2003 reissue of 1932 release, Classic Fiction (Georgian England and France)
Harlequin, $6.50, 300 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373835639 Part of a series
Quite honestly, romance simply doesn’t get any better than this.
Though I always knew that Devil’s Cub was my favorite book by the inimitable (though, nevertheless, often imitated) Georgette Heyer, I don’t think I really understood until recently that it was this book that set the tone for the kind of romances I’ve loved ever since.
Picture a young – very young! – girl just cutting her teeth on Georgette and Laura London and, yes, it has to be admitted, Barbara Cartland, too. The wit and style of Georgette’s Regency was already a firm favorite of mine when I came across this Georgian-set book featuring a hero far different from the usual Heyer mold of a primarily nice, albeit aloof, guy. The hotblooded nearly 24 year-old Marquis of Vidal is a duel-fighting, drink-loving wastrel who is so rich and so spoiled that he has nothing to do but indulge himself. Much adored by his French mother and loved equally, though decidedly less adoringly by his legendarily aloof father (a romance featured in the book's prequel, These Old Shades), Vidal is forced to leave England virtually overnight after he shoots yet another victim in yet another duel.
Now, surely, Bad Boy Vidal can’t go into exile without a companion, can he? Unfortunately, his choice happens not to be an opera dancer – a selection, that would, of course, hardly raise an eyebrow – but he has instead set his spoiled aristo eyes on a daughter of the middle class, one Sophia Challoner. Now Sophia is an idiot, but she is also an idiot with an eye firmly on the main chance: Luring the elusive Marquis down the aisle, an ambition shared by her equally idiotic mother. Fortunately, however, Sophia’s far less beautiful sister Mary is anything but.
Well aware that the Marquis’s intentions aren't honorable, Mary intercepts Vidal’s note and sets into motion plans to take Sophia’s place. As soon as the deception is discovered, Mary believes, Vidal will be so disgusted that he will finally leave her sister (and her reputation) alone. Of course, since even the redoubtable Mary can’t think through every angle of her plan in the short period of time she has, matters are all but destined to go awry.
Soon enough Vidal whisks the mask-covered Mary into his coach and makes way for the coast of England – a development Mary hadn’t anticipated since she was totally unaware that Vidal’s plans included leaving the country. When Mary finally faces Vidal, she plays the coquette in her efforts to engender Vidal’s disgust, but succeeds only in convincing Vidal that she is as much a hoyden as her sister. Convinced that one sister will do as well as the other, Vidal forces Mary aboard his yacht and the two embark for France.
Mary, however, isn’t ready to sacrifice her virtue to the evil Marquis, so when Vidal begins to advance menacingly on the young woman after they come ashore, Mary takes an action familiar to readers of Lord of Scoundrels: She shoots him. Finally convinced of Mary’s virtue, Vidal now offers a different and far more menacing threat to the independent Mary: The Marquis intends to make matters right by marrying her.
The pleasures of this book – and they are legion – lie in dialogue so smart and so funny that Devil’s Cub is a stand-out even among the lofty heights set by Ms. Heyer’s other books, as well as in the development of a love story that is as heart-achingly romantic as any I’ve ever come across. Nevertheless, it has to be admitted that the saga of sensible Mary and Bad Boy Vidal is told a bit sparingly, in tiny bits of dialogue that many of us who love this book read again and again and again. This particular storytelling style - a bit old fashioned, I'll agree - has its rewards as the reader is very slowly brought to realize that the Devil's Cub is falling steadily and passionately for practical Mary, the only woman to ever successfully "manage" him. Though I would never reveal too much for fear of spoiling the fun of any reader new to the story, suffice it to say that there is a scene in the book’s second half that I have sighed over for many years now and, no matter how many times I reread it, it puts a lump in my throat every single time. But, since Devil’s Cub is also hysterically funny, that lump doesn’t stick around too long. Especially when the enterprising Mary finally meets the Marquis' intimidating father!
Many of romance's best and brightest readily admit their affection for Ms. Heyer and the influence she played in the development of their own writing. Vidal is surely the model of many of the Bad Boy heroes we’ve all come to know and love, while Miss Mary Challoner might also be the prototype for every managing, sensible heroine who is lucky enough to catch – and actually tame – that Bad Boy.
I’m becoming ever more afraid that affection for the novels of Georgette Heyer is fading amongst romance readers, many of them lovers of historical romance who’ve never tried an author who is certainly one of the greatest of them all. I think that’s sad. As a young girl tucked up in my virginal bed, I snickered at the dialogue, sighed at the romance, and shivered deliciously over the dastardly antics of the wicked Vidal. I’d surely love to believe that there are generations yet to come who will do just the same.
-- Sandy Coleman
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