Book Review

Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer

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Title: Devil's Cub
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publication Info: Arrow 1932 (reprint 2004)
ISBN: 0099465833
Genre: Historical: European

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.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Sallyacious says:

    Devil’s Cub probably my very favorite Heyer book, but so many of them are wonderful. I squealed just a little bit when I saw you’d reviewed it. But then again, romance as a genre didn’t exist until Georgette Heyer came along. She started the whole thing.

  2. 2
    Sallyacious says:

    IS probably my very favorite Heyer book.

    Good Lord. I have 3 college degrees. You’d think I’d have learned to write by now.

  3. 3
    Laurie WI says:

    Ever the contrarian, I’ve never cared much for Devil’s Cub. I have no idea what my problem is.

  4. 4
    bungluna says:

    I have never cared for this one either.  I love Heyer and count this tittle as a rare exception to my affection.

  5. 5
    DebR says:

    Devil’s Cub is one of my top 5 or so favorite Heyer books. I really need to buy a new copy. The one I own now originally belonged to my mother and has been read to death – it’s falling apart!

  6. 6
    CM says:

    Devil’s Cub is easily my favorite Georgette Heyer.  I don’t really have “favorite plot devices” in romance novels, but the heroine shooting the hero, and on purpose?  It gets me every time.  Every single time.

    It is a sadly underused plot device.  I bemoan this regularly.  Much to the consternation of my husband.

  7. 7
    thirstygirl says:

    Yes! I am surprised it took you so long but so very happy you discovered Heyer. These Old Shades was the first romance I ever read, snagged from my grandmother’s bookshelves when I was 9 or so.

    My other favourites of hers are The Unknown Ajax and Cotillion- a romance starring two of the biggest and sweetest ditzes ever put on paper.

  8. 8

    Damn it, now I have to read Heyer.  My British friends have been scolding me for overlooking her, and I just thought, “Well, of course they have—they’re British.”

    (sigh) Ordering now…

  9. 9
    Marianne McA says:

    Worth mentioning that there’s another book about the Vidals ‘An Infamous Army’ which is about the next generation, set around Waterloo.  They aren’t in any sense a series, but it’s also worth reading for the heroine.

    Heyer’s probably my most steadfast comfort read – there are some of the books that aren’t that good, but the good ones stand the test of time.

    I haven’t reread Devil’s Cub in ages, but I remember loving it in my teens, so I must look out my copy, and see where it now comes on my Heyer Scale.

  10. 10
    Michelle Styles says:

    TheDevil’s Cub is excellent—although my favourite of the three is These Old Shades.

    If you are going to read The Infamous Army (and it has one of the best descriptions of the Battle of Waterloo—far better than Bernard Cornwell’s imho), you should read Regency Buck as some of the characters are also repeated. The Earl of Worth is fantastic.

    Georgette Heyer is now a classic author, and it shows why she founded the whole school of modern Regency romance.

  11. 11
    skapusniak says:

    Via the wonders of ye intertubes, I discover that the cover is from a painting done by the artist Marcus Stone in 1892.

    Here’s a blurb about him from: http://www.victorianartinbritain.co.uk/biog/stone.htm

    Marcus Stone was born in Manchester, the son of Frank Stone 1800-1859 ARA.

    He was principally a painter of historical genre pictures, many of them set in the Regency. It is quite surprising for us now, to realise that the Victorians did not regard their fashions and dress as in the least picturesque. They felt that the high-waisted flowing ladies dresses of the early nineteenth century were much more attractive-and they were right.

    Stone did not start painting until he was in his mid-twenties. Many of his pictures showed the trials of young love, often with an element of humour. During the last twenty years of the nineteenth century Stone was very successful, and one of his paintings was bought by the Chantry Bequest for £800, a substantial sum at that time.

    It comes as something of a surprise to realise that Stone was an unconventional individual. He was a Republican, a political radical, an atheist, and he railed against Victorian prudery. Stone was highly intelligent, and a noted raconteur. As well as a painter he was a prolific and successful book illustrator, amongst others providing illustrations for Charles Dickens, a personal friend.

    Marcus Stone lived until 1921, when Victorian art was much despised, and his pictures were even more despised than most. He was the subject of an obituary in The Times.

    Devil’s Cub I think goes into my ‘Good, but not actually among my favourite Heyers’ pile, but I haven’t read it in a while.

  12. 12

    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.

    I have to disagree with you on this. Mary does come from a ‘good’ family, on her father’s side. She displays that family’s traits/characteristics. Her sister, on the other hand, resembles her mother, who’s from a family that were in trade (and she and the mother are vulgar). Mary’s paternal grandfather (I may have this wrong, but I think he’s a General) chose to pay for Mary’s education because he recognised her ‘quality’.

    What Heyer does do is distinguish between being a ‘nobleman’ and being a ‘gentleman’. Being an aristocrat does not guarantee nobility of conduct. But those who are noble in character are of ‘good’ family, at least on one side of their family tree.

    She has some very sympathetic working-class characters, but they’re ones who ‘know their place’. It’s ‘mushrooms’, the vulgar who aspire to gentility that she really doesn’t seem to like. She does acknowlege that mixing of newly acquired wealth can be useful for the aristocracy. In A Civil Contract Jenny, the daughter of a ‘cit’ but educated as a lady, has to very humbly submit to her husband’s relatives in matters of taste and by the end of the novel she’s deferring to his opinions in most other areas too. But Heyer’s much more positive about the characters who are from a ‘good’ family on at least one side, such as Mary in Devil’s Cub or Hugo in The Unknown Ajax. And more often, the characters are of ‘good’ family on both sides/are members of the aristocracy.

    Broadly speaking, as one person commenting on her novels at the BBC’s h2g2 pages said:

    Heyer’s heroes and heroines are all either aristocratic or upper middle class, (among the ‘Upper Ten Thousand’ as they refer to themselves). Lower class characters are not delineated in detail, and they are usually there to provide comedy through caricature. There are wise and loving nannies; cautious innkeepers and their kind-hearted wives (who describe their upper class guests as ‘Quality – but not high in the instep’); there are a range of cheerful villains and easily outwitted Bow Street Runners. There also are a few mature and successful City Merchants, who are usually the doting but embarrassing father of one of the more major characters.

  13. 13
    Elena Greene says:

    So glad you got around to trying Heyer!  She gave birth to a genre and even for those tired of knock-offs, the originals are still fresh and fun.

    Some of my favorites: ARABELLA (the original country girl comes to London to find a husband story) VENETIA (another archetypal reforming-the-rake story), FREDERICA (pure fun), and SYLVESTER (a quintessential duke hero and some of Heyer’s deepest characterizations IMHO).

  14. 14
    Saam says:

    Yes, yes, yes! Devil’s Cub is in my top 5 list, but it’s still below These Old Shades. Whenever I read TOS, I spend half the book fantasizing about which actors/actresses would star in a film version.
    There’s also The Black Moth, which is about Justin before he met Leonie. Beware, the character’s names are changed…
    Back to Devil’s Cub, my copy is in the same state as DebR’s. :)

  15. 15
    SB Sarah says:

    Laura:

    You’re right that Mary’s ‘quality’ comes from her resemblance in character to her father’s side of the family (which disowned said father when he married so far beneath him). But outside the family, I didn’t see anyone singling out Mary as acceptable, because her nobility of character was always hidden behind the less attractive conduct of her mother and sister. It wasn’t until she was isolated (and thereby) ruined with Vidal that her nobility became evident to anyone other than herself, and the reader as her conduct and priorities are so different from those of her mother and sister.  The education paid for by General Challoner would have done little in Mary’s lifetime had she not taken the noble step of defending her sister by taking her place.

  16. 16

    But outside the family, I didn’t see anyone singling out Mary as acceptable, because her nobility of character was always hidden behind the less attractive conduct of her mother and sister.

    She’d made a friend while at school of Vidal’s cousin. Once she left school she pretty much had a choice of staying at home or moving in the same circles as her mother and sister and since she herself considered those to be mostly vulgar ones, most of the time she chose not to go with them. I’m not sure if we’re told where Vidal met Sophie, but I doubt it was in high society. It might have been at one of the events attended by a mixture of social classes, such as the opera, or some of the public masked balls, or at Vauxhall Gardens.

    As far as I can recall, Mary also has a next-door neighbour who both admires her and aspires to marry her, but she doesn’t consider him suitable (he’s both vulgar and lower class).

    What I’m saying about Heyer and class is also based on my reading of her other historical romances. In The Nonesuch, for example, there’s another well-educated youngish lady with a General for a grandfather (though both her parents are of good family). She’s obliged to teach a rich, beautiful, girl from a cit background. The governess doesn’t do anything particularly heroic, but she continually demonstrates that she’s a lady, unlike her charge. The hero recognises her ‘quality’ and marries her, while the spoilt, beautiful rich girl throws an extremely unlady-like tantrum. Sophie throws tantrums too, doesn’t she?

  17. 17

    I re-read the Devil’s Cub at least once a year.  The scene with Mary in the French inn with the “older English gentleman” alone is worth the effort.

    One correction—it’s not a Regency novel, but a late Georgian period novel.  Hence, no Prinny.  That’s why they’re in a French inn (prior to the Revolution) and why the fashions are so much more colorful for the men.  This also allows Heyer to carry the family forward into the Regency/Waterloo era in An Infamous Army

  18. 18

    Well Heyer started me off writing historicals, and I’ve never stopped reading her books!
    Even the worst is miles above some of the dross that passes as historical romance these days.
    My favourites vary, but “Venetia” is probably The One for me. Her most romantic book, as many of them are better described as romantic comedies.
    “Venetia,” “Black Sheep,” “Cotillion” (which breaks every rule and is still wonderful), “Arabella,” (proving that a Mr. can still lead society!), and “Frederica” are my favourites, but it’s so hard to choose!
    But read “Venetia” for Damerel, and then think of how many subsequent novels have a rake hero. Damerel was the pattern card for them all.

  19. 19
    June says:

    Ha!  CM you’re completely right.  There isn’t enough women shooting men on purpose in books.

    Perhaps this is why Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels is my second favorite book after Devil’s Cub!

  20. 20
    SB Sarah says:

    Sophie throws tantrums too, doesn’t she? Sophie throws a majestic tantrum or two when she’s realized that she’s not going to get what she wants, and worse, that Mary might possibly either get the title Sophie had thought was hers. It’s rather gratifying to see the mother and sister sink further into horrid behavior, revealing themselves so blatantly.

    Re: Mary – I do remember her mother criticizing her for not making better friends and moving them up in status through her connections from school, and I thought it was implied that (a) she didn’t want to have to endure the embarrassment of her family hanging on her coattails and (b) she didn’t think she should aspire higher than where she was originally, as ambition seemed vulgar. That certainly fits with your reading of Heyer’s opinion of the “mushrooom” class, and you’ve certainly read more of Heyer than I have.

    Do we need to do a GS v. STA list of “Heroines who shoot the hero?”

  21. 21
    Stellanova says:

    I actually like the covers of the new Heyer editions, because they all use not actual Regency paintings, but pastiches of Regency paintings, usually work done in the late 19th/early 20th century. Which I think goes well with the books.

    I actually read Heyer’s detective fiction for the first time relatively recently – after being a fan of her regency novels since my early teens – and absolutely loved it. Funny, romantic and the mysteries are clever and satisfying.

  22. 22
    romaddict says:

    Aaah Georgette Heyer – read the lot of them when I was 14-15.

    Devil’s Cub and Friday’s Child are my faves.  I know some people will hate Hero Wantage from Friday’s Child.  I mean, she’s 16 at the start of the book and she’s as thick as the crap around the top of a bottle of ketchup but she’s fantastic.

    Never could take to Venetia though.  Rum sort of girl.  Devilish bad ton.

  23. 23
    Sarah Frantz says:

    Georgette Heyer, even more than Jane Austen, is the reason I can write Ph.D. after my name now.  I fell in love with the Regency, I fell in love with the manners, I fell in love with the books (she has a character read S+S, another one mention Radcliffe’s Udolpho, and Mary Brunton’s Self-Control), and I fell more in love with heroes, all because of Heyer.

    Everything I do now is mostly because my mother handed me one of her books back when I was about 12 or 13.  Thank God for Heyer AND my mother!

  24. 24
    Elle says:

    I also love “The Devil’s Cub”, but my favorite Heyer is probably “Frederica”.  I *ADORE* that book!  “Venetia”, “Cotillion”, “The Grand Sophy” and “Friday’s Child” (I also love Hero—goof-ball that she is) are my other favorites.

  25. 25
    Kalen Hughes says:

    One of my favs. I love the whole “series” that goes with this book:

    The Black Moth (an early version of the Duke of Avon, under a different name)

    These Old Shades (Avon and Leonie)

    Devil’s Cub (Avon’s son)

    Regency Buck (Earl of Worth and Judith . . . wait for it)

    An Infamous Army (Avon’s great-granddaughter and the Earl of Worth’s brother)

  26. 26
    DS says:

    The Devil’s Cub and Infamous Army were offered late last year by audible.com as downloada.  After I got over the shock of the voice of the Narrator in the Devil’s Cub—not at all what I expected, I listed to it while driving to South Carolina last week end.  And I was so charmed with the story—it was better than I remembered—that I listened to it again on the way home.

    Will no one else speak up for Faro’s Daughter?  And the hero was not even a nobleman—just a plain Mister.  I so envy people meeting Heyer for the first time. 

    When I used to read trad Regencies and would come across a particularly bad one, I think of how pissed Heyer was that people stole her reseach.

  27. 27

    This review brought great joy to me because These Old Shades was one of my favorite books I’ve read but then I’ve only read 4 or 5 Georgette Heyer books. I had no idea that it was part of a series. Now I get to read more about the family.

    I loved Avon and Leonie. One of my favorite parts was how she would rant about things in French and Avon would lovingly indulge her, enjoying her humor. I also liked the age difference between them in what it brought out in their relationship.

    I’m thrilled to know about the sequels and will be looking for Devil’s Cub this week.

  28. 28
    fiveandfour says:

    I’m among the squee-ers over this book and now your review has me convinced it’s time to read it again.

    I just wanted to note that all of the Heyer books I’ve read so far have given me the same reaction at the beginning.  They all seem to start SOOO SLOOOW and I think if I hadn’t read one I really liked the first time ‘round there would’ve been no amount of argument that could have convinced me to try another one. 

    But now that I’m armed with that knowledge, I try to make myself be patient for the first couple of chapters every time I pick up a new Heyer.  (I sometimes wonder if she’d be able to “get away with it” now in our current age of hook ‘em fast and hook ‘em hard.)

  29. 29
    Jennie says:

    I have a copy of this but haven’t gotten around to it because Old Wine Shades is actually one of my least favorite Heyers so far. But I will definitely need to give it a shot…

  30. 30
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I love the slow openings. That’s a romance to me. I’m not a fan of the more modern “open with a bang”. In face, I still have to write those openings to my own books and then cut them. It’s part of my process for getting into the novel.

    I think it’s funny that Heyer is the topic here today, when over on

    History Hoydens I’m discussing her in the guise of world building and creating a fully realized world that readers can’t forget (her ability to world build is what has established her as the QUEEN of Georgian Romances, IMO).

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