The Heyer Project: Part I – First Impressions

The Heyer Project - Part 1: First Impressions

Back in 2012, I commenced a Summer of Harlequin in an attempt to understand what the hell “category romance” actually meant. I learned a lot.

To continue my odyssey into the deeper realms of Romancelandia, the next logical step seemed obvious: Georgette Heyer. And I just happened to have nearly all of her titles waiting patiently on Minerva (my Kindle) thanks to Sourcebooks’ $1.99 sales. Have I mentioned the OCD book-hoarding thing?

So far, I’ve read 11 (six on audio) and temporarily DNF’d two. I’ll do individual reviews for each book, but here are my first impressions on the Heyer Oeuvre….

Regency slang

I made half-hearted-attempts to read Powder and Patch and Pistols for Two several years ago, and DNF’d them because the incessant slang made the dialogue seem more like work instead of fun. The first Heyer I finished was April Lady, and I found the heroine’s idiot brother to be nearly incomprehensible.

It wasn’t until I started with the audiobooks that I finally achieved “the ear” (to use a musical term). And then the more I read, the more I realized how utterly brilliant Heyer was in employing the use of slang and other language quirks in characterization.

I just finished Cotillion, and marveled throughout how Freddy’s verb tense abuse and dandyish affectation of dropping pronouns hid, and then eventually revealed, his no-nonsense loyalty and maturity.

Plot shenanigans

I knew Heyer was renowned for her humor and wit, and for some reason I assumed that meant her books were gentle and understated, with some subversive Austen-esque barbs. I was not at all prepared for the elaborate and often farcical plots.

But as with the slang, the antics are never just throw-away bits. From recovering stolen jewels to chasing runaway hot-air balloons, every escapade has a narrative purpose that very few authors achieve.

Character-dumping

Heyer’s stories have a LOT of secondary characters. In nearly every book, every single one of those characters is introduced in the first chapter, and they’re always in a flail over something and talking all over each other. I have to force myself to be patient enough to make it through the first quarter of the book, when things start calming down and the characters settle into their, well, characters.

Unlike modern romance novels that deliberately aim for an instant connection with at least one of the main characters, Heyer allows her heroines and heroes emerge quietly from the chaos around them — but it sometimes takes a while to get there.

Audio vs. ebook

The audiobooks are working better for me than ebook, for the reasons above, and because the long expository paragraphs typical of Heyer’s writing era are difficult to read on the Kindle.

The Nonesuch is the only audiobook I should have avoided; Tiffany the Annoying Ingénue is an obnoxious character anyway, but narrator Eve Matheson turned up the whining and shrieking to the point of making her unbearable.

Conversely, after finishing The Masqueraders, I’m glad I read instead of listened. I can only imagine the name- and voice-switching of the cross-dressing main characters would be very difficult for a narrator to pull off successfully.

The current standings….

Here are my top three (so far) to get the fangirl discussions started:

1. The Black Sheep

‘Well, you might not have kissed me, but I had every intention of kissing you, so it’s just as well he didn’t announce me,’ said Mr Calverleigh. ‘Do you always kiss gentlemen who walk in unannounced?’

It will take a LOT for any other Heyer hero — or any hero across RomLand — to measure up to Miles Calverleigh. I know you all are partial to your Alverstokes and your Damerels, but I adored Miles from his very first scene.

Heyer made me love Abigail despite her Spinster Aunt Martyrdom, the perfectly-paced plot had just enough farce without going overboard into forced zaniness, the audiobook narration by Barbara Leigh-Hunt was fantastic, and the “wait, WHAT???” ending left me desperate for a sequel.

2. Frederica

‘But it was Restorative Pork Jelly!” she said, before she could check her unruly tongue.

Need I say more? I didn’t think so.

3. Venetia

‘A fox got in amongst the hens last night, and ravished our best layer,’ remarked Miss Lanyon. ‘A great-grandmother, too! You’d think he would be ashamed!’ 

How could anyone resist an opening line like that? And three months later, I still really, really want Conway to finally show up so I can punch him in the face.

Now, of course you’re thinking….

“She must not have read The Grand Sophy yet!”

I read it. It was good. It was everything every five-star reviewer raved about. And then some.

That’s all I’ll say for now because I need to do a closer re-read to distill my thoughts.

Others I’ve read so far, in no particular order….

I’ll be diving into the audiobooks again soon with Regency Buck, Bath Tangle and The Toll-Gate. If I’m not back in a month or two, send help.

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6 thoughts on “The Heyer Project: Part I – First Impressions

  1. I am always insanely jealous of people reading Heyer for the first time.

    Powder and Patch and Pistols for Two are not great places to start. My first Heyers were Charity Girl and Simon the Coldheart which are also not good examples. But I’m glad I persisted and I’m glad you did too. You have many happy hours ahead of you!

  2. Totally agree about Miles. Totally. Your top three are among my favorites as well (I hate ranking). I actually love The Nonesuch on audio, but I understand why you don’t. I love your projects!

  3. Great project! My first attempt at Heyer was Faro’s Daughter — I DNFed it. But The Foundling and These Old Shades were much better for me, and I was hooked from there. Venetia is one of my favorites, as is The Quiet Gentleman. But then, I don’t do audio.

    I’m in the other camp on The Grand Sophy; the anti-semitism was so off-putting for me that I could not enjoy the book.

  4. As much as I enjoyed Venetia, I adored Cotillion. There is a lot happening there–you get such a sense of the dangers and perils of London percolating just under the surface (young girls “forced” into either a distasteful marriage or a mistress situation, the treatment of the “not-all-there”). Above all, Freddy’s rise to the top of the barrel with the one woman meant just for him. Agree about Miles. Oh lucky Abigail! Frederica is a laugh-out-loud Heyer for me, especially the insane marriage at the end with Charles piping up.

  5. I am a great fan of Georgette Heyer myself, and I was overjoyed to see this post! My favourites are The Devil’s Cub, The Talisman Ring and Cotillion, in that order — can’t wait for you to read the first two and review them (if you can, of course!). Too bad BBC hasn’t decided to make TV shows out of her books. :(

  6. It is always interesting to read a new series. First impressions are hard to shake, but listening to the audiobook can give a different dimension to it. Do you prefer audiobooks over other formats?

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