About two weeks ago, I asked Twitter to recommend books by Georgette Heyer. Sourcebooks was having a massive sale on her ebooks, and I wanted to snag a few. I’d never read anything by her, but some of my favorite authors, like Robin McKinley, rave about her work. The problem? Heyer had published about 50 novels, including both romances and mysteries, and I had no idea where to begin.
Thanks to Twitter, I got a set of five starter novels: Arabella, Cotillion, Sylvester, The Grand Sophy, and These Old Shades. I’ve read two thus far, and I understand what all the fuss is about. There’s madcap adventure, witty dialogue, unconventional female protagonists, and quirky heroes. Back at Vermont College, faculty member Tim Wynne-Jones constantly quoted Annie Dillard to his students, saying, “Spend it all.”* Heyer doesn’t hold back. She constantly raises the stakes and pushes situations as far as she can, so the books are escapist, fun, and hilarious.
Georgette-Heyer.com is a terrific resource on Heyer and her books. She basically invented Regency romance as a genre, and many have compared her to Jane Austen. However, Austen wrote about her contemporaries, and Heyer thoroughly researched the time period for her historical novels. Anyone writing Regency romance today owes a debt to Heyer.
The first Heyer book I read was These Old Shades, and oddly enough, it reminded me of Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword. There’s a cross-dressing heroine who acts and fights like a boy and says whatever pops into her head. At the same time, she’s a fey creature — changeable, moody, and French. There’s intrigue, kidnapping, mistaken identity — all sorts of good stuff.
The second, The Grand Sophy, shares characters with Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s Sorcery and Celia. This was the first time I realized that several of the characters were historical! (Well, beyond Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb.) Sophy is a wonderful heroine — she’s one of the most competent characters I’ve ever read. She’s as meddlesome as Austen’s Emma but clearheaded and sharp.
Anyway, I’ve been having tremendous fun with these, and I recommend them to anyone who likes Austen and Wrede.
* The full Dillard quote is brilliant and worth printing and posting by your writing desk:
“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.”
– From The Writing Life