Heyer, Georgette. Faro’s Daughter.

Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1942.

Heyer’s story of London in the very early 19th century is rather different this time: Deborah Grantham is the sort-of manager of the gambling house run (very haphazardly) by her widowed aunt, Lady Bellingham. The aunt’s genteel card parties had been very successful and she thought to make enough operating a full-time establishment to get out of debt, but through a combination of bad luck and poorly managed expenses, they are instead on the verge of financial ruin.

Meanwhile, Deborah finds that she has quite unintentionally swept the young Lord Mablethorpe (several years younger than her, in fact) off his feet and he has declared his undying devotion and made her an offer of marriage when he reaches his majority. She’s being tolerant of him but his cousin and financial trustee, the formidable Mr. Ravenscar, a wealthy gambler and sportsman, decides, on very little evidence, that Deborah must be a fortune-hunter and sets out to protect the boy. He raises his eyebrows at her and insults her in a very ungentlemanly way and in her justified anger she determines to get her revenge — even though she has no intention whatever of actually marrying Mablethorpe.

And that’s where Heyer rather loses control. The subsequent plotline is far less realistic than in most of the author’s work. (“Realistic” being a relative term for a Regency romance, I admit.) But assault and kidnapping? Sexual blackmail? C’mon. And while period slang and cant is usually one of the pleasures (for some of us) of reading Heyer’s books, she tends to overdo it this time. How many “yard of tin” and “planting a facer” and “beyond anything great” can one take in 275 pages? The author also gives Deb’s old friend, Lucius Kennet, a ridiculously overdone bog-trotter manner of expression which often doesn’t even scan properly, and which implies that her familiarity with old-style Irish speaking rhythms is clownishly superficial.

Heyer’s characters, even though they’re often Romantic archetypes, almost clichés, are generally pretty convincing — but not this time. Ravenscar, the male protagonist, is an arrogant, self-centered, spoiled bully who becomes enraged if anyone thwarts his least whim. A very unpleasant person whom Deborah could well do without. But Deb herself is also rather self-centered and whim-ridden, as well as petulant, with a tendency to act without thinking and without considering consequences, and with a desire to have things both ways. Neither of them is particularly sympathetic. And yet we’re supposed to believe she’s secretly in love with Ravenscar? In fact, almost the only characters here one might reasonably care about are Lord Mablethorpe, who is merely naïve and inexperienced, and the somewhat feather-brained but irrepressible Arabella, both of whom at least show some spunk when pressed.

Published in: on 11 October 2011 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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