Guest Review: These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (1926)

  These Old Shades was the third novel Georgette Heyer ever published, but the first of her novels I ever read, and it made an impression. On re-reading it, I can see why.

The basic storyline is thus: Justin Alastair, nicknamed Satanas, otherwise known as the Duke of Avon, picks up Leon, a young peasant boy, saving him from the persecution of his cruel brother for the price of a diamond. Leon becomes his page – the most devoted page a man could ever have, he will not hear a word against ‘Monseigneur’- however, Leon bears a remarkable resemblance to the Duke’s greatest enemy, the Comte de Saint- Vire, and Satanas is hatching plans of his own… Then Leon is discovered to be Leonie, and the story becomes a battle of wits, with a cross-country chase, a kidnapping, and a dramatic ending, of course with a little love story thrown in as well.
I forgot how immensely enjoyable Georgette Heyer’s novels are. I was introduced to them as  a pre-teen by my mother, and to this day every book she’s ever given me to read has made me feel hugely comforted and at rights with the world. These Old Shades has such brilliant characters, and I especially loved Leonie – she was immense! She spends the novel standing up for herself and for her master, and even when she is kidnapped, she doesn’t wait until someone comes to save her but saves herself. That’s the kind of girl I’d love to see more of in literature, and I’m so thankful to my mum for giving her to me. She is unbothered by social niceties and doesn’t care what she says to whom. She wants to learn to fence, so she puts on her faithful breeches and convinces ‘Monseigneur’ and his brother Rupert to teach her.
A lot of Heyer’s women (as I remember them, but I admit that with the exception of this novel, it’s been a while) have a lot of spirit and are disinclined to be ruled over unquestioningly by men. I was wondering if it’s because of the era she was writing in – although her books have an Austenesque feel to them, she was writing about 115 years after Austen, after the first world war during which the traditional role of women in society had been turned on its’ head – women had the vote, and had begun to take a much more active role in society. I do tend to get obsessed with the way women are portrayed in novels, and I think it’s interesting that in a genre such as romance, which I admittedly don’t read a huge amount of, but which is generally viewed as subscribing to stereotypical submissive views of women, there can be such a strong central female character as Leonie.
All of the characters surrounding her in the novel are in some way changed by their interactions with her. The villain of the story,Henri Saint-Vire has a long-standing grudge against the Duke of Avon, and Leonie is unwittingly part of a secret he doesn’t want to get out. The basic point of the story is the development of Saint-Vire’s secret, and the lengths he and the Duke of Avon will go to in order to destroy each other. Of course, this isn’t really the point of the story, it’s just a sideline which allows space for the love story to unfold, and it is brilliantly done. Throughout the novel, Justin Alastair is to Leonie an affectionate guardian providing almost fatherly guidance, turning up unexpectedly and somehow knowing exactly how to deal with situations. Of course she is in love with him – her frenzied defence of him from any and all criticism leaves no room for doubt of this, but she is so modest that she has no notion of him ever feeling the same way, and so when he eventually does it lends a wonderful artlessness and sweetness to the ending.
I’ve ended up writing much more about this book than I intended to, so apologies for the rambling! It speaks volumes for the book though, that as a person who really doesn’t read much romance I was so thoroughly engrossed even on the third re-read!
*Don’t forget to enter to win one of two fabulous Georgette Heyer Prize Packs from Sourcebooks. Also each “meaningful” comment on any Georgette Heyer post (including this one) in the month of August at Stiletto Storytime will also get you additional entries.*

9 Comments

Filed under Adult Books, Contests, Events, Georgette Heyer, historical fiction

9 responses to “Guest Review: These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (1926)

  1. Colleen Turner

    I just love this cover…how beautiful!

    I love stories where a “strapping” young man turns out out to be a woman in disguise and love ensues. So often women were not allowed to have opinions or intellect worth noting, so by appearing to be male they are able to express themselves better and are taken more seriously! I think I would really enjoy this book!

  2. stilettostorytime

    Thanks for the review Bex! I love it when people get so excited about a book that they cannot stop writing or talking about it…happens to me quite a bit. Since this is the earliest book by Heyer we have posted a review of so far, I am really excited to read it. Like I have said in the past…I am very interested in how Heyer’s work evolved since she wrote so much and for many years.

  3. I’ve never tried Heyer’s work, but I really want to. the title of this one cracks me up.

  4. The sequel to this book is “Devil’s Cub”, which follows the Duke of Avon’s son, Lord Vidal. I think the sequel is even better (if that is possible!).
    I have been reading a few classics lately and I agree with your statement about the nature of “the female character” in novels. Often when they are penned in history, they are very passive characters at the whim of those around them.
    Heyer brought her female characters to life with gusto! Even her more passive female characters are willing to exert themselves upon the world around them.

  5. I’ve been following your posts on Georgette Heyer and I can’t believe I haven’t read these books! They definitely sound interesting, and highly enjoyable! I am adding some of her books, including this one for sure, to my TBR list:)
    jwitt33 at live dot com

  6. Mary Preston

    THESE OLD SHADES is a Georgette Heyer I have not heard of before. It looks beautiful & I know I will enjoy it.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

  7. I really need to read this book. It is one people talk about all the time. thanks for the review

  8. This sounds fantastic! I’ve read one of Heyers historicals (The Nonesuch) and enjoyed it–this one sounds even better.

    Thanks for the review!

  9. I love Georgette Heyer books and I have read and enjoyed all of them (and your reviews) as well. However, this has to be one of my lesser favorites – I think primarily the cross-dressing angle. I find that hard to swallow. also disliked Masqueraders because of this.

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