One of the unexpected side effects of the pandemic lockdowns and restrictions has undoubtedly been the frustrating lethargy that so many of us have struggled with over the past year and a half. It seemed to reach into every aspect of people’s lives and for many readers, it even extended to our desire to pick up books as we fell into reading slumps that seemed as if they’d never end. I descended into one such slump at the beginning of lockdown #3. I had piles of books and proofs of every genre waiting to be read, but I just couldn’t muster the energy or desire to be interested in anything – which is practically unheard of for an ardent book lover with a veritable library of books at their fingertips.
Then, on a gloomy day in March, a bundle of paperbacks arrived on my doorstep. It was a selection of Georgette Heyer reissues from Arrow Publishing, with charmingly quaint and evocative covers. The books weren’t too long and they promised the kind of old fashioned historical romance that was far enough away from the present situation that they might just be able to pull me out of my dreaded reading slump. But these books actually did more than that. They renewed my love of Regency/Georgian romance and made me want to dive back into the world of literature with an enthusiasm I hadn’t felt in months. Simply put, they reminded me why I love books and stories so much.
Heyer is known as the Queen of Regency Romance but I hadn’t read anything from her vast collection of over fifty books. It was difficult to know where to start, so I decided to go with the title and synopsis I was most drawn to, which was Devil’s Cub (1932). Set in 1780, the book is actually part of the Alastair-Audley series and is the sequel to These Old Shades (1926). However, it reads perfectly as a standalone too – which is how I approached the novel. It follows the titular ‘Devil’s Cub’, otherwise known as Dominic Alastair, Marquis of Vidal. As the privileged son of the Duke and Duchess of Avon, Dominic does exactly as he pleases and uses his noble rank to excuse all manner of debauchery and excess. He drinks, duels and has a habit of dragging women into his wild behaviour. When his reckless ways threaten the virtue and reputation of Sophie Challoner, a girl of the bourgeoisie, it’s up to her sensible, straight-laced sister Mary to teach Dominic a lesson. But she gets more than she bargained for with the Marquis – after all, you don’t get a title like the Devil’s Cub without being a little wicked…Devil’s Cub, like the rest of the books in the Alastair-Audley series, is genuinely easy to lose yourself in. The plot and language is era specific (I couldn’t stop saying the word ‘egad’ for about a week after reading it) and there’s something so comforting about escaping into a much simpler era, without all the stresses and trappings of modern day life (and no pandemic either!). Of course, the storylines don’t always look kindly upon women – the 1700’s were very much a man’s world – but Heyer peppers her book with knowing jibes at the ridiculousness and pomp of the upper class men too. It’s this sharp and perceptive view on class, courtship and scandal that keeps Devil’s Cub such a light-hearted and quick-witted read.
Despite not being comedies, Heyer’s novels are delightfully fun and entertaining. They deal with social disgraces, broken hearts, financial woes, blackmail and all manner of upper class drama, but the books are grounded by likeable heroines with independent minds and modern sensibilities. The Bridgerton-esque storylines deliver romance, complicated family dynamics and pistols-at-dawn style adventure, and it’s clear where authors like Julia Quinn took their inspiration from when writing their own historical romances. Heyer set the bar high with her Regency Romance and not a lot of authors come close to matching just how enjoyable these books are to read.
Fans of brilliantly plotted historical romance and sparkling period dramas like Pride and Prejudice are bound to fall in love with Georgette Heyer’s novels. The latest collection of reissues was published last week (22 July) and includes some of Heyer’s later titles including The Nonesuch (1962) and False Colours (1963). There’s also a gorgeous new 100th Anniversary Edition of Heyer’s first novel, The Black Moth (1921), published next month (26 August), which will provide the perfect introduction to the author’s wonderfully romantic and escapist fiction.