Monday, January 3, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer

I started off the new year by diving right into one of my challenges—the Georgette Heyer challenge hosted by Stephanie at Books are a Girl's Best Friend. This was partly because I thought a light Regency romance was just what I needed for New Year’s weekend and partly because I had taken the book out of the library, it’s due January 4th, and I discovered it can’t be renewed. So it had to be bumped up to the top of my TBR pile. I hate returning books to the library unread. It makes me feel like I failed.

And so I read Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer.

Dominic, the Marquis of Vidal, is a rake and a scoundrel. The son of a duke, he is born to privilege and takes advantage of it, whether that entails seducing women he has no intention of marrying, or killing men he feels deserve to be killed. Perfectly handsome and an exquisite dresser, he is also an excellent shot, a recklessly fast coach driver, and an extraordinarily lucky gambler. At twenty-four years of age, he has succeeded in scandalizing the ton, which entrances the better part of them. However, he finally crosses the line. Drunk and dueling again, he shoots one man too many. So his father packs him off to France.

Enter Miss Mary Challoner. Not quite a lady (although her grandfather is a gentleman, her father married down, and Mary has no expectations of marrying her way back up) she is nevertheless well educated, sensible, brave, loyal, and pretty. However, she has a beautiful (but not very bright) younger sister, Sophia, and an ambitious, scheming, obnoxious mother. The mother is aware that the marquis is attracted to Sophia. She is certain that marriage can be arranged one way or another, refusing to see that the vast difference in the two stations will never allow it. She also refuses to see that Sophia’s own loose behavior is giving Dominic the wrong ideas. Mary is chagrined.

Dominic asks Sophia to run off to Paris with him and be his mistress. Sophia agrees. Mary intercepts a cryptic letter from Dominic with some final instructions—just enough for Mary to know her sister is about to be ruined. It’s late at night. She dons a mask and takes her sister’s place. When the ruse is discovered, the furious marquis abducts Mary and carts her off to Paris instead.

And here the romance begins. Until now, Dominic has been a horrible person. Romance novels are full of "notorious rakes" and dark heroes, but Dominic is just an unpleasant personality all around. He has none of the admirable qualities I hope to find in a protagonist, with the possible exception of loving his mother and fearing his father. I wasn't sure it would be possible to redeem him. But when they reach France, Mary makes it clear that she is not what he thought and she is not going to stand for his ill-treatment any longer. Dominic has met his match.

The remainder of the story progresses through the typical stages of Regency romance. The couple falls in love, but it takes them awhile to recognize love for what it is. They are kept apart by a variety of misunderstandings and society-imposed obstacles. Mary’s practicality and concern for others make her an enjoyable heroine to root for. Dominic makes great strides in becoming a reformed rake. (Although he never does rid himself of his excessive jealous rages and hot temper, these are shown as perhaps being desirable alpha male qualities.) A cast of entertaining characters round out the story as Dominic and Mary fly through a series of adventures on their way to a romantic happy ending.

This is classic Regency romance with charm and a touch of humor. It is sweet and clean. It makes for very enjoyable escapist reading and I look forward to my next read in the challenge.