Friday, December 7, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer

One of the books referred to frequently in Heyer Society was Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romance The Unknown Ajax. I happened to be at my local library recently and came across the book, so I bumped it up to the front of my TBR pile.

This novel concerns a large and extremely dysfunctional aristocratic family living out in the country, the Darracotts. Lord Darracott is elderly and a crotchety tyrant. Many years ago, his favorite son joined the military and ended up falling in love with a weaver’s daughter. When he married beneath him, Lord Darracott cut him off. Darracott had other sons and they had sons. So no one really followed what happened to the ex-favorite.

However, Darracott’s eldest son died in an accident along with that son’s son. (It takes a while to sort out the family tree.) Now, to Darracott’s dismay, the son of his (deceased) ex-favorite is next in line to be heir. Darracott summons him (Hugo) to the manor. Since he has presumably been brought up below standards somewhere in the wilds of Yorkshire, Darracott is determined to bring him up to snuff, one way or the other.

Living at the manor is the widow of another son, along with her daughter Anthea and young son Richmond. Anthea is outspoken and spunky. Richmond, the new favorite of Lord Darracott, was a sickly child but is now an odd mix of rebelliously adventurous and reluctantly docile. Darracott has decided Hugo should marry Anthea, but she will have none of that. Darracott has also summoned his other grandsons home to teach Hugo how to be a gentleman.

Hugo arrives. He’s a very large man with a heavy Yorkshire accent that worsens when he’s flustered (or when he wants to appear flustered). Hugh is a military man and he’s not at all happy to discover he is heir to this falling-down old house and its assortment of unpleasant cousins. He is, however, impressed with Anthea.

In a somewhat farcical way, Hugo (called Ajax as an insult by one of the cousins) goes about dealing with the family and learning about the manor. He discovers that smugglers are active in the region, likely hiding goods in the family’s Dower House, and the local law enforcement officials suspect Richmond of involvement. Hugo also falls for Anthea and courts her sweetly, amusingly, and persistently.

The plot requires a lot of set-up but the story is saved from dragging by the ongoing comedy of the situations and Hugo’s calm manipulation of events. The ending is all action-packed confusion staged by Hugo to save the family from calamity. It’s great fun to read (if you can ignore the nagging sense of unfairness – aristocratic privilege saves the day as much as Hugo.)

The Unknown Ajax is a wonderful example of Heyer’s style: witty repartee, smart heroines, and comedy of manners.

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