Saturday, June 27, 2009

These Old Shades

Curious experience. Was Heyer not sure whether to go for drama or for comedy or did she deliberately pitch it between the two so she could move from one to the other? I did note it was written in the Twenties so perhaps she was still figuring out what she wanted to write. But then I got distracted by the memory of The Masqueraders also written in the Twenties and hallo, again with the genderbending, Our Georgette. Intreeeeeeguing. I can totally see myself hunting down a biography or something once I've cut a thorough swathe through the Regency romances.

But oh, despite bracing myself for the non-Regency fashions, I was quite hooked and did enjoy it far more than expected. Maybe because of the shifting tone and definitely because of the fascinating plot and the utterly enigmatic hero. Yeek! I mean, really he's so sinister at the start and, while I was vaguely amused at the very homoerotic dynamic set up between him and his friend, it almost bordered on paedophilia when our heroine disguised as a boy arrived. Pederasty, isn't it? Cos you only know the page is a girl if you've read the blurb on the back.

Man, I liked that device so much, of Heyer narrating in the facade with masculine pronouns instead of telling us the secret up front like she did in The Masqueraders. Makes for such interesting reading, a great secret thrill of conspiracy between her and us, that knowing wink. So it was a bit annoying to see the page be so revoltingly wide-eyed and adoring. Argh! I keep wanting to read Heyer write a snarky girl-pretending-to-be-a-boy and really get into the gender issues, elbows flying and all. Cos, having read The Corinthian, The Masqueraders and this, clearly it's a trope that captured her imagination for a while. I wonder if she felt she'd explored it all she could within the parameters of the decade and her own ability.

Only when I was a good way in did I realise or remember that this is a sort of sequel or at least references events in The Black Moth and man, did that make me grind my teeth cos all of a sudden I wanted to read that one even though I'm fairly certain it's too soon in my Heyer journey to properly appreciate her 'juvenilia'. And the irony is I wouldn't be reading These Old Shades if I didn't know it's a prequel to the book I really want to read, Devil's Cub. *lol*

But there were enough clues to piece together the story quite nicely and chuckle at the characters four years on and delight at Heyer writing a love story for the bad guy in that novel. I did love the way she redeemed him but still chill us as to his fiendish mind. And argh, his sarcasm ... *dies with happiness* He was so viciously subtle and droll. The conversation with the fellow who comes to buy the page, the one who keeps talking about his wife ... oh man, that killed me with giggles.

He was so marvellous, even with his horrible fashions and foppish ways. *shudders* La, sir, the only fop I adore is Percy Blakeney! But I consoled myself that the Duke of Avon could very well be what Heyer imagined Blakeney to be before the Revolution. Still what bloody amazing nerve to have such a fop as our hero. Not just a bad guy but a foppish bad guy who picks up a fan in the course of the novel! *convulses* Dude, Heyer. You rock. Although I do wish you would stop calling so many characters Anthony. This is the third I've encountered and really, that's more than enough, thank you.

The heroine did nothing for me. Frankly, she was a bit of a credulous idiot, witlessly adoring, frequently obnoxious and annoying. And when she talked to herself, she was even more annoying! No, I did not care for her at all. I'm really rather hoping the heroine in Devil's Cub will be a lot wittier and more interesting but, keeping my theory of Heyer heroines in mind, it prolly won't be the case. No matter if so, I'll buy Frederica and re-read that next.

Marvellous use of the younger sister and brother. My god, how Heyer distinguishes voices just takes my breath away. I could hear them, that capture of pace and intonation was just perfect. She's so incredible with dialogue. Argh. *foams at the mouth with envy* And I do love her over-abundance of commas and exclamation marks. I'd scream if I saw them in anyone else's work. In hers, they seem to fit right into the delightful satire and so I feel quite a horrid glee at each burst of such.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"My Lord John"

"My Lord John: A tale of intrigue, honor and the rise of a king" by Georgette Heyer
Product ISBN: 9781402213533
Price: $14.99
449 pages (includes Genealogy charts, preface, characters, glossary and reading guide)
Publication Date: May 2009 by Sourcebooks
The Burton Review Rating: 1.75 - 2 stars

"Set in the last days of the reign of Richard II, just before Henry V succeeded him to the throne, the eponymous hero is Henry's brother, John, Duke of Bedford. Heyer brings the medieval world to life, creating a panoramic view of a royal family's intricacies, intrigues and sibling rivalries, along with the everyday lives of the servants, clerics, and vassals in their charge."

That blurb is significant to remember as you read this. It is quite true regarding the details that Heyer retells, and when preparing my own review of the book I had specifically come up with the word "panoramic" to describe this, and afterwards realized that the description was not unique to me. But the word fits splendidly due to the nature of the book. My Lord John is immediately plagued by a quagmire of names... so much so, that I doubt that anyone unfamiliar with the era of Medieval times up to the Wars of the Roses would even want to attempt to understand what is going on here. I have read medieval fiction and non-fiction before but this one starts off with so many names including nurses, wives etc. having dialogues with each other without proper introductions to the reader that I had to stop reading and brush up again on the nobility of Medieval England. When you open a novel that begins with pages of family tables and genealogical references, you know you'll need to get your thinking cap on.

Heyer opens this novel up with 1393 - 1399 when Richard II is king, and is known as Cousin Richard to the lordings (the children) that we are immediately introduced to. Right off the bat I came across some interesting words that I had to look up. (Barbican, postern, herber.) This time I had the forethought to look in the back of the book and found the glossary and a reading guide! Heyer captures the dialogues between the lords with seemingly accurate phrases for Medieval times (hence the need for the glossary) and jumps right into her settings without much of a preamble. The story continues with the lordings of Henry of Bolingbroke (later Henry IV) and the small details of their comings and goings as they learn through gossip and messengers the goings-on of their King, Cousin Richard and the political upheaval the King creates which drastically effects the children. These lordings of Henry of Bolingbroke are number four boys and two girls, but the most important are Harry and John and given the most attention to in Part I. Harry who later becomes King Henry V after his own father is king, is taken under the wing of Richard II (or taken hostage, depends on how you look at it), and John is the My Lord John as referred to in the title. (I am really struggling to not turn this into a history lesson!).

Major events occur around the family such as the headstrong uncle to the King Richard, Thomas Woodstock is murdered after being sent into exile, more plots and arrests and soon after the children's father, Henry of Bolingbroke is also sent away. Hence, uprisings among the families and the start of the Wars of The Roses soon after that although not reaching that part in the book. I soon found that I was becoming engrossed with the story once it started to feel like Heyer was staying in one place with the characters at this point, but then she lost me again as we reach the 1400's when John becomes a Lord Warden in the North. The transition of King Henry IV after King Richard is deposed is cumbersome and drawn out. Heyer attempts to recreate the relationship of the boys with their father King Henry, but the grasp is tenuous at best. John's elder brother Harry is sent to deal with the Welsh and Owen Glendower. Their brother Thomas goes to Ireland. The two sisters Phillippa and Bess are married off and scarcely mentioned again except when the one dies which causes heartache for her father the King. Ongoing rivalries plague Lord John, the relationships with the nobles and the King are the focus, and the outcome of traitors and heretics are dispersed throughout. The problems with the new Pope are mentioned and the politics with their neighboring countries are also discussed, always in the glazed overview of minute details over and over.

The relationship between Henry and Harry, father and son, is also a running theme throughout the book, as the one is destined to succeed the other. The rivalries of the many families are a confusing mess throughout the book, with seemingly every family name featured such as Beauforts, Nevilles, Hastings, Beauchamps, Huntingdon, Kent, Despenser.. the list goes on and on and I am quite thankful for handy reference guide in the beginning of the book: four and a half pages devoted to "The Characters", and I enjoyed the Genealogy tables as well as the preface written by Heyer's husband.

Heyer fans like me who have only read her romance and mystery novels are in for an about face, as this is truly pure historical in nature and not with the usual comedic settings or romantic rendezvous nor the tongue-in-cheek of slapstick comedy romps that Heyer is best known for. At first look I believed I could only recommend this work to those who are very familiar with the background of this turbulent era, and for those who would like a closer look at John and the circumstances of his upbringing and his relationship with his family. But the fact that there was no sense of satisfaction from this book, I now hesitate to recommend this at all. I cannot truly imagine there being any new insights here that would be better be accomplished through reading a less time consuming and more engaging book.

I wanted to really, really like this novel, but this time I have to say that as both a Heyer fan, and Medieval era fan, I obviously did not enjoy this. It started to become a chore for me but I was pulled through only by Heyer's interpreting of the dialogues between the subjects which were interesting if they were not interrupted by Heyer's backtracking through explanatory history. Through the conversations of the nobles is when Heyer's wit shone through, unfortunately there was just not enough of this to make this tome worthwhile to me. It is said that Heyer researched meticulously for this book, which was published after her death, and she originally had intended to publish three books. Perhaps if more drama was inserted within which would merit it a historical fiction work, and indeed separating out and dramatizing the major events throughout the three books, this endeavor would have succeeded. But instead, a billion details about many characters of the time are squashed into 440 pages that lack the typical Heyer flair. The wording that Heyer uses to detail the story does not promote its readability, it actually hindered any progress that could have been made. It also had the feeling of one step forward, two steps back with the myriad of recollections of events amidst the current storyline.

The wording was dull, dry and emotionless and read more like a text book rather than the intended novel. There is zero romance, and I am very confused as to why on the Amazon website the editorial review is "rapturously romantic". Unless the use of 'romantic' the reviewer meant antiquated. Not a single romance brewing unless of course the mere mention of a death of one wife and the marrying of another (or the mentioning of having an affair) is what is called romantic! The Amazon tags also bring up Romance and Regency in several forms and there is none of that in this work. The cover for this book, although pretty, has nothing to do with this book either. I would put a warrior's shield on it in place of the woman (or even a man to represent John). The fact that the book trudges along for endless pages till its absolute insane conclusion in MID-SENTENCE because Heyer's manuscript breaks off there is utterly asinine!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Masqueraders

I confess I had high hopes for this one considering it features a double crossdressing. Unfortunately, Heyer didn't quite bring the rest of her formidable talent to the table.

Don't mistake me. The brother in drag was marvellous, absolutely marvellous. But he was quite let down by our heroine. Our hero was quite unflatteringly described as a mountain, over and over again to the point where I never felt like I was given a chance to fall in love with him. And there was a curious distance between the characters and the narrative, like Heyer hadn't quite managed how to get into the hearts and souls of her lovers, really unpack the intricacies of their personalities so we could love them for all their faults and idionsycracies.

Thing that disappoints me the most? Our heroine didn't do anything. Even in drag, all she did was attend parties and stand around and talk a little. There was no real vivacity, no engagement, no power as a protagonist. And the one time she got into serious trouble, our hero literally rode in and saved her. *sighs heavily* She was entirely too passive and too stolid for my liking.

I mean, part of me really admires Heyer for having such a range of heroines --- the naive pretty young thing, the sarcastic bluestocking, the spirited hoyden, the quiet respectable type --- and how she never writes the same character twice. And one day in the distant future, I fully intend to read all the Regency romances of Heyer in chronological order because I'm beginning to suspect her heroines get a lot more interesting as she grows older. *nods*

It didn't help that it's set pre-Regency so the fashions were not at all sexy to me. All those details of fashion and visuals that I usually adore and savour and cherish here verged on boredom and even caused an occasional cringe.

It could have been so marvellous if Heyer had given both brother and sister an equality of temperament, fierce and volatile and spirited. I know she does like to balance her siblings out which is fair enough but it worked to a completely deleterious effect here. I'd like to have seen them both struggle with their roles, have all sorts of comical mishaps and introduce all sorts of gender discourse. This was just so placid ...

As it was, I turned to the front to check when this particular book was written, thinking perhaps it was a Seventies book. Nearly fell out of my chair when I read 1928. GOOD GOD, HEYER! Would this have been racy then? I don't know nearly enough about the gender discourse and fads of the Twenties to know whether having a guy in drag for three quarters of the novel would be a shocking or a delicious thing then. So perhaps Heyer went as far as she could for the times. I can't help but wish she'd gone further.

Certainly I recognised the whole highwayman romance homage/parody. Pity it's not a trope that appeals to me any more. I think it did at one time, perhaps when I was in the throes of my Scarlet Pimpernel loff. It was glamourous, yes, but far too serious, not nearly enough of Heyer's thrilling sarcasm. And the occasional killing left me a little queasy, with the characters reacting as casually as they did.

Mind you, I did like the cleverness of the final twist. Made me laugh at myself. There's that glimmer of Heyer wit I adore.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Vastly amusing, this one, and a damned awesome plot. I was a bit underwhelmed by the naivete of our heroine until she ran into our hero and holy god, the way she fired up was something awesome to behold. Too too awesome.

And the way Heyer writes children and animals just makes me want to clutch her feet and sob total worship. God, imagine if she'd written children's lit! Although it was curious that for the first time I could actually pick out phrases or sentences that were identical to Austen. Don't know if that's Heyer's fault or Andrew Davies' BBC adaptation or Nick Dear's film adaptation --- one word, one look from Persuasion --- or actually Austen. Postmodernism for the argh!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Faro's Daughter

Frankly I wasn't looking forward to Faro's Daughter because nothing bores me more in a story than extended fretting about money and I figured any narrative featuring gambling would bring the inevitable. But man, the violence of our two leads totally took me aback, the way they reacted with such fiery antagonism to each other and flew off the handle at the least opportunity.

Luckily, Heyer reined them in just at the right moment and maybe the novelty of such characterisation kept me reading when I might have cried off in disgust. As it was, their violence made me keenly anticipate the moment when each was brought down, Slain By Their Loff That They Could Not Foight. And ooh, his was marvellous. A great "Ha!" moment. I don't recall hers so clear. Hmm. Ah well. *shrug*

Plus they were surrounded by enough amiable characters to make for lovely subplots, appreciable both in terms of reader emotion and writer skill. I did want to see a novel devoted to Lucius, just to get to know him better and see what sort of woman would match him wit for devious wit. But I suspect maybe I liked him better than Heyer eventually did. Mmm.