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These Old Shades    by Georgette Heyer order for
These Old Shades
by Georgette Heyer
Order:  USA  Can
Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

It's so hard to pick a favorite from Georgette Heyer's over fifty excellent, witty novels - the best I can do is to pick several, for different reasons. I've always considered These Old Shades - a book that I re-read every few years, enjoying it anew each time - the most romantic of Heyer's works, for its impish young heroine Léonie and the cynical, debauched roué to whom she gives her heart - Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, commonly known as Satanas.

Though Avon is an English Duke, this story is mainly set in pre-Revolutionary France. Avon first meets Léonie as Léon on a side street in Paris. Struck by the child's unusual looks (red hair combined with violet-blue eyes) and seeing the potential for revenge against an old enemy, the Duke purchases the boy on a whim to be his page. His instinct is quickly proved right, when the Comte de Saint-Vire tries to buy the child from him through an intermediary.

From the beginning, Léon adores her rescuer, even after he reveals that he knows her secret and insists that she become Léonie again. Avon takes her to his feckless sister Fannie in England, and makes her his ward. Of course the villain doesn't give up - he abducts Léonie - earning the label of pig-person from her - and forces her to accompany him to France, where she escapes with some help from Avon's wild younger brother Rupert.

Having begun all this with revenge in mind, the Duke's motivations change as he learns what Léonie has suffered at his enemy's hands. And though Avon is enchanted by his ward, he believes that she is 'worthy of a better husband'. Oddly, Léonie, who worships him, is persuaded that she is base-born and not good enough for her guardian. This all comes to a conclusion in a dénouement worthy of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, as the wily Duke tricks Saint-Vire into showing his hand.

Heyer must have enjoyed these characters herself as she gave them - as secondaries, supporting a younger generation - an encore in Devil's Cub, and their lineage showed up again in An Infamous Army. Léonie and her sinister, ominpotent monseigneur are remarkable contrasts and wonderful - very memorable - individuals. These Old Shades is not only a pleasure to read as a romance, but also for the heartwarming manner in which its young heroine attracts friends, and the way they all rally to her cause.

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