on 6 February 2005
This one has always been one of my favourite Heyers, starting from the opening scene. The heir of old Lord Darracot has died on a solitary fishing trip and Lord Darracot's first reaction is: "Damn him! Damn him! DAMN HIM!". We are straight into the cantangerous heart of strained family relations.
The reason some Heyer readers have probably been dissappointed in this is that they have been looking for a traditional romance. Although this book has that, it takes second role in relation to the comedy of family behaviour. Never mawkish, Heyer plays with her cast of characters, recognising the fact that while relationships between family members can change, even rather suddenly, their characters do not...
This is one of Heyer's hero-led novels and there is a feeling that she sets out to counter her usual hero-types, as she does in The Foundling. And who could not love Hugh, our larger than life hero, the Ajax of the title. Hugh is in a way the male version of the irrepressible Sophy of the Grand Sophy and the antithesis of most Heyer heroes, blond, deceptively simple seeming and probably the least egocentric of all Heyer's men.
I love this book for Hugh, for his non-contrived relatioship with the clever Anthea, her cousin Vincent (One of THE usual Heyer-hero types, revealing some distictly unattractive traits...), for the whole Darracot family, in fact! For the pitch perfect comedy - the climax, as the Ajax takes the reigns of the family, is fantastic. For its intelligent observations on how shifts of power play havoc with extended family relations, cutting other members to size and allowing others openings they never imagined...
on 16 November 2007
Of course all of Heyer's stories are funny, which is one of their greatest charms, and what sets them apart from the many lesser writers of romance. This one is one of the funniest. It has even less in common with other inferior romances, because it doesn't have the usual cynical romantic hero and young ingenue for a heroine. This is no loss at all if you appreciate Heyer for what she does best - comedy, engaging characters, and excellent writing. Heyer does the hard-bitten hero very well of course, but it is nice to read about an unassuming, gentle hero for a change. As one other reviewer has pointed out - the usual hero figure is there all right - probably a more accurate portrait of what a cynical hero-figure would really be like. And you wouldn't want him! The Darracot family are thrown into disarray by the startling news that the rightful heir to the title is an unlettered, vulgar son of a 'common' weaver. They are gathered at their ancestral home, resentfully awaiting his arrival. Naturally, things are not quite as they seem, and far from being a disaster for the family, it seems like Hugo might be the one to save them from themselves. Anthea, the heroine, plays a lesser role in this story. But she is the typical lively, clever Heyer heroine, who is unnaccountably on the shelf - or almost. If you like Hugo, you will also like Gareth Ludlow (Sprig Muslin).
on 9 May 2000
This is one of my favorite of Heyer's book. I read it for the first time as a sophomore in highschool. I was up until past two a.m. as I couldn't put it down. The next day, my ribs ached from laughing. 24 years later it is still delightful. (I do wish I could read it again for the first time!)
Captain Hugo Darracott is heir to his estate, much to the unpleasant Lord Daracott's dismay. Son of Darracott's once favorite son, he is the child of a Yorkshire miller's daughter. Lord Darracott, deciding that Hugo needs to be "whipped into shape" assigns one family member, Claude, the would be leader of the dandy set, to address Hugo's broad Yorkshire speech. Lord Darracott also decides to have Hugo marry his penniless granddaughter Althea. Neither Hugo, nor Althea are delighted by this edict.
It doesn't take long for Althea to discover that Hugo isn't everything he seems. Add smuggling, a ghost, and an over-eager young Land Guard officer, and you have a delightful story.
on 31 July 2008
It is surprising that some readers don't think this is up there with the best of Heyer's regency novels, because the characters are wonderful and their claustraphobic family relationships beautifully and humorously delineated. Hugo is not the typical Heyer hero, but so much the better, and it should dawn on the reader, long before it dawns on the family that he is not what they think him. The climax, which I wouldn't be so mean as to give away, is hysterical, and yet Heyer sounds a note of real danger and, at the end, a whisper of pity. Claud is the vintage Heyer dandy; his brother, the sardonic and not entirely pleasant Vincent is the antithesis - yet at the end Vincent is not unredeemed. Anthea is a plausible, likeable heroine; Richard the typical younger brother, not unlike Peregrine Taverner in his early days. One of the best characters, beautifully sketched, and magnificent in her grand entrance at the end, Lady Aurelia, right out of the Lady Bracknell stable of intimidating matrons. Very, very funny, and as well as the climax look out for Claud's trip to Rye in what he fancies to be an acceptable costume...
on 26 April 2016
Pay no attention to the picture on the front, The Unknown Ajax has a great sense of humour and this pervades the book. Into the quintessential dysfunctional family wanders a down-to-earth ex-soldier with very decided ideas which he has no qualms about implementing where he deems necessary. I would not go so far as to say that everyone lives happily ever after but enough do to keep me satisfied.
I was very enthused about this book because it had lots of 4 and 5 star ratings - a good sign when it's Ms. Heyer. Although I consider myself to have a decent vocabulary because I always score pretty high on those Reader's Digest vocab quizzes - for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what an "Ajax" was except of course for the cleaning product. So, before we go any further, let me provide you with the best definition I could come up with via the internet.
Ajax: "A Greek hero of the Trojan War, son of Telamon, king of Salamis. He was proverbial for his size and strength." Since this book isn't about a Greek hero, then we must turn to the latter part of the definition: "He was proverbial (well known) for his size and strength." That meaning makes sense within the context of the storyline of the "Unknown Ajax."
Because I found the first few pages a bit confusing, I decided to write this review a little different than is my norm. One thing I have learned about Georgette Heyer's writing. She tends to carefully draw out her characters to the point, I am nearly screaming for her to get to move on into the story. However, the very complete character development greatly benefits the reader once the story gets moving because one can then just sit back and enjoy the dialogue as your mind "pictures" the characters with all their strengths and foibles. Below, you will find a list of characters in this book along with a description of each character - not in any particular order:
Mrs. Darracott (Elvira): Widowed daughter-in-law of Lord Darracott. Mother of Anthea and Richard. Elvira's husband has been dead for 12 years. He must have been the 4th son - I don't recall the book mentioning his birth order, but it's a process of elimination.
Matthew Darracott: Third born son of Lord Darracott - husband to Aurelia and father to Vincent and Claud.
Aurelia Darracott: Wife of Matthew Darracott - kinda intimidating, yet very nice lady - discerning and very bright - mother to Vincent and Claud.
Lord Darracott: Lord of all his domain, nasty curmudgeon, grouchy, unpleasant, low in patience - favors Richmond above all others - master manipulator and controller - yet can appreciate the fact that Anthea stands up to him.
Vincent Darracott: Eldest son of Matthew Darracott and brother to Claud - would have been next in line after his father Matthew, had it not been for Hugo. Selfish, thinks mostly of himself - argues constantly with Claud - lowers himself to befriend Richmond a little.
Richmond Darracott: 18 year old son of Elvira, brother to Anthea and favorite grandson of Lord Darracott. Has lived an extremely sheltered life to his great frustration, has a strong desire to be in the military to no avail - owner of a yacht purchased by grandpa.
Anthea Darracott: 22 year old daughter of Elvira and sister to Richmond - is feisty and doesn't take any guff from the old man. Not beautiful, but pretty and vibrant personality.
Granville Darracott: Eldest son of Lord Darracott - now deceased - drowned in boating accident 4 months previously.
Oliver Darracott: Son of Granville Darracott - now deceased - drowned in boating accident 4 months previously.
Claud Darracott: Second Son of Matthew Darracott - fancies himself a "pink of the ton" - constantly searching for the one thing that will allow him to be "the arbiter of fashion" similar to Beau Brummell.
Hugh Darracott: Second son of Lord Darracott - married a weaver's daughter - now deceased - father of Hugo Darracott.
Hugo Darracott: "The Unknown Ajax" - grandson and heir of Lord Darracott - only offspring of Hugh Darracott and a weaver's daughter - giant of a man - 6'5" and given the nickname "Ajax" by the cynical Vincent.
When the curmudgeonly Lord Darracott realizes his heir, Granville and Granville's son, Oliver, have perished in a boating accident - he says, "Damn, damn, damn." The cursing wasn't because he loved Granville - indeed they didn't get along at all. Unbeknownst to the rest of the Darracott family, Lord Granville's son, Hugh, who passed away some years previously had a son - thus, the deaths of Granville and Oliver have resulted in Hugh's son, Hugo, becoming Lord Darracott's heir.
The family is stunned to realize they will soon be entertaining the grandson of a weaver - imagine that! When "huge" Hugo arrives, they are - first of all amazed at his size and then assume things about Hugo that are just not true. For Hugo's part, he is sweet, kind, very confident and takes all the stuff thrown at him by the family in stride. Indeed, he has had an illustrious military career, selling his colors, retiring as a "Major" which should have given the family a clue about his standing had they only attempted to work things out. Nevertheless, Lord Darracott has plans to bring Hugo up to snuff very quickly in the event of his death - he is getting along in years. Further, the controlling Lord Darracott plans that Hugo will marry Anthea, but Anthea isn't intimidated by the old man, she has no intentions of marrying Hugo just to suit her grandfather and doesn't hesitate to make her thoughts known to all and sundry.
When an emergency arises toward the end, it's fascinating to see how the unique individuals in the Darracott family come together with Hugo at the helm. The Darracotts learn Hugo is not exactly what they had assumed him to be and more than one person is taken by surprise. Little Richmond, who has been acting all meek and mild for so many years, apparently has quite another side. But one of the best parts of the book was, by far and away, the persona of Claud. I loved his character and thought it was the most developed of all, with the exception of Hugo. Vincent actually pulls through in the end and shows everyone he can play ball with the team. Plus, there was a sweet romance between Hugo and Anthea that got a teeny bit of attention by Ms. Heyer which is somewhat typical of her stories. I've found many to be very short on romance. But, I did love this book.
'Silence had reigned over the dining-room since his lordship, midway through the first course, had harshly commanded his daughter-in-law to spare him any more steward's room gossip.' Heyer's novel starts with Lord Darracott controlling his family, who are all are all somewhat cowed by his harsh manner but dependent upon him for their livelihood and so are forced to live at Darracott Place with very little society. Unusually Heyer starts from the point of view of the footman so that she can quickly give a run down of the cast and sets the scene for the news that Lord Darracott is about to reveal at the dinner table. Since the recent death of his heir he has summoned his eldest grandson, who has never before met any of the family as his father was disowned for marrying beneath him.
Hugo Darracott, arrives at Darracott Place in Sussex to find his family expecting a mannerless and rough soldier and obliges by putting on a thick Yorkshire accent and appearing to be naive. Hugo is a veteran of the Penisular wars and has more of a grasp on worldy affairs than his cousins, but is good natured in finding his way in the family and becomes good friends with his cousin Anthea and takes a fraternal interest in her brother and Lord Darracott's favourite, Richmond.
Heyer builds the social comedy to one of her most masterfully funny and farcical scenes involving smugglers and customs officers. Hugo's mettle and strength of character becomes clear to all. Hugo is a more modern hero for Heyer, not an aristocrat or a dandy and he retains his dignity and sense of humour throughout appalling snobbery and in the most satisfying way. I hadn't read this in about 30 years and felt it stood up very well.
I had a horrible chest infection a couple of weeks ago and was mainlining Georgette Heyer's regency romances on my kindle - pure escapism - and this was one of the most entertaining.
on 8 October 2011
The other 5 star reviews have said it all. This is far and away my favourite of GH's books - and I enjoy most of them. There is a quality to this book though, that makes it stand head and shoulders above all those formulaic Regency Romances that proliferate nowadays. The plot, the characters, the historical detail, the situation... they are all pretty d*mn perfect.
One of the things that I love about Heyer's writing is that her supporting characters are all so attractive - not necessarily likeable, and sometimes the Gaumless Fops and the Smelling Salt Mamas are a bit repetitive, but they ALWAYS have the redeeming feature that we can laugh affectionately at them. Even the Arch Rivals have flashes of honesty and honour.
Can't recommend this book enough.
on 21 June 2015
My Current favourite on my journey to re-read all Georgette Heyers books. There were bits in the book where you wanted to laugh out loud.
An old plot we know but so wonderfully done. The unwanted heir and how he works his way into the family.
I did feel that at the end, there was another book waiting to be written about what happened next as it just seemed to stop which was a shame.
on 4 November 2013
I am a great Georgette Heyer fan, but naturally some of her books appeal more than others. This one appeals greatly to my sense of humour. All her books, although light, are very well written and her wonderful characters crop up in different guises in each book. This one has an unlikely hero (apparently), a spirited young lady, a comical character, a bad tempered old man, a surly young man, an enigmatic youth and several others, all of whom I enjoyed. The dialogues are lively and amusing and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book. The way the characters came together in a crisis at the end was highly entertaining. I read it (for the 2nd time) while recuperating from an operation and it was just what the Doctor ordered.