Last year I discovered Georgette Heyer. I don't know how I managed to miss reading her novels. There are so many and they are a style I enjoy. I was given 2 of her books to review and she quickly became a favorite of mine. One good thing about discovering an author late is that there is the whole body of work to look forward to reading. Here are the reviews as I originally posted them on my blog, book-a-rama.
An Infamous Army
An Infamous Army is the first book I've read from Georgette Heyer, the historical novelist. First published in 1937, Heyer's novels are now being released by Sourcebooks.
The Infamous Army of the title is led by the Duke of Wellington during the Battle of Waterloo. Much of the novel revolves around Lady Barbara Childe (Bab to her friends). She can best be described as the Paris Hilton of her day. Everything she does is scandalous, but she does it with such style that the other ladies are envious of her boldness. She flirts her way through the young officers stationed in Brussels awaiting war with Napoleon. She breaks hearts until she meets Colonel Charles Audley and finds she's met her match but of course things don't go as planned.
A complete 180 from the romance and glitz of the balls is the gore and carnage of the war. On June 15, 1815 right in the middle of a party, war is declared and the ladies are left wondering if their sweethearts, sons and brothers will come back to them alive. I've read both War & Peace and Vanity Fair but neither described the battles with as much bloody realism as Heyer does. Sometimes, for my own taste, Heyer went into the description of the battle too much. I couldn't follow who was where and what manoeuvres were done when. I'm not big on war stories. But the sights and the sounds of the battlefield brought me there with Wellington and his men.
The research for this novel must have been phenomenal: the clothes, the manners, the battle, very vividly written. I had trouble with all the Lord So-and-so's and Lady Who-what's-its but figured them out eventually. Plus, all the Brits were so heroic, I had a moment of irritation with them all. But I suppose the novel is a product of it's time.This was a big book at 485 pages but all in all I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of her novels.
After reading An Infamous Army, I couldn't wait to give Georgette Heyer more of my time. Cotillion is quite a different novel than An Infamous Army. Kitty Charing, the ward of a cantankerous miser, must marry one of the old man's great-nephews or be left penniless upon his death. Kitty's choices are: the stogy Hugh, the simple minded Dolph, the dandified Freddy or the rakish Jack. Kitty can only image marrying Jack whom she's adored since childhood. Jack refuses to be pushed into marriage; it's too much fun being a sought after bachelor in London.
Kitty, desperate to get to London and out from under the thumb of 'Uncle Matthew', devises a scheme. She convinces Freddy to pose as her fiance to make Jack jealous. Sure of her plan, she drags Freddy all over London stumbling into misadventures only Jack, Chrissy and Janet could appreciate. Kitty involves herself in unlikely couples' romances and neglects her own. To know how it all turns out for Kitty, you just have to read it. I don't want to give too much away.
Cotillion is a thoroughly enjoyable novel. Kitty is adorable and warm hearted, but she never thinks through her plans. Freddy somehow manages to pull her out of her messes with a calm practicality that surprises everyone. At times, it reads like a Regency version of "Dumb and Dumber" (without the gross). Their trip to the museums was quite funny. Here is Freddy's reaction to 'treasures of ancient Greece':
"...he was called upon to admire the Three Fates, from the eastern pediment. 'Dash it, they've got no heads!' he protested.
'No but you see, Freddy, they are so very old! They have been damaged' explained Miss Charing.
'Damaged! I should rather think so! They haven't got any arms either!..."
While reading An Infamous Army, I was often overwhelmed by the painstaking detail of the battle of Waterloo. The only battles here were ones fought by ambitious Mamas but I was frustrated with Freddy's vernacular. First, he has an aversion to pronouns and also uses a tremendous amount of slang. It took me awhile to get used to it. A glossary might be helpful. Now I see that it was a device used by Heyer to convince the reader that Freddy isn't very bright.
Although it's comic, it also has a lot of heart. I really loved each of the characters. The book also emphasizes how little control a woman of that time had over her own destiny.
I definitely recommend Cotillion if you are in the mood for something light and fun as well as well written.