see my previous post (true love and civility…), which talks about The Civil Contract.
I’m limiting myself to choices from my Kindle, which is probably a good thing, as I can never decide on one favorite. Unfortunately, The Unknown Ajax and Cotillion are not dirt cheap at Amazon, so I haven’t “kindled” (kindle-ized?) them yet. Ohhh, but picking just two… that’s nigh unto impossible. But after several hours of deliberation (What? I had to work, today!), I’ve made my selection.
I love The Talisman Ring. Come to think of it, I may have picked two of her Georgian romances (instead of Regencies) to talk about. Oh, well. This story begins with the dying Baron Lavenham arranging a marriage between his granddaughter, Eustacie, and his great-nephew, Sir Tristram Shield. The Baron would have preferred Eustacie marry his own heir, but that young man happens to be wanted for murder, and hiding on the Continent. But after Lavenham dies, the betrothed couple find that they are very mismatched, and doomed to marital… not-bliss.
How do I explain the charm and delight of all these characters? Eustacie is half-French, very romantic, excitable, and imaginative… but for all that, she’s not an airhead, she’s very brave, and keeps her head when it’s needed. Her cousin, Ludovic Lavenham, whom she inevitably runs into, is her match in temperament, and inventiveness. Determined to prove his innocence, they enlist Sir Tristram and one Sarah Thane, to help them to clear his name, and figure out who the real murderer actually is. And it all revolves around the talisman ring.
Heyer’s characters are never dull or two-dimensional. From Miss Thane’s brother, Sir Hugh Thane, to the inn’s owner, to the bartender and the valets, they’re all fleshed out, and take part in the story. Even Sir Hugh’s love of good brandy, and his interesting opinions on the smuggling trade (considering he’s a Justice of the Peace) take a part in the story. Give this book a try (did I mention that the characters are hilarious?), you’ll never regret it. How many times have I read it? I’m not sure, I’ve probably been reading it for over ten years, and I read it several times a year. You do the math.
The Convenient Marriage is a slightly different story, also in the Georgian period. The Earl of Rule has chosen a bride, the eldest of the Winwood daughters. The Winwood family are in straightened circumstances, due to their men having a gambling problem. The only problem is that Elizabeth Winwood is already in love with someone else. However, duty to family is of first importance to her, and she prepares to marry for convenience, not love. That is, until her youngest sister steps in.
Horatia Winwood is not your everyday schoolroom miss. Barely sixteen years old, she’s short, feisty, blunt, and has obnoxiously thick and straight eyebrows. Along with her unusual looks, she has a very noticeable stammer. She decides that her sister mustn’t sacrifice herself for their family, and she goes to speak to Rule about it. Instead, Horatia proposes herself as an alternative. I won’t go into detail on how she convinces him, but she does manage it.
The rest of the book follows Horry’s gyrations as she enters the married state, finds that she has a gambling problem, and eventually, discovers true love. With her husband, of course! This is not a stupid modern romance.
Alright, I’ve finished my spiel. If I haven’t convinced you by now, you never will be. Give Georgette Heyer a try! Choose the detective novels and historical fiction, if you prefer. But remember what I said before… don’t judge a book by its genre!