Sarah, pages 1-30 of Devil’s Cub: Man, someone is going to march to Jersey and fly my ass on a skillet when I review this and say that I didn’t like it. But holy crap this thing is starting out SLOW. I can appreciate the use of ancillary characters to develop the plot and reveal the backstory through their own gossip and conversation at a ball, but Lord. Move ON already.
Sarah, pages 30-end of Devils’ Cub: NOBODY BETTER TALK TO ME UNTIL I FINISH THIS BOOK!
Every time I come across a list of “romance novels you will reread and keep forever,” Heyer has a place on that list. And yet, I’d never read one of her books – I know, a large hole in my romance education. Based on the recent recommendations on SBTB, I ordered a copy of this book on half.com and when it arrived, the cover art proclaimed this book to be Very Very Vintage. I mean, come on. Her hair is magenta. MAGENTA, people, for the love of all that is holy. I have to scan in this cover because seriously. Ma. Genta.
But while the cover is dated, thankfully, quality never expires. And you can bet your chemise and your cravat this was this book good. Better than good. Breathtaking, even. Now I can see why people adore Heyer, and why she is among the gold standards of romance writing. Her dialogue in particular is spectacular.
Devil’s Cub is the sequel to These Old Shades and features the son of the protagonists from Shades. Dominic is the definition of wastrel, and Heyer doesn’t excuse away his debauchery in the least: he gambles, he drinks, he drinks while he gambles, all to the despair of his mother and the anger of his father. As Marquis of Vidal, Dominic is held in high social regard, a regard he tries to chip away with each evening’s activity.
Currently his sights for romantic interlude are set on Sophia Challoner, a beautiful young woman with aspirations of grandeur almost as high as those of her mother, though the family resides far, far from nobility or even gentility. Sophia is stunning, and she and her mother both expect that the attentions of the Marquis of Vidal will lead to a proposal, even if a forced one due to the man’s actions, and are counting on Sophia’s looks and charm (and complete lack of sense) to elevate them from their poor status.
Sophia’s older sister, Mary, the much more intelligent and sadly less attractive of the daughters, is horrified at Sophia’s lack of self-preservation. She tries to keep Sophia from throwing away her virginity, knowing full well that the Marquis only sees Sophia as a dalliance, and certainly not as a future wife.
When Mary intercepts an illicit invitation from the Marquis to Sophia, she decides to pose as Sophia to save Sophia’s reputation, even though the shallow little twat doesn’t deserve her sister’s loyalty, in my opinion. And once Mary is trapped in an untenable situation with Dominic, the incredible parts of the book don’t stop until the end – and then, if you’re like me, you’re somewhat pissed off that the book is over.
Heyer does a wonderful job of setting up the depth of the hero and heroine before they meet and begin to interact, and it wasn’t until their deliciously snappy dialogue – snappy in the sense of sparks flying off the page – that I could appreciate the setup of Mary and Dominic’s meeting, slow and tedious though it was. Parts of Dominic’s character are revealed through gossip and through ancillary characters’ discussions of his own merits (or lack thereof). Parts of Mary’s are revealed through the narration, though her actions reveal what the narrator hints at. It’s a huge payoff- once the reader gets through the period of time introducing the reader to the protagonists, and the depth revealed about each one, the delight of watching Heyer place all the players in action is addictive. Thank God it’s not that huge a book or I’d have gotten exactly nothing done all weekend.
In addition, her prose is wonderful in that it doesn’t reveal too much by telling. The revelations as the protagonists come to care for one another are in tiny drops, but they’re contained in segments of narration that I had to go back and read over and over. For example:
Miss Challoner hunted for her handkerchief, and blew her little nose defiantly. It was a prosaic action. In her place, Sophia would have made play with wet eyelashes. Further, Sophia would never have permitted herself to sniff. Miss Challoner undoubtedly sniffed. Lord Vidal, whom feminine tears would have left unmoved, was touched. He dropped her hand on his shoulder, and said in a softer voice: “You’ve no need to cry, my dear. I told you, I don’t ruin ladies of your quality.”
Mary’s reasons for trying to avoid any ties to Dominic, though somewhat naive, demonstrate her intelligence and her innate nobility. She doesn’t want to be forced into anything, but moreover, she knows her station in life, and doesn’t want him to be forced into alliance with her or her family. Moreover, she doesn’t see that Dominic should sacrifice himself when she’s more than willing to work as a seamstress or a housemaid if she has to, given her ruined reputation.
But the interplay between them both is much deeper than mere plot progress. The questions of what is nobility, and who has it (and why) create the underpinnings of this novel. Nobility, to Heyer, is a quality not determined by birth status, but by character. In the beginning, Mary has more nobility than the Marquis, and while he is of much higher social status, he has to become worthy of her. Moreover, Mary’s nobility is a product of her own generosity and bravery as well as her intellect, and transcends her own status, as well as the negative influences of her very shallow sister and her ambitious, selfish mother.
The only part I didn’t like was the insincerity in the end of the book on the part of the Duchess, Leonie, who was her typical outspoken and somewhat adorable self, even as she pronounced loudly within Mary’s hearing that she didn’t want her son to marry someone as base as Mary. Clearly a Duchess wouldn’t come right out and apologize because, well, she wouldn’t have to, but I closed the book thinking that Mary would probably get on better with the Duke than with her mother-in-law, and that this was a bit of a shame, since I enjoyed Leonie’s character.
Aside from the utter novelty of reading a book first published in 1932, the story was set in a period a good bit before the much-written-about Regency. No mentions of Prinny here – but powders, patches, fans held by men, and the wonderfully-named Macaronis are everywhere. Since this isn’t a period of historical metrosexuality that I have often read about, it was particularly fascinating.
But by far the most fascinating part was reading a book held in regard so highly by so many different writers and readers. There’s no small amount of disagreement in tastes in romance novels, as we’ve amply demonstrated here a few times, but I’ve heard nothing but sighs and squee about this book, and others by Heyer. I’m happy to add my own sigh-age and squeeage to the crowd. Damn, this book was wonderful.