For the Love of Heyer: Snapshot Reviews #3 (books 11-15 in publication order)

11. Barren Corn (1930) read once as of 2021

This is a book notable for having an ending that made me laugh aloud because it was so absurd and ridiculous. The rest of the book is a rather involved story about a selfish aristocratic man, a beautiful but not very bright lower-middle-class girl and how disastrous their marriage is. There are many possible other books that could have happened that would have been more interesting and enjoyable to read, and reading it you think about them a great deal more than the plot in front of you. The issue is very much not the class dynamics, but the way in which Heyer chose to explore them. Of her modern-set books she desired to be suppressed, this is a case where I am in accord with her choice.

12. The Conqueror (1931) read twice as of 2021

I wasn’t that interested in this the first time I read it, but it grew on me the second time. It’s a straightforward historical fiction portrayal of William the Conqueror’s rise to power. The relationship between William and Matilda is extremely edgy. I like the way her women behave as women and the men always behave as men, as well. There is a great deal of fascination, as well, in her descriptions of what life involved a thousand or so years ago, and how in certain little ways nothing much has changed. The hook is a fictional friend of William’s, who ultimately writes his story.

13. Footsteps in the Dark (1932) read once as of 2021

Now we come to an interesting genre change by Heyer. She began writing mysteries in the thirties, and then quit during the forties, with just a quick return in the fifties to put out a sequel and a final mystery. This is her first one.

I must mention that Heyer tends to really dig into sibling dynamics in her books, and it’s refreshing to see those relationships considered a normal part of *adult* life. This early mystery is about siblings inheriting a weird haunted old house and, well, the usual-ish sort of country mystery elements follow. I was never given to country house mysteries, but according to Heyer readers who like them, she is above average with most of hers. This is a case in point.

14. Devil’s Cub (1932) read twice as of 2021

There is a girl, and you know her, perhaps even quite well, and she can save the sexy, sulky rake. She can *fix* him!

This is the story of that girl, that one time she was right. And to her immense skill and credit, Heyer plays it very straight and by the end you’re sold too. This is a direct sequel to These Old Shades, about the son of the reformed rake from that tale. He is not as mythopoetical as his dad, nor is the girl Mary as strange a blend of innocent and cynical as his mother, but they are of a similar kind.

My favorite part of this book is Mary’s devotion to her virtue. To say more spoils a very funny but also very emotionally resonant scene.

15. Why Shoot a Butler? (1933) read once as of 2021

When I read this, I was working through Heyer for the first time chronologically as much as possible. I was steeped in Georgian and medieval depictions of clothing and food and by the time I came to this modern-set detective story, it lacked verve. It was kind of weird, honestly. The mystery was definitely mysterious, but the romance was out of nowhere, so far as I could tell. Having said this, Heyer rewards re-reads, so perhaps when I return to it one of these days I’ll have something different to say. It was weird and that’s really all I remember of it.

For the Love of Heyer: Snapshot Reviews #2 (books 6-10 in publication order)

6. These Old Shades (1926) read twice as of 2021

This is the romantic tale that put her on the map, and was such a huge seller that her career went to the next level. And the interesting thing is that it’s not as though she was doing badly in sales before this book. But the story she tells here is mythical, with much of the structure of a folktale. It’s about an orphan and how the orphan is taken up as a servant by a very dark natured Duke. But they redeem each other. There is a lot to this one, more than even a snapshot can really delve into.

It’s also a reskinning or reimagining of The Black Moth. It also has, as a fairly major plot point, the young beautiful girl dressed as a boy.

7. Helen (1928) read once as of 2021

This is one of Heyer’s moderns she wanted suppressed. The usual argument from Heyer fans is that it’s just too autobiographical. I can understand that argument. It’s about a girl with a very close relationship with her father, as her mother dies bearing her. Her attachment to her father runs so deep it affects her ability to choose a suitable man to marry, and the book is the story of how she navigates her grief in order to find the right man (at least, who happens to still be alive, because it’s set around WW1 and afterwards).

8. The Masqueraders (1928) read twice as of 2021

This is a fun one. It is set around the Georgian era, same as These Old Shades, The Black Moth and Powder and Patch. Heyer began, after her first few books to center in on a specific historical period rather than casting about all over the past with no rime or reason. This set the stage for her to move into the Regency world, where she nestled into a clear and extended career. This one features her most hilarious crossdressing riff: a brother and sister swap sexes because they’re on the run as Jacobites and they both have the misfortune to fall in love with their same-sex (supposedly) best friends.

Their father, The Old Gentleman, is a character, in every sense of that word.

9. Pastel (1929) unread as of 2021

I scored a cheap copy of this hard to find modern that Heyer wanted suppressed. I haven’t got round to reading it yet because I own it.

10. Beauvallet (1929) read twice as of 2021

‘Reck not! It’s a rip roaring thrill ride kind of book, but spiced with a delicate romance. It is a sequel to Simon the Coldheart, about one of Simon’s descendants and his adventures in Spain during the era of Raleigh. The romance comes from Nick Beauvallet winning a sea battle and taking a Spanish lord prisoner, but his daughter is on the ship too…and one thing leads to another, and before you know it, Beauvallet is dodging French and Spanish efforts to take him alive or dead (mostly dead) while also trying to bring his lovely love interest back home to the family.

It’s a notable feature of Heyer’s early work, before she shifted almost entirely into pure Regency writing, that she did sequels and linking novels. This all disappears after 1940 with a single exception, but I’ll get to that eventually.

For the Love of Heyer: Snapshot Reviews #1 (books 1-5 in publication order)

I have read nearly everything Heyer wrote, and these are very short bagatelles rather than deep reviews of what I’ve read. Where I haven’t got to a book yet I will say.

1. The Black Moth (1921) read twice as of 2021

This was Heyer’s first book, published when she was 19. It would read like a photocopy of an Errol Flynn movie to many, but it was a template for such scripts. It’s a simple, surprisingly nuanced story of a disgraced young Earl, a wicked Duke who goes by the nickname Devil and of course a beautiful and innocent young girl both of them want to marry.

Much of the nuance comes less from the love story of the disgraced Earl and more from the family dynamics of the Earl’s family and the Duke’s family. The Earl’s brother is the reason for his disgrace and is consumed with guilt about it, and he’s married to the bad Duke’s sister. Yet the bad Duke is rather a good brother in his way, and his relationship with his sister and other brother (a side character) are part of how the teenaged Heyer makes him an object of some sympathy despite his badness. He is quite ill behaved with women and is a mischief-maker in general on top of that.

But he does show signs of possible salvage. Again, one would have to be told a young girl wrote this (she originally came up with the story at 15) to really believe it, the book is well formed and carries some assurance more common to older authors with longer publishing histories.

2. The Transformation of Phillip Jettan (republished as Powder and Patch with slight edit) (1923) read twice as of 2021

This is very light and fluffy. A country mouse of a young squire finds his childhood friend and future wife drifting from him because he’s not got town polish and is cloddish and overproud about it. Phillip, the namesake clod squire, responds to the rebuff of his sweetling by heading off to France to learn to dress, to converse and to duel. The results impress the girl and all ends happily for both, but with some obstacles both intentional and unintentional along the way to overcome. This was republished without the last chapter many years later. Interestingly, the last chapter is heavy on the Francais, which had more than a little to do with that. That chapter does shift the tone of the ending a bit, but this is such a light little book one can get a complete ending out of either version.

3.The Great Roxhythe (1923) read once as of 2021

Some books Heyer wrote and requested be suppressed. This is one of them. It is an interesting book because again, this is a very young woman really stretching herself artistically and thematically. It’s a love story, but not in a homosexual sense. It is about a man (Roxhythe) with perfect hero-devotion to his king, and the young man serving as Roxhythe’s secretary who is imperfectly devoted to him for a time. It is a book set during the exile of Charles II, and Heyer would return to this period fifteen years later in a book called Royal Escape. The fascination arises because Roxhythe is ruthless and cunning, but remarkably charming and she succeeds in selling the reader on it, just a remarkable accomplishment in youth. Many Heyer fans feel this book was rightly suppressed, but I think they shew merely a distaste for a book entirely about male bonding and its complexities.

4. Instead of the Thorn (1923) read once as of 2021

This book is so aflame with erotic charge I am nervous about picking it up again for a second read, yet I will inevitably do so. A virgin girl hardly past 20 with no dating/courting experience wrote this book and somehow she managed to write one of the most intense depictions of two married people learning to desire each other I’ve ever read. And people have the gall to complain about this book as sexist or dull. I can’t even understand that.

The story is about a girl raised strangely and sexlessly, brought up by a man-hating spinster, who drifts into a marriage with a writer who is enchanted beyond anything by her sheer, pristine beauty. Her family loves the social climb, his family is terrified his heart will be broken by a confused and spoiled ice maiden. What happens is not quite what one would expect, but it ends as it should. This is a book that captures certain tensions between a man and a woman that, frankly, are most understandable to women who have lived life without chemical birth control and who have some experience in pastoral life for extended periods of time, actually caring for animals.

That is to say, women who are, such as it may be, less altered by modernity. It’s not a requirement, but the book is more likely to make sense if you have that background. There are reviews of this book around and about and they mostly denigrate the husband, who is basically Saint Bohemian. He gives his cameo-perfect wife all the space she needs and the dance they undertake has slips and shuffles, but the book draws you into their world and their navigation of her neurosis. The wife makes a lot of mistakes, but nothing fatal. Out of all her early work, this is radical, beautiful and sweet. I suspect but cannot prove that she might have been influenced by the slightly older Margaret Kennedy, who wrote a book the same year on pretty much the same topic. I have not read it, but these sorts of coincidences aren’t exactly unheard of.

This is set in the 1920s, so was a “modern” for its time, and was also among the books Heyer requested be suppressed.

5. Simon the Coldheart (1925) read twice as of 2021

To end this first set of reviews, we have a book that introduces a topic that was to flicker throughout Heyer’s oeuvre for a good 15 years: a young beautiful girl dressing as a boy to escape…whatever. This early work is again, on the “suppressed” list, but she reconsidered this particular one later in life. It’s a medieval, set during the Hundred Years War. The hero, Simon, is known for his stonelike heart regarding the ladies. But he is gentle and extremely patient with children.

Anyway the book is again a remarkable exploration of a young girl writing with some true insight about a young man seeking to establish himself in a rough and tumble world where the sword’s gifts can take a man very far, as can sheer strength of will. Her upbringing by a history loving father reaped many rewards in the form and structure of her fiction.

Along the way as Simon the Coldheart rises in power and status, he finds a woman to melt the ice. A willowy, slim-built one…who dresses as a boy to escape…whatever. To say more spoils much of the joy of the book, it’s very charming to go in reading it knowing very little about the boy and the girl.

I like Heyer’s early work quite well, for the most part, even, as I go through her backlist, several books I didn’t expect to like.

For the love of Heyer: A beginning

Georgette Heyer is a very popular writer whose works were converted to ebook form around ten years ago. She is the mother of the Regency Romance, and is one of the mothers of swashbuckling historical action with a dash of romance, though this is less obvious because she wrote most of her swashbuckling when she was quite young, and so was film production. So people will randomly read/stumble across some of hers and think they are the derivative work when it’s quite the other way round.

Long story short, I bucked up and dove in during Our First Year of Covid when my local libraries closed and all I could get from them was ebooks. I’d been intimidated out of reading her in the long long ago, and was still as scared that it would be intimidatingly erudite or something. Instead I found a world of charm and madness, of love and beauty, all from a woman who was but a few decades removed from Queen Victoria herself’s reigning peak. Heyer loved Jane Austen, but she also loved the rather more obscure Emily Eden, and Fanny Burney. And boy did she love writers like Fielding. Heyer is herself such a fascinating woman she spawned two separate biographies that I haven’t read but have heard are quite thorough.

So, much like I put off reading Heyer, I’ve put off discussing her books and the wonders they’ve held for me.  I’ve been intimidated by the lengthy, though not erudite reviews at, among other spots around and about online.  But so what, my take on Heyer’s work is worthy in itself to be seen and heard and considered.

Anyway, off to the races!  This post will be updated as new Heyerposts are written up.