24th January 2002: My Ranking of Heyer

Dionywas asking about which Heyer were good ones to try. I think this depends a lot on who you ask and what you like. When I was asking about this I found that ones some people loved were ones others especially hated.

Now, I do not read romances generally, I despise Barbara Cartland, I yawn at Madeleine Brent and anything with a cover showing a heroine swooning makes me look for something with an exploding spaceship. I have however read a number of romance novels when I was too young to know better, and since that I have read some by people who have written other things too, mostly Joan Aiken, I’ve read almost all of Aiken. Aiken’s Regencies are, well, different, and I can’t believe they let her get away with the end of An Embroidered Sunset. She’s just in her own class.

I started reading Heyer because of conversations like this on rasfw:

Someone: “Shards of Honor is just like a romance novel!”

Me: “Where are the romance novels that are like Shards of Honor?”

Lis Carey or some other rational person: “Georgette Heyer.”

After sufficient repetition, I kept on not reading any. I finally picked up some Heyer when someone told me Heyer was trying to write more Jane Austen novels. I don’t know what made them think that, but anyway, the imagined combination of more Jane Austen and Shards of Honor was enough to make me get one out of the library and I’m glad I did. They rapidly became comfort reads.

However, while Heyer writes wonderful repartee, I think she is at her best with a plot in which nothing much happens, she wasn’t good with drama. A dog loose in a park, yes, but not a battle or exciting adventures. She was terrible with villains, but good with awful aunts. My favourites of her novels tend to be the less eventful.

My ranking of Heyer would go like this:

A Civil Contract
About a million miles ahead of all the others. This is a book with no romance, indeed, in which the dopey romance would have been a terrible idea. There’s a lot of love in it, though. It’s the “It doesn’t change a thing, but even so, after twenty-five years, it’s nice to know” kind of love, rather than the whirlwind kind. It also has nicely measured plot, exquisite sensibility, and macaroons. It has all Heyer’s types, and does lovely things with them.

The Grand Sophy
Wonderful repartee, a plot in which very little happens but all of it on oiled wheels, matchmaking, and a monkey.
The Unknown Ajax
“He had imperceptibly become indispensible to her comfort.”
In which she managed to surprise me with the resolution. And the hero is just lovely. This is another one like tGS in which the heroine matchmakes.
The only “damsel marries rake” novel I’ve ever read in which I can believe in the happiness of their subsequent marriage.
Beautiful repartee, a balloon ride and a Baluchistan hound.
The Corinthian
If the world needed one novel about a heroine running away disguised as a boy and travelling with the hero without realising she’d fallen in love with him, this would be it.
Sprig Muslin
And if the world needed one novel about a hero beset with a would-be heroine while loving the sensible woman he was supposed to marry, this would be that one.
I cannot believe the protagonists will ever do anything but bicker, but nevertheless the style with which they bicker makes up for a great deal. Also, virtually the only Heyer heroine with even a pretence at being capable of making her own living.
The Foundling
This is different from most of Heyer’s novels, even those it closely resembles, by being a coming of age novel.

A little too saccharine, but still amusing.
Black Sheep
An older heroine and a reformed rake.
The Nonesuch
Memorable for having a heroine who is a governess.
Devil’s Cub
Sequel to These Old Shades but it would be better if it weren’t.
Regency Buck
Again, a bit saccharine and it’s all so predictable, but still worth reading.
False Colours
Has the best awful old woman in all of Heyer, and Heyer was terrific at awful old women. This is the one the sig I had for a long time on alt.poly came from.
Charity Girl
Same plot as Sprig Muslin and The Foundling, but feels more like it’s just going through the motions.
April Lady
I wish the heroine wasn’t such a wimp.
Bath Tangle
The heroine is deeply unlikable, but I did like the tangle and the resolution of it.
Friday’s Child
I would like this book a lot if I could believe in the marriage as a marriage. I find it very hard to suspend my disbelief where there are people who are married for quite a while, and sleeping together, but who are moved to orgasm by a kiss with feeling. I was going along fine with this book until the morning after the wedding where nothing whatsoever has changed between them. This is also a problem with April Lady. I know Heyer didn’t want to write about sex — she could, she kept writing into the sixties, but she didn’t want to, and that’s OK, but other people before her time wrote books in which sex existed and had effects even if it wasn’t described as a graphic act. (Rebecca, 1938, Purposed of Love, 1938) A Civil Contract has offstage but plausible sex for that matter.

The Masqueraders
Too much plot and all totally implausible.
Powder and Patch
I didn’t believe it. Dull.
These Old Shades
Tortured plot.
The Reluctant Widow
Gothic implausible plot.
Faro’s Daughter
Dull. Heroine does have a profession, though.
The Toll Gate
Idiotic smuggling plot, barely visible romance.
Cousin Kate
Gothic and over the top.
The Convenient Marriage
Silly. But some brilliant dialogue in the first chapter.
The Quiet Gentleman
Gothic and implausible.
Lady of Quality

An Infamous Army
Out of her depth. A sort of sequel to Devil’s Cub and Regency Buck, and at its best when it is being. The version of the battle of Waterloo is painful — I don’t doubt it’s accurate, but goodness me what a way to try to write it! I wonder why she didn’t write more sequels, or at least roman a fleuve, give people bit parts in other novels? Oh well.
Simon the Coldheart
Historical. Ghastly.
The Conqueror
I couldn’t finish this one.
My Lord John
I couldn’t finish this one either. Medieval in all senses. Forsoothly.
Royal Escape
Also painfully forsoothly.

Even so, I’ve read all of them at least twice but the Awful section and Powder and Patch, which I left in a cottage in Scotland to add to the bookshelf of books people had left.

Posted in Books