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REVIEW: Beauvallet by Georgette Heyer

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Dear Readers,

If you’ve never read anything by Georgette Heyer beyond her Regencies, or you’re not interested in prissy Regencies, preferring action and adventure, then do yourself a favor and try this one. It might be that because my introduction to Heyer was through her Georgians and Beauvallet that this is where my preference lies but, honestly I think it’s because these are just darn good books.

What’s the plot? Doña Dominica de Rada y Sylva is on her way back to Spain with her ailing father from his administrative post in the New World. The captain of the ship taking them home spies a vessel he knows is captained by English privateer Nicholas Beauvallet and, unable to resist trying to bring this most hated man in Spain to justice, he orders his men to open fire. Never one to turn down a challenge, Nick and his crew respond and the battle is on. Unfortunately for the Spanish captain, the fight is short, the English win and he and his crew are put in lifeboats and advised to sail to the nearest island.

Dominica is no shrinking violet and loudly states her opinion of Nicholas and the English. It’s not pretty. But Nick laughingly dismisses her tantrums and sees that she and her father, as well as her duenna and their belongings are transferred to his ship. What are his intentions, he’s asked – or is challenged depending on who’s doing to speaking? Why, to carry them both back to Spain. Doesn’t he know he’s a wanted man in Spain? Yes, but he’s not going to let a little trifling like that stop him.

As they sail across the Atlantic, Dominica pouts, sulks, flirts with others and generally tries to act as if she doesn’t care. Something that is negated by the fact that she can’t stop asking Nick’s valet and first lieutenant about him. He, on the other hand, is bluntly open and honest about the fact that he’s in love with her and wants to marry her. It’s only in the finale of the voyage that Dominica is honest with herself as well. But what’s to do? Nick has promised to set them down on Spanish soil and he’s a man of his word.

He promises to come back for her before the year is out but Dominica is a realist at last and knows his chances are slim to none that he could pull off getting her out of a land which wants him dead, dead and then a little more dead. She doesn’t count on three things. One – he doesn’t turn down a challenge. Two – he’s a man of his word. Three – his family motto is “Reck Not!”

This book really needs to be read while listening to a soundtrack by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Something dashing, with lots of trumpets blaring to stir the blood and make you think swashbuckler-y thoughts then a switch to lush violins for the romance. Warner Brothers should have made this in a movie as it’s packed with derring-do, panache, boldness, cunning and laughs.

Okay first let me list some reasons you might not like this book and get them out of the way. Nick calls Dominica “child” a lot and there’s an obvious difference in their maturity levels. This is slightly off putting to me but not as much as it would be in a more contemporary novel. Dominica is headstrong as is the case with a lot of historic Heyer heroines and worse, she’s a high spirited aristocrat though she doesn’t annoy me as much as Leonie from “These Old Shades.” A lot of time is spent early in the book detailing the Beauvallet homestead in Hampshire with lots of noblesse oblige and brow knuckling servants who are just damn happy to please the Quality. None of this lasts long and the book is soon off and soaring into high adventure but I thought I’d mention all this and the fact that it’s soon finished in case anyone thinks they’re going to get bogged down in it for the duration.

Now for the good stuff. Nick is bursting with energy and vitality and goes straight for what he wants. What keeps him from being overbearing is by being easily cowed by some of Dominica’s whiles and stratagems – though others he sees through and chuckles at. When he tells her that he loves her, he means it and no second guessing.

By the time the action moves to Spain, Dominica begins to show some spirit that I can actually admire instead of her highstrung antics aboard the Venture. She sharpens her wits on the situation, displays herself better and shows herself a worthy woman whom man like Beauvallet would find a satisfying life with. Pretty only goes so far.

For Nick “failure is not an option” not because he’s going to push past anything and triumph against all odds – he just doesn’t ever think he’s not going to come out on top and with what he wants. “Can’t, won’t, unable” are words that aren’t in his vocabulary – he cheerfully can’t conceive of them. His daring escape from prison in Madrid will make your blood sing with excitement. I can feel the sheer joy of it leap off the pages as Nick improvises and charges headlong at all obstacles. Reck Not! indeed.

Still though Nick is usually devil-may-care about most things, when something stands between he and what he wants – he will buckle down and do what he must – such as when he told Dominca’s Aunt Beatrice had she been a man, he would have killed her if she continued to try and thwart him.

There are two secondary characters I have to mention as well. I had forgotten the character of Nick’s valet Joshua Dimmick – what fun. I love his running monologues as he talks to himself, using great language. Is it period or just made up? I had so much fun reading it that I don’t care. At least then you could still get good family retainers and valets. And I almost admire Senora Beatriz who has the wit to admire her foes when they act bravely, display courage and almost beat her. I pity her her weak husband and indolent fool of a son. What she could have accomplished without them as millstones around her neck.

A good pace is maintained throughout. There’s tension where it’s needed and high spirits anon. The fights are more hinted at but there’s enough to follow what’s going on and add color to the narrative. The romance is stirring and the ending will keep you glued to the pages. I do think Nick acted wisely in not telling his Queen his true reason to head to Spain, though. If you’ve only read the Heyer Regencies, treat yourself and give this one a try. A-

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

18 Comments

  1. Alison
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 08:18:36

    This was one of my firsts (and favorites) as well – way back in the day. A nice recap

  2. Isobel Carr
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 08:50:05

    I’ll give the other perspective: I can not STAND this book! The heroine grated on my every nerve. If Nick had dumped Doña over the side of the boat and sailed off I’d have been a much happier reader. He was charming, but I simply can’t love a man who’d love Doña. It’s the only Heyer I didn’t buy in an Arrow edition and the only one I don’t have as an eBook.

  3. Jayne
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 09:06:46

    @Isobel Carr: LOL. I wonder … does every Hayer book have someone who can’t stand it?

  4. ML
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 10:38:04

    @Jayne: Yes! :-) (and this from a Heyer fan–she’s what got me into reading romance!)

  5. Sunita
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 10:43:22

    Great review, Jayne! This was one of my earliest Heyer books, and although I came to see its flaws, it’s always been a favorite (not least because of the period and the setting). You can tell it’s when she didn’t quite have control of her craft, but I find Sir Nicholas irresistible. And the secondary characters, especially Senora Beatriz, are so much fun to read.

  6. Isobel Carr
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 10:46:45

    @Jayne: I’m sure every book does. I also hate A Civil Contract. So I lied. I don’t have that one either. But I liked ACC better than Beauvallet. I only read Beauvallet once, twenty something years ago, and I can STILL remember how much I loathed the heroine.

  7. Barb in Maryland
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 11:02:40

    Thank you for such a spirited review of one of my favorite Heyer books. Of course, I read the whole book while mentally filming it as an Errol Flynn movie (yes, yes, complete with Korngold soundtrack!).
    Heyer was definitely writing in a Sabatini frame of mind (Captain Blood had come out in 1922), so, as a long time Sabatini fan, I was primed to like it from the start.

  8. Jayne
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 11:54:01

    @Sunita: I’ve been in a Tudor mood lately and it’s hard to find many recent releases in that era.

    I even like the Spanish captain who almost suffers apoplexy when he sees Nicholas in Madrid.

  9. Jayne
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 11:55:54

    @Barb in Maryland: Ah Sabatini. Even after 35 years Peter Blood still makes me swoon.

  10. Ros
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 12:13:26

    My first Heyer was Simon the Coldheart and though it’s far from her best, I have a soft spot for it. So, one of the reasons I love Beauvallet is that he is one of Simon’s descendants. I liked all the stuff at his estate with his brother, mostly because of that. I think Heyer is often at her best when she’s writing derring-do adventure, and I really enjoyed seeing her tackle an entirely different period of history in this book.

  11. Melanie
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 13:19:15

    Jayne, I’m so glad to see this review. A few months ago I popped into my local Goodwill a few minutes before they closed “just to look,” and found copies of “Beauvallet” and “Friday’s Child,” two of the very few Georgette Heyer novels I haven’t yet read. I love swashbuckling stories, so “Beauvallet” has now moved to the top of my TBR stack for this weekend.

  12. Janhavi
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 14:40:35

    While I am definitely a huge Heyer fan, this is one of the few I have never re read, and I have more or less forgotten the entire story. I might try it again. My favourite of the Georgians is probably the Talisman Ring.

    Somewhat coincidentally, I was just re reading all the DA reviews of Heyer books- Civil Contract, Sylvester, Sprig Muslin, etc- they are really fantastic! Particularly the comment thread for A Civil Contract after Sunita’s review.

  13. Jayne
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 15:20:12

    @Melanie: Excellent, I hope you enjoy it. There’s lots of thrilling derring-do. Just give Dominica a chance to mature. ;)

  14. Jayne
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 15:21:36

    @Janhavi: That was an amazing comment thread after Sunita’s wonderful review. Which reminds me I must try that book one day and form my own opinion about it – see what side I fall on about it.

  15. RobinC
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 18:54:51

    I loved this review and I still love this book! Back in the day when I was secretly raiding my mom’s brown paper bags that she kept in the garage, I ended up pulling out Beauvallet, Simon the Coldheart, These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub all in the same day. Jackpot! I read them all in less than a week (summer vacation), and then started over again. I know that Beauvallet is connected to Simon, but for some reason, I always thought the line continued through These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub. It must have been because I read them all at once and they all had a similar “feel”. I still revisit them every five years or so. I showed them to the scary librarian at the reference desk and she helped me find Sabatini, Orczy, Hope, etc. Thirty years later, she is long retired and still one of my best friends. Thanks for bringing up some happy memories!

  16. hapax
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 21:14:16

    @Ros: Ha! I am another who loves Nicholas mostly as Simon’s descendant. I’ve always been sad that Heyer didn’t continue that family saga.

  17. Ros
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 07:09:07

    @hapax: I know! I would have loved to see some Regency Beauvallets. Maybe one could have turned up in Brussels during the battle of Waterloo…

  18. Janhavi
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 12:21:44

    @Jayne: well if you do let us know what you think! I might go add my opinion to that thread just to chime in. Which is basically that I believe in the HEA but agree its not super romantic, but very realistic

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