I found Heyer in my teens, quite by chance, in two translation novels that transmited only a fraction of charm of her writing. The two novels were translations of "These Old Shades" and "Devil's Cub". The translator had clearly thought the job too challenging for such a lowly genre and approached Heyer's exquisite language simply by cutting it down. As the result the two books were half the lenght of the originals. Luckily the younger me was sufficiently charmed by the horrid, honestly self-centered Alistairs to earmark the name of the author. On my first trip to London I picked up "Friday's Child" and, despite the fact that the language was quite challenging for my GCSE-level English, I fell in love with Heyer's comedy, right there, on the first page, as the cliche-on-his-knee-proposal turns into an argument due to the childishnes of the two parties. I went on to read all Heyer's historicals in their original language and I credit Georgette with the fact that I went on to raise my GCSE exam result B to an A* in A-level English.
It was later, when I lived in London, that although I was busy and forgot all about Heyer, I encountered her again. Traveling on public transport I made a hobby of glancing at the titles of the books that other commuters were reading, blank faced and silent. Except not everyone was blank faced. Occasionally a rare reader would be smiling, and not just any old smile, but that deeply amused, slightly paralysed smile that you smile when you are alone in a public place and feel like laughing out loud but can't, because you fear everyone will think you insane. And what would these smilers invariably be reading? Well, I am sure that commuting readers smile at many books but my experience of these smiles has been amazingly uniform: every single has been on the face of a heyer reader.
So, what is this all to do with "Devil's Cub"? Well, I have just finished re-reading it, nearly 20 years after my first encounter with hot-headed Dominic Alistair, his cool Mary and the outrageously self-centered Alistair family. And that deeply amused, slightly paralysed smile was on my face for most of the journey. I was more able than ever to appreciate the nuances that Heyer weaves into her characters. This being an early-ish heyer, there is still plenty of action and plot twists but Heyer also convicingly paints characters that reflect their parentage, their individual upbringing, different values and temperaments. She also, very slyly, for the first time has her say about the subject everyone associates her regencys with: the theme of romance.
As in most(especially later)heyers, "Devil's Cub" is a game of two couples: the romantic and the mundane. But which one is which? Very cleverly Heyer differentiates between romantic attitudes and actions that are seen as "romantic". The characters caught in the "romantic" events cannot help but react in mundane ways - heroine herself becomes seasick when being abducted and proceeds to put a stop to the hero's seduction by throwing up. Through this, contrasted with the mundane, secondary couple that constantly wants to romanticise matters and thus completely messes up their relationship, Heyer expresses a coherent, and might I add, conventionally unromantic view on love and relationships. Also, through the character of Vidal she gently and affectionally laughs at the multitude of us that still find in him an ideal man and refuse to recognise -unlike his sensible Mary- that being married to an impetuous, spoiled, overgrown boy would be a full-time job, best left to ladies of nobility with very few other occupations.
It is true that Heyer inspired a whole genre of mostly vacuous, insipid women's romance literature but this can be also seen just as a happenstance. Vacuous and insipid Heyer is not - and never, ever uncritically romantic either.
So if you have bothered to read to the end of this (which maybe is more of a love letter Georgette Heyer's books than a book review) maybe you too are frustrated by the belittling of this superior entertainment. Or maybe you simply are looking for something to read. In either case, grab "Devil's Cub", hit the public transport and see if you laugh out loud.