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“My infant,” he said, “duchesses, do not dance on chairs, nor do they call their brothers ‘imbecile.’”

Léonie twinkled irrepressibly.

“I do,” she said firmly.

Georgette Heyer

I had met the mysteriously charming Duke of Avon and the vivacious Léon/Léonie, the hero and heroine of These Old Shades after a friend recommended the novel after she saw me reading another book by Heyer as I have a penchant for historical romance and period novels. Reluctant to start the book because of the seemingly uninteresting title, I was blown away and finished it in 3 days!

I especially was taken with how Heyer highlights restrictions on women, from their literal freedom of movement (layers of skirts and petticoats) to their inhibited speech (women can’t speak a certain way – but a man can), as the Duke takes his page through French high society, and even at parties at Versailles held by Louis XV to their very homely living.

A love story eventually unfolds amidst the Duke’s controlling personality and his determination to get revenge which the novel centres around, and starts with him purchasing a boy from a mean adult after which the story shows how the Duke’s every move is well thought out but also has particularly nasty results here and there without being too obvious and aren’t too brutally put out there because the personalities in the novel are bigger than the incidents and despite the Duke being a sort of anti-hero, you end up finding love for the guy just as you would say, Don Draper from Mad Men or Tony Soprano from the Sopranos when actually, they aren’t the best people.

With period novels, I’m usually disturbed by young brides and forced marriages but in this one, the subject is 20 and the Duke 40 (again, a very large age difference but one I wasn’t too scandalised by as such). His concern, however, isn’t the age difference as such – rather his reputation and his past with women. Her spirited independence and way with his family wins him over and Heyer’s clever descriptions of his being won over from how he gazes at her to how he speaks to her, shows a change in the twinkling relationship between them (which is often her pursuing him!)

All in all, fortune favours the Duke of Avon and Léon both and we leave the story feeling happy.

Facts: After These Old Shades became popular despite its release during the 1926 United Kingdom general strike, Heyer determined that publicity was not necessary for good sales, thenceforth refusing to grant interviews. As she told a friend: “My private life concerns no one but myself and my family.”

Favourite quotes “Léonie, you will do well to consider. You are not the first woman in my life.”
She smiled through her tears. “Monseigneur, I would so much rather be the last woman than the first,” she said.”

My rating: 9/10

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