These Old Shades

Within the pulp shelf of the to be read bookcase, there is a wide range of genre fiction. Science fiction, of course, and detective fiction as well. Those are the respectable pulp genres. There’s also romance, which is a genre looked down on far too much. I’m not saying it’s all good, just that if you’re going to read pulp genre fiction, romance is as good as any other. It has narrative formulas and prose clichés just as much as any other genre. Anyway, I’m not going to defend it further: that’s what the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books site is for.

These Old Shades
Georgette Heyer
(Mandarin 1993 – link above goes to the 2004 Arrow edition)

The Duke of Avon, who is nicknamed Satanus, buys a red-haired street urchin, Léon, on a whim. He’s planning revenge on an old rival and the boy will serve his purposes. There’s just one problem: Léon turns out to be Léonie.

Other Heyer’s I’ve read have been Georgian: this is instead set in pre-Revolutionary France. There’s an awful lot of gold lace and courtly frou-frous getting between the reader and the story. La Pompadour fleetingly appears.

The larger problem, however, is that this is a romance told primarily from the point of view of the alpha male hero. Who is twenty years older than the putative heroine. She hangs on his every word and adores him from the start. Because this novel was written in 1926, there is no slashy subtext – the Duke of Avon does not worry about being attracted to his manservant. It just doesn’t satisfy in the way a modern cross-dressing historical romance would.

The novel is also prone to far too much ‘tell’. The events of twenty years before are told to us, more than once, when a novel in two parts might have made more sense and provided us with sympathy for the Duke of Avon. A kidnap/chase section is told from multiple points of view but those views don’t provide new information about the events.

Ultimately, having found a couple of other Heyers – notably The Reluctant Widow and Cousin Kate – entertainingly dashing, These Old Shades was a chore to finish. It’s noticeable that there’s some twenty years between this and the ones I enjoyed.

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