I've been a long time lurker here at Historical Tapestry - this is a blog that has introduced me to a lot of authors and increased the size of my "to be read" pile. I'm also a fan of Ana's other group blog - "Lights, Camera...History!", so I'm really pleased to do a guest post! Especially since I just read my first ever Georgette Heyer novel this month. This guest post is a review of that book - Black Sheep which I originally put in my blog (janicu.livejournal.com) and have edited a bit for here.
I won this in a contest at the Misadventures of Super Librarian blog, and I'm glad because I'd never read a Georgette Heyer book but I kept hearing about them. Mostly about how great and well-researched they are but out of print, and how fans hoard them like treasure and reread them over and over again. I also kept hearing a comparison to Jane Austen since Heyer writes in the regency period - in fact she is considered the person who began the regency romance genre.
I agree with the Jane Austen comparison because Black Sheep was really about characters and society. There is a lot of emphasis on manners and what is considered acceptable to say and do, and the story progresses from one social outing to another, peppered with histronic relatives, town gossips, and "loose fish". The language is very formal and structured, even when characters speak with the regency equivalent of slang, there is a great deal of formality in it. There is also a great deal of subtle humor. I discovered after reading this book that Heyer did a lot of detailed research for her stories, and a lot of unusual language that she uses came from correspondence from that period which she bought. This means that a lot of the phrases I was unfamiliar with are unique to Heyer, since many of them were only ever recorded in the letters she owned. This point has been brought up as proof of plagarism - a couple of instances it was said that she came close to suing, but never actually did.
In Black Sheep, the basic premise is that the main character, Abigail (Abby) Wendover, "on the shelf" at 28, is concerned for her niece Fanny. She's heard that Fanny, who is only seventeen, has attracted the attentions of a young man, Stacy Calverleigh, who is likely after Fanny's inheritance, nothing more. Abby is put in a situation where she can't forbid Fanny to see Stacy because she fears Fanny will consider herself a martyr and run off, but she can't allow Fanny to think the family approves either. Abby meets Stacy's uncle Miles, the black sheep of the Calverleigh family, and tries to get him to help her, but while she finds someone she gets along with very well, in Miles she also meets someone completely unaffected by societal rules. If something doesn't make sense to him, he won't do it. Miles has never met Stacy and he can't be persuaded to care about what Stacy does.
I read this book for a few minutes every night and finished it off when I was on the train. For me, this was a book I had to read slowly because I wasn't used to the language - there were several points where I just didn't understand what a character just said because they used some regency phrase that isn't in use today. So I had to read carefully to absorb it and it took me a lot longer to read 20 pages in this book than in other books. In the end the read was worth it - I felt pretty satisfied with the ending. Even though there is an open ended aspect to it, there was enough for me to feel like there was one, both to what was going on with Abby and Miles but also with Fanny and Stacy and other secondary characters. And now here is someone else to read if you have already read all of Jane Austen.
I highly recommend this as a peek into the past. I was particularly taken by the strict morals that Heyer highlights - I don't think that even Austen made it as clear to me how differently actions back then were seen compared to the present day.
The Georgette Heyer novels being reprinted as trade paperbacks by Sourcebooks. I thought they all had lovely covers, and I'm pleased with the quality of the paper used (nice and thick) - these books will withstand repeated reads!