Thursday, November 11, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

I don’t, as a rule, laugh out loud while reading in a public place. However, I was deeply immersed in Georgette Heyer’s witty comedy of manners, Sylvester, when a fast-paced scene piled up the clever silliness until my giggle could not be contained. 

I love Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romances.

Although the style is a little dated and some of the plots start to feel a bit familiar (I suspect she did them first!), the hilarious banter and outrageous situations never fail to entertain. Sex is only  hinted at but the passion is strong. Her books are comfort food.

Sylvester is a duke in need of a wife. He is well known to be perfectly correct in all his doings. He treats his underlings with courtesy. He gives his peers no reason to complain. He is a womanizer, but insists he never gives the young ladies who throw themselves at him any expectations. He confines his peccadillos to ladybirds. If he were informed that people considered him too high in the instep, he would have been shocked. He doesn’t put on airs. But the thing is, he doesn’t have to put them on, they are part of who he is.

He has numerous acquaintances but only a few close friends. The only two people he truly cares about, after the death of his twin brother, are his invalid mother and his nephew. The boy is only six and is being spoiled by Sylvester’s widowed sister-in-law, whom he despises. 

Sylvester is the boy’s guardian and so he needs to marry so that he can take over the boy’s care altogether. (The boy’s mother wouldn’t actually mind that, but recognizes it would look bad for her to abandon her son to Sylvester after she’s been badmouthing him for years.)

Phoebe is a country gentlewoman being raised by her horse-crazy father and a severe stepmother. She is not beautiful and, with her stepmother breathing down her neck, she does not shine in company because she’s so afraid of saying anything wrong. In her favor, her deceased mother was a very close friend of Sylvester’s mother. And her grandmother (if I have this right) is Sylvester’s godmother. Although she is not much of a prize (she had one London Season and didn’t ‘take’) Sylvester considers the match for his mother’s sake.

Phoebe, when apprized of what’s going on, wants none of it. When Sylvester appears at her father’s country home, apparently to woo her, she runs away—into a winter storm accompanied only by a brotherly friend. Sylvester believes himself to have dodged a bullet and so sets off to return to London. But on the way he comes across Phoebe and her friend, who have had an accident on the road.

The two are thrown together away from the hovering and criticism of the stepmother. And they hit it off. Sort of. They also annoy the hell out of each other. But their interactions amuse them both as well as the reader. Their future together seems assured.

Except Phoebe has a secret. After her failed London Season, she wrote an anonymous novel skewering the ton. A publisher picked it up. It will soon be released. The villain of the piece was based on Sylvester because of his superciliousness and his devilish eyebrows. She is unable to stop the publication or even change that unmistakable physical description. When the book comes out, everyone recognizes Sylvester. His dignity is assaulted. She could have done nothing worse.

They have to find their way back to one another over the course of a few over-the-top adventures. When I saw where the plot was headed, and how well it had been set up, I laughed out loud some more.

One of these days I will run out of Georgette Heyer novels despite how prolific she was. Then I will have to turn around and read them all over again.

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