Book/page totals

Top 10 Lists

Sunday, August 15, 2010

cover of 'These Old Shades'

One night as Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon is walking through the streets of Paris, he collides with a poor young red-headed boy running from his rough older brother. On a bit of a whim, because something about the child's Titian hair and blue eyes reminds him of an enemy, Alastair buys the lad from the older brother and makes the child, Léon, his page. Alastair has quite the reputation for his cunning and lack of morals, such that he is known by some as "Satanas", and his good friend Hugh Davenant disapproves of Alastair taking this child with him everywhere, even serving him at gambling houses and other places of ill-repute. Of course, there is a great mystery about Léon, and it turns out to be quite an interesting story-- and the audience gets to be at least partly in on Alastair's knowledge and plans long before the other characters in the book.

It is revealed fairly early on that Léon in the book that is actually Léonie; in fact, the blurb on the back of the copy of the book I had revealed this fact, but now I almost wish it hadn't, because I'm curious whether or not I would have figured it out myself. Alastair claims he knew immediately; Hugh says he knew within a week; but no one else seems to figure it out. Léonie is in fact connected to a noble French family, in particular to a Comte who had wronged Alastair years before; but what starts out as a rather small revenge for that act turns into a much bigger and more potent revenge for what was done to Léonie herself.

There is plenty of opportunity for comedy and humor here, in the midst of a very engrossing story. When Alastair and Hugh are arguing, Alastair coolly gives Hugh tips on how to improve his sneer (he says it looks more like a grimace). When Alastair takes Léonie to England to learn to be a girl (she'd been running around disguised as a boy since she was seven), it is very challenging and trying to everyone involved-- Léonie would much prefer the freedom of breeches that she is used to, bargains with Alastair to give her fencing lessons (or else she will be very "stupid" when she is being taught the more lady-like things he wants her to know), and continues to be very out-spoken, often saying "bah!". Later on in the novel, when the Alastair family is reunited, we are given the opportunity to see some of the craziness the Alastairs are known for, and laugh at their many foibles, witty conversations and arguments.

Léonie is a wonderful foil for Alastair-- she is a mixture of innocence and worldliness (she'd had a rough life before being purchased by a Duke in a Paris alley), and is frank and opinionated. She often makes apt, unexpected comparisons (when she sees the King at Versailles, he says she looks just like a coin-- the coin with his face on it, of course). She is passionate and quick-tempered-- she is Alastair's devoted servant from the moment he purchases her and saves her, and won't let anyone, even the other servants, try to tell her how evil or terrible he is (and they have plenty of evidence). Alastair is cool and calculating, brilliant and lucky, and yet he is fascinated and delighted by this outspoken child, and yet somehow manages to feel unworthy of her adoration.

Warning: Heyer novels may be addictive. I read this one in under 24 hours.

Title:These Old Shades
Author:Georgette Heyer
Date published:1926
Number of pages:378
Notes:loan from Catey


Google Search