I finished this one back in October, and have delayed writing this review for reasons I can’t entirely explain. Actually, I have two more Heyer posts to write, and I won’t allow myself to post the third – The Marriage of Convenience – until I get the other two up. That is probably the only reason I am forcing myself to do this . . . I have a lot to say about The Marriage of Convenience, and don’t want to forget!
The Talisman Ring is actually one of Heyer’s Georgian romances, set in 1793. It was published in 1936, during what I would call the end of the earliest part of her writing career. It is also as funny as hell.
Basically, The Talisman Ring is a triple threat: mystery, romance, and farce, and is actually really quite successful at all of them. Some of her earlier farce, notably Powder and Patch really didn’t work for me at all. I found those elements of that book to be more obnoxious than funny – the reductive nature of her treatment of Cleone really annoyed me. In addition, her mysteries, at least the two I have read, are not nearly as charming as her romances. In The Talisman Ring, she combines them, and the result is clever, funny and winsome.
There is a murder, and an heir who has been unjustly accused. The “talisman ring” is some sort of an heirloom ring that is, apparently, well worth the trouble of murder. And, there is an arranged “romance”, between Eustacie, a French ward who is meant to marry her much older cousin – Tristan – but Tristan is all together too even-tempered for her. This arrangement is inflicted on both of them by one of Heyer’s more irritating domestic tyrants, who puts together the arrangement without either Eustacie or Tristan being overly enthusiastic about it, and then promptly kicks the bucket. Thankfully for everyone. Because Tristan and Eustacie are not well-suited in the least.
Sir Tristram looked her over in frowning silence.
‘You look very cross,’ said Eustacie.
‘I am not cross,’ said Sir Tristram in a somewhat brittle voice, ‘but I think you should know that while I am prepared to allow you all the freedom possible, I shall expect my wife to pay some slight heed to my wishes.’
Eustacie considered this dispassionately. ‘Well, I do not think I shall,’ she said. ‘You seem to me to have very stupid wishes – quite absurd, in fact.’
When Eustacie flees, after deciding that she will become a governess – a job for which she is entirely unqualified – because it will be more romantic than marrying the prosaic (and let’s be honest, OLD), Tristan, she promptly runs into Ludovic (oh, goodness, what a horrible name) the dashing, wrongly accused heir turned smuggler who is shot by a pair of utterly incompetent Bow Street Runners. She is taken under the wing of Sarah Thane, who is travelling with her brother, Sir Hugh, who doesn’t stir unless there is a fine glass of brandy in it for him at the end.
Hilarity ensues. It’s like one of those lovely plays where no one ever really knows what is going on, and the characters are coming and going and nearly running into one another, and there is intrigue and people are furtively running about and making utter fools of themselves, but in the best possible way. Sarah and Eustacie set out to clear Ludovic of the murder, and there is a lot of sneaking about the countryside and breaking into drawing rooms and libraries in search of the talisman ring.
You won’t find yourselves in half such danger as you would if I let you have my pistols,’ said Ludovic, with brutal candour.
This unfeeling response sent Eustacie off in a dudgeon to Miss Thane. Here at least she was sure of finding a sympathetic listener. Nor did Miss Thane disappoint her. She professed herself to be quite at a loss to understand the selfishness of men, and when she learned that Eustacie had planned for her also to fire upon possible desperadoes, she said that she could almost wish that she had not been told of the scheme, since it made her feel quite disheartened to think of it falling to the ground.
In the end, of course, the feather-headed Eustacie, who isn’t nearly as feather-headed as she seems, marries the dashing Ludovic. And wonderful, fearless Sarah and the steady, secretly romantic Tristan, equally, fall in love. As is typically the case in these books of Heyer’s that include a younger couple and an older couple, it is the older pair that wins my heart completely.
‘But, Sarah consider! You are romantic, and he is not romantic at all!’
‘I know,’ replied Miss Thane, ‘but I assure you I mean to come to an understanding with him before the knot is tied…Either I have his solemn promise to ride ventre à terre to my death-bed or there will be no marriage!’
‘It shall be included in the marriage vow,’ said Sir Tristram.
Eustacie looking from one to the other, made a discovery. ‘Mon Dieu, it is not a mariage de convenance at all! You are in love, enfin!’ she exclaimed.
There are a lot of similarities in the romance between this one and Sprig Muslin, which I read earlier this year. I love them both.