These Old Shades

by Georgette Heyer

Publisher: Signet
Copyright: 1926
Printing: January 1998
ISBN: 0-451-15135-6
Format: Mass market
Pages: 287

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Yes, a Regency Romance novel, which is probably not what you were expecting me to review. I was curious, in large part because I'd never read one before. The plot of this one is also much more interesting to me than most, involving a girl masquerading as a boy.

As I expected, this book is so light and fluffy as to practically float away. About the only thing that requires any real intellectual attention is just keeping track of the names of all the nobility who show up, particularly given that several of them have multiple names that are used interchangably, and puzzling out the probable meeting of various French phrases scattered throughout the dialogue.

That being said, for very light entertainment, this book has definite appeal. This is particularly true once the opening setup is passed and the real action starts, about halfway through the book. There's a bit of adventure, quite a lot of excellent banter (the primary feature I was hoping for), some intrigue, and of course the obligatory happy ending. I was particularly impressed by the nice balance of sharp-witted banter and innocent (but not quite naïve) enthusiasm in the lead female character.

I did like the basic plot structure quite a bit. Having the lead female character start off masquerading as a boy and serving as the page of the man that she would eventually fall in love with is both unusual and made for an engrossing dynamic between the two of them. There's a twist of submissiveness in their relationship that's rather unlike stereotypical female submissiveness, mixing instead with fierce loyalty in a way that I found charming and more believable and healthy.

The book is, naturally, replete with descriptions of clothing and carriages, balls and fashions, most of which are rather lost on me, and there isn't a lot of deep characterization to be found even among the likeable characters. I prefer books with more substance than this, and I don't expect I'll search out many others in this genre, but the banter did live up to expectations and left me wanting to read more Jane Austen.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-07-02

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