Today I’m pleased to welcome Georgette Heyer to Musings, as part of her Grand Tour on The Classics Circuit. This is my first experience with Heyer, and I’ve enjoyed reading all the reviews and commentary posted during the past two weeks. Because my February reading was kind of heavy and not all that great, I actually began reading my choice on the first of March. I zipped through the first third of the novel, using it as a break before reading another rather somber work. And when I returned to finish These Old Shades, I found it a quite amusing diversion from my typical fare.
Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, is a rake if there ever was one. Men fear him; respectable women will have nothing to do with him. He spends most of his time in the gambling houses of Paris, leaving his sister Fanny in charge of his English estate. One night he encounters a young boy on the run from his employer, and makes an impulsive decision to buy the boy to serve as his page. Avon had a hunch he could use Léon to his advantage. Léon is grateful, and completely unaware of any ulterior motives. Avon’s friends are mystified by this sudden turn of events. Avon remains secretive, but gradually the reader is let in on the details.
Léon is, in fact, Léonie: a girl. And Léonie is the daughter of Avon’s greatest enemy. Set in France during the reign of Louis XV, the story is filled with rich detail of the period’s “Polite Society.” Avon’s first task was to train Léonie in the role and manners of a young lady. Even as Avon set these wheels in motion, he was also plotting revenge against his enemy. What follows is an amusing romp through the English and French countryside, filled with rich imagery and intrigue.
However, Avon didn’t expect the affectionate feelings that developed between him and Léonie. He suppressed these feelings, because he was so much older than she, and was unaccustomed to caring for another person. Heyer surrounded Léonie with so many eligible bachelors, keeping the reader guessing almost to the end. In some ways, this story was predictable: justice was dealt to the bad guys, and at least a couple of people lived happily ever after. But somehow the predictability didn’t matter to me. I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.