Ever since I started reading romance, I've been hearing people talk about Heyer. Georgette Heyer was a prolific writer of historical romances and she is frequently named checked by many current romance novelists and fans. I found it intimidating to even approach her booklist because of the sheer number of books on it. I kept postponing trying them. But recently I listened to Kat Mayo interview a Heyer scholar Jennifer Kloester, and it intrigued me enough to start actively thinking of reading one. The opportunity came last week as several of her novels were discounted for Kindle. I asked my Heyer-loving friends about a different Heyer novel and I was encouraged to read Venetia instead. I took that $1.99 plunge and bought a copy.
Venetia is the story of rake on the road to reformation and a sheltered miss that is not all shy, finding love against the wishes and good opinion of most everyone.
This is both a familiar and favorite plot for me.
First of all the characters were fantastic.
Venetia is at 25 convinced that she is very much on the shelf. All but buried in the countryside by her reclusive father, she has not enjoyed much in the way of company. She might be provincial in the sense that she has never traveled but she is bright, educated and curious. She has been raising her younger brother and managing the household from a very young age. She is confident, independent and self assured. She doesn't much worry about the inherent selfishness of her siblings or other trying people in her life, but she longs for affection and the joy of conversation with kindred spirit.
Lord Damerel is a confirmed rake. He threw away his reputation and family connections as very young man, eloping with a married woman several years his senior. He has lived in an exile of excess abroad for the majority of his life. Mounting debts and a decaying estate has finally brought him home. He takes refuge at his neglected country estate when his aunts set out restore his reputation when they pick out dowdiest woman of unimpeachable reputation in their circle for him to marry. While he is pleased to discover their is an avenue for his reputation to be restored he is not ready to commit to a loveless marriage to an "antidote". He is cynical, calculating, effortlessly charming and dangerously attractive.
Venetia's first encounter with Damerel is shocking. Picking blackberries on his land, unaware that he is in the neighborhood, Venetia is accosted by Damerel who doesn't realize she is a lady of good family. They have a fantastic argument about his advances, and the hypocrisy of his excuse. Venetia holds her own, sparring with him and he is deeply diverted. I'm a sucker for the rake who loves a challenge so I was immediately intrigued even if I was horrified by his non-consensual rakishness (the book was very accepting of this and other sexist behavior).
I very much enjoyed the lightly ironic tone of the narration. Everyone in the book is exposed to it, their foibles gently mocked. I found myself snickering along with Heyer over Damerel and Venetia's infatuation and loved how fate messed with their expectations.
The supporting cast was large and amusing. I found myself loving Aubrey. Aubrey is Venetia's little brother. He is 18 or 17, on the verge of going off to Cambridge and obsessed with the classics. He has been lame since childhood, and is very sensitive about it. He hates the coddling and patronizing attitudes people have toward him. Like Venetia, he has a contrarian steak, and little regard for the opinions of others. If I wrote romance, I would love to write his story. He felt so real, and genuine, and not a plot device, even when it is his injury that serves to throw Venetia and Damerel together. I loved that he was a fully rounded character. Heyer really excelled in this as no one, including the villains were one dimensional. Too often supporting characters are simply written as sequel bait, but these people felt legitimately interesting and I just wanted to see more of them.
One thing that I did find surprising was how passive Damerel is in this story. The story is centered on Venetia, and despite his rakish past, and his early exploits, Damerel almost entirely disappeared from the story about 2/3 of the way through the book. Even though Damerel is always the one calling out Venetia for her martyr tendencies, it is he that attempts to patronizingly conspire to sacrifice their future happiness. If not for Venetia's determination, he would have eventually simply drank himself (or whored) his way to oblivion after sending her away. I loved how clear-eye Venetia was about that. She loves him and is sure he loves her, but is not about to sit back at home hoping it will work out because she sees exactly how it won't work out.
I was also surprised how messy the ending was. Although Venetia is able to resolve the conflicts necessary to ensure her HEA, many plot lines raised during the novel were left unresolved. I was left deeply curious about how other people's lives turned out.
I'll definitely be reading more Heyer in the future.