Favorite Heyers

Georgette Heyer. Frequently imitated, never duplicated. Yes, other authors have done wonderful things, splendid, hilarious, beautiful things — but these are their own wonderful things. No one can replicate Heyer’s touch, Heyer’s style, and the wise do not try.

So . . . what are your favorite Georgette Heyer books?

By the way, I love this question. I’ve heard at least twenty different novels listed on “favorites” lists. Some crop up a lot, some crop up rarely, but it seems no one’s list of Heyer favorites is exactly the same as anyone else’s.

Do you like her early, 18th-century books, full of masquerades and highwaymen and Scarlet Pimpernel-influenced escapades? These Old Shades, Powder and Patch, The Masqueraders, The Convenient Marriage? Or do you like just some of these, and not others?

Do you like her more serious romances? Her more farcical ones?

Do you prefer her alpha males (such as the heroes in Venetia and Regency Buck) or her more sensitive men (such as the heroes in Cotillion or The Foundling)?

Have you read Heyer’s mysteries? Her modern novels? If so, do you like them at all?

How about her more historical works, such as Royal Escape and The Conquerer? Or do you prefer to stick to her Georgian and Regency fiction?

So — what are your favorite Heyers? All opinions welcome!

Cara
Cara Kingwww.caraking.com
MY LADY GAMESTER — Booksellers’ Best Finalist for Best Regency of 2005!

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21 Responses to Favorite Heyers

  1. Oh, Venetia is by far my favorite. I also loved The Unknown Ajax, Sprigged Muslin, Cotillion. I’m not fond of A Civil Contract, though. She made the heroine too unappealing, IMO.

  2. Elena Greene says:

    Hard to say! I’ve read some of everything by GH, even a few of her mysteries, and enjoyed them all.

    If I must choose, I have to say I like her most character-driven Regencies the best. I like the ones with a mystery plot, too (like The Toll Gate) but my favorites are: Venetia, Frederica, Sylvester, Arabella, The Unknown Ajax and the Nonesuch. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that these are all titled after a main character.

  3. This IS a hard question! I think Arabella is my favorite, but The Grand Sophy is close behind…

  4. I read these so long ago I don’t want to go back and risk disillusion–I feel the same way about Hemingway. But the covers of these books are absolutely gorgeous and I wish the modern re-issues were as elegant.
    Janet

  5. Cara King says:

    Diane, I find it interesting that you find the heroine in A Civil Contract too unappealing — because though I see what you mean, I like her fine. What gets me is that at the end of the book, the hero has come round to a very practical, down-to-earth sort of love for his wife — she’s a good mom, she’s his wife, she feeds him food he likes, and he’s known her for a while now, so yeah, he has affection for her… But the heroine is still dreamy-eyed and romantic about him. Tragic, in my opinion! I mean, if the heroine had seen through her romantic impressions of him and also just loved him in a practical everyday way, that would be one thing. But I don’t like the imbalance!

    My very favorites: Black Sheep, Venetia, The Unknown Ajax, Friday’s Child, Cotillion, The Convenient Marriage, These Old Shades, Frederica, Faro’s Daughter

    Ones I also like an awful lot: Arabella, The Nonesuch, Devil’s Cub, The Masqueraders, The Foundling, The Grand Sophy, The Corinthian, False Colours

    Ones I had certain problems with: A Civil Contract, April Lady, Sprig Muslin, Bath Tangle, The Black Moth, Regency Buck

    I read all her mysteries, but I only found one really worth rereading and rereading again and recommending to others: Death in the Stocks. Very very funny.

    Cara

  6. Lois says:

    I’ve only have picked up one so far (you know, people who love books I think need to win the lottery or something, still haven’t been able to get my May books, let alone this months. LOL), but it was The Grand Sophy. You know, I was really surprised — it was written in the 50, yet, it read like a book I would read from today’s authors. 🙂

    Lois

  7. Janie says:

    Totally unfair question, but I’ll go with *These Old Shades* which I often reread.

    The writer A.S. Byatt wrote an entire chapter in one of her collections books, on how much she liked and respected Heyer.

    I’ve always thought Heyer was a genius.

  8. Well, I’ve only read one minor Heyer, called A (SOMETHING?) LADY, which wasn’t much, and FREDERICA, which was spectacular.

    I’d love some recommendations for those that are similar to FREDERICA — for its ironies, its urbanity, its sprawling wealth of characters and the byways its plot takes. (Who says, besides baby romance editors, that romance readers can’t handle a large cast of characters?)

    I started VENETIA, which was witty enough, and which I know is a favorite, but I’d like to read something urban. Does VENETIA move to London?

  9. Kalen Hughes says:

    Yes, Pam, VENETIA does move to London, with some AMAZING results. It’s one of my favs. Maybe even my all time fav. FREDERICA takes place mostly in London, as does THE GRAND SOPHY, ARABELLA, and THE MASQUERADERS (another fav).

    And Janet, I don’t know if you’ve seen the recent Arrow editions being published in England? They have wonderful covers and are Trade size. I spent a small fortune getting them ALL!

    Gotta say I’m a sucker for the whole loosely related series of THESE OLD SHADES, DEVIL’S CUB, REGENCY BUCK, and AN INFAMOUS ARMY (the description of the Highlander’s marching out to Waterloo makes me cry every time).

  10. Thanks, Kalen (moving VENETIA up tbr pile)

  11. Todd says:

    My favorites change from time to time, so I don’t think their is really a single book at the top for me. But ones I really, really like at the moment: “Faro’s Daughter,” “The Unknown Ajax,” “The Grand Sophy,” and “Venetia.”

    Also very much like “Friday’s Child” (the first one I read, I believe), “Cotillion,” and “Frederica.”

    I had real problems with “A Civil Contract” as well! I got the feeling that she was trying for a different kind of relationship there, a more “realistic” kind of long-term love rather than short-term infatuation. But it didn’t work for me. It just felt dreary, as if its message were “romantic fancies are so much bunk and looking for true love is a waste of time.”

    Two others I disliked: “Bath Tangle,” where the hero and heroine take being combative to ridiculous extremes, and “The Reluctant Widow” which is barely a romance at all. She should have just written it as a mystery and been done with it.

    I like her 18th century stuff too, especially “These Old Shades” and “Convenient Marriage,” but I’ve read those less often.

    Hmm. This comment seems to have devolved into a long list. I guess I should stop now.

    Todd-who-really-ought-to-stop-now-but-who-likes-“Black-Sheep”-too

  12. Cara King says:

    Pam, I think you would like FRIDAY’S CHILD or COTILLION an awful lot. They both have a bunch of characters, they’re very observant, they’re urban, and witty and funny. They both in a way show Heyer twisting, undermining, playing with, or poking a bit of fun at the romantic conventions that she in the past had generally adhered to. Very interesting as well as great fun!

    Cara

  13. Kalen Hughes says:

    Ok, love FRIDAY’S CHILD (but mostly for George, not really for Sherry and Kitten) and BATH TANGLE is antoher one I adore but that many of you seem to dislike. I really enjoy watching the two main characters go at it when you can tell they’re really in love but don’t want to be.

  14. Cara King says:

    You know, Kalen, I have a theory about Heyer’s couples. The man always had to be a little stronger, a little more forceful, a little more experienced, etc etc than the heroine. Thus in “Faro’s Daughter,” even though the heroine runs a gaming hell, the hero is still better at piquet than her. And kindly explains to her what she’s doing wrong.

    (Okay, I admit it bugged me! Which is why my gamester heroine was better at cards than my hero. So there.)

    I think this Heyer practice led to two rather odd characters, IMHO. In “The Foundling,” the hero is lovely…but he’s so young and inexperienced and gentle, that when Heyer had to devise a heroine even younger and gentler and less experienced, she ended up with a total cipher, a complete ninny! (I still love the book — the heroine’s hardly in it!) 🙂

    And in “Bath Tangle,” the heroine is so forceful, so passionate, so outspoken, that the hero ends up being sort of a beast. Because of course he must be MORE of all those things than her, so you get two very abrasive characters who seem to shout at each other for far too much of the book.

    Anyway, that’s my take on it! “Bath Tangle” is not my least favorite Heyer, but it’s pretty low on my list… (Still interesting and readable, though, IMHO, because it’s still a Heyer, and all Heyers have much of interest!) (Well, except maybe “The Black
    Moth.”) 🙂

    BTW, Melinda Jane — I’ll have to go find that Byatt essay! My husband’s a Byatt fan — maybe he has it somewhere.

    Cara

  15. Kalen Hughes says:

    I have a theory about Heyer’s couples. The man always had to be a little stronger, a little more forceful, a little more experienced, etc etc than the heroine.

    Um . . . I don’t think this is a Heyer thing. I think it applies to 99% of the romance novels ever published. It’s VERY rare that I come across a book with what I would call an alpha heroine and a beta hero. It’s even rare to find a nice alpha/alpha pairing. NY likes ALPHA MEN. Editors told me repeatedly that my hero had to “rescue” my heroine in some way. I got told over and over to butch up my hero. To make him STRONGER. To make him angrier (so he’d “feel” more alpha). To make him a lord of some kind so that he’d have an edge on her. And as soon as I did, I sold.

    But maybe I just don’t look at the characters the same way a lot of people do? Wouldn’t be the first time my world view was a bit skewed.

    Dominic is DEVIL’S CUB is a dangerous rake to most of the world, but Mary always seemed so much stronger to me. She thinks of him as a spoiled little boy that she could fix. And she’s right. She’s quiet, but she’s made of steel.

    And Barbara in AN INFAMOUS ARMY is way stronger than Charles, IMO. He’s really barely up to her weight. A nice guy, but not much more than that.

    And what about the heroine of THE GRAND SOPHY? She’s pretty much wasted on her dolt of a cousin (or so I always thought). He was basically a cipher. A foil to play her off against.

  16. Cara King says:

    Oh, goody! Debate!

    Kalen wrote:

    Um . . . I don’t think this is a Heyer thing. I think it applies to 99% of the romance novels ever published.

    Hmm….yes…well, I mostly agree. It isn’t like Heyer just invented it, or it ended with her. It’s pretty standard in romance. But I think she stands out in my mind here for two reasons:

    1) she had a great variety of heroes and heroines (unlike many writers) so it’s very noticeable how the heroines are always paired with a man who’s just a bit (or a lot) smarter, stronger, more knowledgeable, etc etc than she is. When the heroes tended to be less alpha (e.g. the heroes in “Cotillion” or “The Foundling”) the heroines tended to be quite noticeably shy or stupid or naive or young or all the above, so the hero can still be “manly” around his woman. 🙂

    2) most romance writers do indeed make the heroes more powerful than the heroines — but they’re not always better at everything. I think Heyer’s heroes are generally better than the heroine (and more knowledgeable) at every single thing that comes up. But it seems to me that the heroines of “The Masqueraders” and “Faro’s Daughter” really ought to know more than the heroes about certain things — but even they don’t seem to (IIRC).

    Editors told me repeatedly that my hero had to “rescue” my heroine in some way

    Interesting! Though to be honest, I’d guess that’s more common in certain romance subgenres — Regency historicals, medievals, and romantic suspense come to mind. Certainly in traditional Regencies heroes often didn’t rescuse the heroine from anything…though I suppose in many cases he does rescue her in the end from a life of middling income. 🙂

    To make him angrier (so he’d “feel” more alpha).

    Oh, now, that’s really interesting! As if the tough as nails, cool “make my day” kind of alpha male isn’t alpha enough??? Or perhaps the editors just realize that’s a harder character to pull off…

    Dominic is DEVIL’S CUB is a dangerous rake to most of the world, but Mary always seemed so much stronger to me. She thinks of him as a spoiled little boy that she could fix. And she’s right. She’s quiet, but she’s made of steel.

    I see your point. I do think he’s an unusual Heyer hero, in that he does seem like a boy much of the time.

    Of course, here we’re getting into different kinds of strength. If the heroine is more steadfast, more perceptive about other people, more even-tempered, does that make her “stronger” in the sense we’re talking about? Because these could all be considered traditional “female” characteristics. Indeed, if the editors want the heroes to display anger, then keeping one’s temper changes from a sign of strength to a sign of non-alpha-ness…

    Perhaps I should revise my statement and say that Heyer’s heroes (with little or no exception) all had to be stronger and better in every way that was not generally associated with being female…

    And Barbara in AN INFAMOUS ARMY is way stronger than Charles, IMO. He’s really barely up to her weight. A nice guy, but not much more than that.

    I haven’t read that in a long time, but the way I remember it, she was a spoiled child. She was in love with the one guy, but went around kissing other guys just because she felt like it, even after she realized it would mean she’d lose the guy she loved. So the way I remember it, he was the strong one.

    And what about the heroine of THE GRAND SOPHY? She’s pretty much wasted on her dolt of a cousin (or so I always thought). He was basically a cipher. A foil to play her off against.

    Hmm… I think Jane Aiken Hodge’s theory was he was a Mark I who thought he was a Mark II (or the other way around — I can never remember which Mark was which.) In other words, he was a forceful Rochester type, who tried to be calm cool Mr. Darcy. I’m not sure I quite agree, but I do think Sophy is sort of trying to tease and taunt him into behaving like a bear — trying to push him to be more alpha, if you will. And he does act alpha in the end… (Which makes him what, exactly? I don’t know.) 🙂

    Anyway, those are my semi-random musings, in response to your much more ordered arguments, Kalen! Thanks for the food for thought!

    Anyone else who wants to jump into the debate, please do!

    Cara

  17. Todd says:

    Kalen,

    “The Grand Sophy” is one of my favorite Heyers (see my previous extended list! :-), and I don’t think that the hero is a block or a cipher. He’s not as memorable a character as Sophy is–and he certainly doesn’t go about trying to manipulate the people around him the way she does, purely for their own good, of course. But he is the center of his family, the one who holds it all together, and he is very much in control there.

    Todd-who-is-really-starting-to-dislike-the-terms-“alpha”-and-“beta”

  18. I can only remember REGENCY BUCK which was the first one I read, and there’s one other which even at my (then) tender age struck me as being very kinky. Can anyone identify this:

    Hero and his sister, although I want to refer to them as hero and heroine, are identical twins. In drag. I’m sure there was a good reason for it but I didn’t notice it at the time. (Lots of stuff about face paint and patches and so on. Really, everyone was in drag.) They become the best friends of a man and a woman, whom they are in love with by the end of the book. During the course of the book, Brother (dressed as a girl) flirts with the guy and becomes the confidante of the girl of couple #2. Sis (dressed as a guy) flirts with the girl of couple #2 and ends up with the guy.

    Instead of everyone dopesmacking each other, it all ends, astonishingly, happily. It was rather like Terry Pratchett’s MONSTROUS REGIMENT. I imagine the marriage contracts allowed for a bit of wardrobe-borrowing just to keep memories of the good old days alive.

    Any takers, or did I imagine this?

    Janet

  19. Cara King says:

    You definitely didn’t imagine it, Janet! It’s “The Masqueraders.” Very funny.

    Cara

  20. M. says:

    Intriguing discussion you all had, two years ago! I’m glad Cara hosted it because after all the adulation encountered webwise for this author, i decided i had to find out for myself and snatched up ‘bath tangle’, ‘april lady’, and one more (?) and am now half way through ‘bath tangle'(along with half way through ‘confessions of a jane austen addict’, and it’s kind of interesting to compare scenes that take place in bath)

    i was getting increasingly puzzled by the uniform praise because so far, the book seems to be releasing my inner contest judge rather than my sense of humor. i’ll reserve full judgement till i’ve finished it, but am feeling relieved that the general concensus seems to be: there are many better gh titles out there.

  21. Cara King says:

    i was getting increasingly puzzled by the uniform praise because so far, the book seems to be releasing my inner contest judge rather than my sense of humor.

    Oh no, M! Unfortunately, IMHO, you picked up two of the weakest Heyers… Bath Tangle has a couple who are so harsh and combative, it’s hard to take…and IMHO, the heroine of April Lady is just too wimpy and TSTL (though I know some who love the book.)

    I think Heyer’s only great Bath book is Black Sheep — one of my all-time favorites.

    but am feeling relieved that the general concensus seems to be: there are many better gh titles out there.

    Yep!

    I’m on a list that has discussed at length what Heyers to give to Heyer novices… I think the most commonly suggested titles include:

    VENETIA
    FREDERICA
    SYLVESTER
    BLACK SHEEP
    ARABELLA
    FARO’S DAUGHTER
    THE UNKNOWN AJAX
    FRIDAY’S CHILD

    Or, of her earlier, 18th century, more adventure-themed romances:

    THESE OLD SHADES
    THE CONVENIENT MARRIAGE

    And one of her best novels, but which works best after one has read a bunch of Heyers, is COTILLION.

    So…what’s the third Heyer you have? (Please don’t say A CIVIL CONTRACT! Because if you do then I think you got pretty much the worst three to start with!) 🙂

    Cara

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