Cross posted on The Dead Writers Society blog:
This installment in The Heyer Read was positively delightful. There were two potential heroines here: Amanda, who was an engaging, adorable child, and Hester, the level-headed spinster, long since on the shelf. The Hero, Gareth, was one of Heyer's most likeable. He is trustworthy, kind to children and animals, and frequently exasperated by the adorable Amanda. He suffered the loss of his fiancee, the incomparably beautiful and spirited Clarissa, many decades ago and it is assumed that he still carries a torch for the woman.
We begin, as we often begin, with a man for whom it is time to marry. And the woman he has chosen to marry does not please his family.
When I think of all the pretty and lovely girls who have done their best to attach him, and he tells me that he has offered for an insipid female who has neither fortune nor any extraordinary degree of beauty, besides being stupidly shy and dowdy, I – oh, I could go into strong hysterics!
Hester's family, on the other hand, cannot imagine how she has managed capture the interest of Gareth.
After eyeing her for a moment or two, he said: ‘If you let this chance of achieving a respectable alliance slip, you are a bigger fool than I take you for, Hester!’ Her eyes came round to his face, a smile quivered for an instant on her lips. ‘No, how could that be, Papa?
The side-story with Amanda really highlights Gareth's fine qualities. There is never a hint of impropriety, or skeeviness, in his relationship with her. He is protective and ensures that she is safe when she repeatedly places herself in unsafe situations. In a modern book, this might be irritating or high-handed. In the regency world, however, where the virtue of a girl like Amanda is paramount to a happy future, it is charming. He rescues her from her own folly time and again, without ever once coming off as the sort of gross older man who is doing it for nefarious reasons. In fact, Gareth is sort of the quintessential and most appealing uncle-type. He is able to forgive youthful folly, even when youthful folly shoots him (literally, not figuratively) in the shoulder.
This does not mean, however, that Gareth is without a certain amount of swoony appeal. The romance between Gareth and Hester is wonderful. He begins by offering what is essentially a marriage of attrition. He rather likes her, finds her worthy of attention, and she's really the only one left other than girls like Amanda, and he's not interested at all in marrying a child (thank freaking God!). His decision to marry her isn't even a decision of convenience, it is more a decision of bored acquiescence. At the beginning.
But, ah, how their relationship develops over the course of the book. Hester shows herself to be much more adventuresome than even she realized she was (although Ms. Heyer realized it from the very beginning). And Gareth falls for her. For real, this time. The ending of the book is simply wonderful:
When I asked you at Brancaster I held you in affection and esteem, but I believed I could never be in love again. I was wrong. Will you marry me, my dear and last love?’ She took his face between her hands, and looked into his eyes. A sigh, as though she were rid of a burden, escaped her. ‘Yes, Gareth,’ she said. ‘Oh, yes, indeed I will!
It is beautifully convincing.