I decided to read this to cleanse the palate, in a roundabout way, after my feelings of repulsion at The Grand Sophy. I think after this I will be taking a long break from Heyer, but I’m glad I read it. Nothing wrong with a bit of reformed rake historical romance.
Venetia is an uncommon country girl heroine, living in Yorkshire with her younger brother, Aubrey, who is brilliant intellectually though troubled physically by a pronounced limp. Their eldest brother, Conway, is in the military, and the burden of running their estate and managing all the family details has fallen to Venetia, who doesn’t seem to mind, as she’s about as smart as Aubrey, as well as very beautiful. She has two suitors after her, both annoying and insipid in different but equally bothersome ways, and is pretty much content to continue in the status quo. When her neighbor, Damerel, returns to his estate, Venetia learns the full details of his terrible, and I mean deeply terrible reputation, and yet finds in him an instant friend, almost a soul mate.
I mean, it’s not as if Damerel’s heart started beating, he could suddenly see in color after years of black and white, or that he had a twin and Venetia knew which was which. It’s not as pat and predictable as that. The two of them are a mental match for one another. They were instantly on very good terms, and slowly but surely fell completely for one another.
But there’s the trouble of Damerel’s reputation, Venetia’s almost-spinsterhood, Aubrey’s dependence upon her or upon someone else until school terms begin, various other annoying interruptions and surprises, and most of all, the I-am-not-kidding ho-damn bad reputation of Damerel’s that assures him and everyone else save Venetia that should he marry her, they’ll be ostracized and miserable.
The best part of this book was any scene with Damerel in it, but particularly Damerel and Venetia. This is a courtship that is shown through their dialogue. Venetia spends a few moments of time ruminating on Damerel, but most of her interactions with him reveal more than her mental lectures. Despite an awful introduction – Damerel is a total asshat in his conduct to Venetia when they meet – their scenes together are total fun.
This scene I could see in my head as if it were illustrated:
It was several minutes before it occurred to her that she had turned to him as to a friend of many years’ standing. Then, a little wonderingly, she thought over that protracted dinner, Damerel leaning back in his carved chair, a glass of port held between his long fingers, she with her elbows on the table and a half-eaten apple in one hand: and the dusk creeping into the room unheeded, until Imber brought in candles, in tall, tarnished chandeliers, and set them on the table, furnishing a pool of light in which they sat while the shadows darkened beyond it. Trying to recall what they had talked of during that comfortable hour, it seemed to Venetia that they had talked of everything, or perhaps of night; She did not know which, but only that she had found a friend.
Venetia’s society has been so terribly limited that of course Damerel is exciting – and Venetia’s curious and headstrong, with few around to tell her she shouldn’t be doing what she wants to be doing, so of course she’s fascinated by him. But when they spend time together, they learn that the fascination isn’t exclusive to Venetia, and that it’s not only due to their new acquaintance.
There’s a sort of magical isolation to their time together in the beginning of the novel, particularly when Damerel rescues Aubrey after a bad fall from a horse, and brings Aubrey to his home to recuperate. Damerel and Venetia are alone together a LOT, particularly as they wander over his property or hers, or take the extra long way between their homes going from one to the other. There are many delicious scenes wherein they’re alone for far longer than I would expect them to be, and the times where there are so few people to interrupt them are wonderful.
The problem is that there are so many odious characters in their way, or interfering in their lives in one way or another, and MY GOD THOSE CHARACTERS ARE WORDY. And uninteresting. AND THEY TALK A LOT.
Damerel is fun to read about as he interacts with these idiots. More than once he hoists them by their own petards – which is no small feat considering the idiot’s petards have their heads firmly embedded in them.
Damerel himself is similarly hoisted – he all but admits his goal is to get close to Venetia through Aubrey, and that plan fails miserably when he realizes how very highly he values her, and how little he has to offer her.
His declaration was worth reading twice and savoring, too – but I’m whiting it out so if you don’t want to read it you don’t have to. Highlight to read:
O God, I love you to the edge of madness, Venetia, but I’m not mad yet – not so mad that I don’t know how disastrous it might be to you – to us both!
I liked very much how intelligent Damerel, Venetia, and Aubrey were, and how interesting their conversations were. But the rest of the characters were tiresome, and were more a functional role to play in the plot than fully-fleshed individuals.
I found myself flipping ahead, not missing much as these other parties droned on for a few paragraphs or six or ten or GOOD GOD SHUT UP ALREADY. Once they were off the scene, they were forgettable, and when they were in a scene, I wanted them off as soon as possible in favor of more scenes with Venetia and Damerel. For that reason, I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed the main characters themselves.