Friday, 5 September 2014

'These Old Shades' by Georgette Heyer (1926)

Synopsis: These Old Shades takes place in France and England during the reign of Louis XV. The notorious Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, has moved to Paris and is plotting revenge upon the Comte de St Vire. The Comte has been his sworn arch-enemy for the past 20 years. Then one night, while taking a walk through a dark Parisian back alley, Avon literally collides with a red-headed urchin boy called Leon. The urchin has such a distinctive look that Avon immediately realises that he can only be the child of the Comte. Avon buys Leon from his abusive older brother and takes him as his page boy. Avon sees Leon as a potential weapon of revenge and flaunts him in glittering Paris and Versailles high society in order to gauge the reaction of the Comte. Avon has also worked out Leon's secret. "Leon" is actually a stunningly beautiful young woman called Leonie in disguise. As Avon seeks out definitive proof of Leonie's parentage he finds himself becoming oddly fond of and protective towards the girl. He becomes determined to bring her story to light and to restore to her what is her due.

These Old Shades is one of Heyer's earliest novels and a huge fan favourite. And now I can completely understand why. It was such a fun holiday book! It has a cross-dressing heroine who goes from being a downtrodden urchin to a page boy to a duchess via a My Fair Lady style makeover :)

These Old Shades made for a pretty interesting change from the other Heyer novels that I've read so far. Most of the other Heyer books that I've read have been set in Regency England but this book is set in the Georgian era and mostly in France. It was fascinating to read about the glittering world of pre-revolutionary Paris and Versailles. Tonally this book differs from the majority of the other Heyer books that I've read as well. Most of the other Heyer novels that I've read have been comedy-of-manners books (think Jane Austen with a dash of P.G. Wodehouse) but although These Old Shades is still a romance it also features a lot of adventure and mystery. I loved the story of the book and I even found its backstory interesting. Georgette Heyer had originally intended it to be a sequel to her debut novel The Black Moth. Heyer was extremely fond of that book's villain, the Duke of Andover, and wanted to write a story that would redeem him. But in the end Heyer changed her mind. She felt that a sequel to The Black Moth wouldn't quite work and basically decided to rewrite that book. She gave the characters different names and made them "shades" of their former selves, hence the title. These Old Shades then became Heyer's breakthrough novel.

The Duke of Avon is a great hero. Despite the fact that he dresses like a fop he's still unquestionably masculine and is, initially, even slightly sinister. He's also witty, sharp, sarcastic and hilarious. Leonie is a lot of fun too. She's mischievous and vivacious and I also loved her enthusiasm for fencing. I understand that some readers find the 20 year age gap between Avon and Leonie a bit creepy but that didn't actually bother me. It would have probably bothered me in a contemporary-set novel but when it comes to historical novels I'm more laid back about these things. Admittedly I could have done without Avon calling Leonie "my enfant" on a number of occasions but I always took that as a sign of him trying to convince himself that he wasn't falling in love with her. Avon's brother and sister Rupert and Fanny were entertaining characters as well.

These Old Shades has a sequel called Devil's Cub and I'm really looking forward to reading that book. I also can't understand why this book hasn't been adapted! I think that most of the Georgette Heyer books that I've read so far would make for fantastic film or miniseries adaptations! If anyone's interested I think Benedict Cumberbatch would be perfectly cast as Avon and I'd love for Karen Gillan or Rose Leslie to play Leonie. I'm leaning more towards Rose Leslie because she's said that These Old Shades is her favourite book! For Venetia, which is still my favourite Heyer book so far, I'd be thrilled if Richard Armitage was cast as Damerel because he does such a brilliant job "playing" him in his audiobook reading. And I'd love for Natalie Dormer or Romola Garai to play the title character.

Rating: 5/5


Sarah said...

Yay!!! So glad that you like this book so much, it's always been one of my favourite Heyer novels! I've read and loved the sequel 'Devil's Cub' too, it's another favourite and extremely witty and all-round adventurous. Though it is more typical of her other novels in that the regency manners play a huge role.
And Benedict Cumberbatch for Avon!!! Genius!!! I hadn't ever thought of that, but it sounds perfect. :)

Hannah said...

Well, I'm glad I made you happy!! :) I really did love this one.

Devil's Cub sounds great from the way you describe it! What are your other favourite Heyers? So far my favourites have been Venetia, These Old Shades, Cotillion and Frederica.

Sarah said...

Goodness, I've read so many it's hard to choose, but some definite favourites would have to be Regency Buck, These Old Shades, Devil's Cub, Arabella (it was my first Heyer!), Venetia, and The Convenient Marriage. :)