This review is just a picture of how personally I take my books and how involved I get! Great many spoilers and fan girl babbling ahead!
Now I don’t know how this happened but it was just a coincidence that I read The Black Moth before reading These Old Shades and I hadn’t read any of the blurbs about these books before beginning them either. While I read it, there was some clicking going on in my mind that something is familiar, that I know some of these things. I also felt that Satanas was so similar to The Duke of Andover, the Devil. Further Anthony Merivale is very much alike Sir Anthony Ferndale, in that he had some highwayman history to his name, and had rescued his wife Jennifer from Satanas while he was abducting her and also had had a terrific sword fight with him that was played with almost the same level of expertise, though Merivale had a slight edge over Avon (remember Jack taught fencing in France?) Now weren’t all these actions what had also ensued between Sir Anthony Ferndale and the Duke of Andover? Further the character of Hugh Devanant is again similar to Devil’s friend who unwaveringly is focused on reforming Devil and is seen prophesying that he will one day love someone more than himself. I felt curious and I then did some research. It turns out that Heyer had written These Old Shades using the same characters, retaining their character essence in their names and just made them more three dimensional. And it indeed is another side to the story of The Black Moth (set three years after the happenings of The Black moth) and it was said that she had named the book as she did in order to give it a continuation of sorts.
I did not like The Black Moth as much as I have liked other Heyer books; in fact I have listed it in my bottom 5 Heyers recently. But after having read TOS, I am fascinated! There can be no other book like These Old Shades! I love it to the last shred! And that is an understatement! I just cannot understand how this was penned. The detailing of emotions, actions, feelings and situations is just out of the world!
First, It is Monseigneur and Léon, the page!
Oh such a cute mix of loyalty, devotion, love, servitude, fury in Léon and of an apparently detached interest, care, admonition and command in Satanas. This phase in their lives was so pure and unadulterated. I was touched at Léon’s selfless and zealous dedication to Avon and his fury in defense of his master. Léon’s rescue at the hands of Avon from the clutches of Jean and his horrid wife, have earned for the Duke a lifelong dedicated and devoted servant. Léon has placed his Monseigneur on a pinnacle of heroism.
Here, It always goes like:
Avon: Do this! (With haughtiness)
Léon: Yes, Monseigneur!
Avon: We go to Vaussauds!
Léon: Yes, Monseigneur!
Avon: an impertinent page!
Léon: (engaging smile)
Avon: My Léon (Oh, how cute!)
Léon: I will be yours forever My Monseigneur!
Avon: My infant! (How endearing!)
Léon: You are the best Monseigneur!
Then the covers are lifted and truth revealed to Avon (though he’s known it forever!) Léon turns into Léonie and is taught to be a girl again and becomes Avon’s ward.
Then it is Monseigneur and Léonie, the ward!
Oh there’s growth in this phase. Growth in love, in devotion, in care and in affections and fondness of Léonie and Avon for each other. It’s not just Léonie who is fond of him; there is also growth in Avon’s attachment here. And there’s not just fondness, but a mutual respect evident. I had a lump in the throat and almost cried at a couple of places. Some of the best scenes I have ever read are in this book, especially the one where Avon leaves Léonie in Lady Fanny’s care. That’s my favourite scene. Then, the travel to and from Versailles. Also, Léonie and Avon’s reunion in Bassincourt.
What we come across in this phase is:
Léonie: Monseigneur do this! (With an engaging smile)
Avon: Yes infant!
Léonie: Monseigneur not our library! (a captivating dimple here)
Avon: Yes, ma fille!
Léonie: Monseigneur not that! (an ensnaring peep from beneath the lashes)
Avon: yes my child!
So basically, she has Avon around her little finger! Satanas, whom no one could prevail upon finally comes to love someone more than himself!
I never thought I’d say this, but: “I love Satanas!” I mean who could not?? For all his satanical actions, I still find His Grace of Avon, Justin Alastair one of the most charming and endearing heroes ever! He is enthralling and fascinating. The sarcasm and the sharp straight-faced one-liners are just too good! Under the façade of his satanical acts, there is a human aspect to Justin which only Leonie succeeds in nudging out. His kindness, empathy and care for Leonie are remarkably beautiful. He is aware of his own unworthiness and is trying his best to save Léonie from himself. His anguish and accumulating vengeance for what Léonie has had to suffer for her father’s vile actions is captivating to read. To revenge Léonie’s sufferings he, at one point forgets that he himself had a score to settle with Saint Vire so taken is he by her and so selfless is his love.
Léonie or Léon! She is my most beloved of Heyer heroines, even more than Frederica and Venetia whom I had found the most likable up till now. Reading TOS has really changed the sequence of my favourites. She is just so selfless in her love for Justin and so devoted to him. There’s nothing she won’t do for him. The sweet mix of innocence, wisdom and cynicism and her defense of her master with all her life and heart are just so cute! “I am his dog” – who says this? I mean this is the height of innocent devotion! Her reminiscence of the small conversational details they have had, her fear of losing him, of being away from him and unhappiness at being parted from him when he’s on his travels, her whim of keeping the library out of reach of outsiders just because it is ‘their’ sitting place and where he had brought her for the first time are the things which really show how much he means to her and how much each moment they passed together is important to her.
Such intricate description of the small nothings which are valued as everything endears the book so much to the heart!
I found their love for one another selfless and unadulterated. There is a sense of belonging between them right from their first meeting with each other and their bond just grows stronger each moment. And it was not just Justin and Léonie, but Monseigneur and Léon were equally beautiful. “My Leon” and “Monseigneur” are just simple endearments denoting such deep fondness, pride and affection. They are just made for each other!
Hugh Devanant, Lord Rupert Alastair, Lady Fanny Marling who have substantial roles to play in the story are all so very likable. Rupert’s outspoken jests are hilarious! Lady Fanny is a sweet heart and Hugh Devanant such a level headed and caring friend. Merivale is interesting and I felt like killing Saint Vire myself! (Told you I get too involved!)
The story is compelling. The way it is wrought is remarkable. Splendid, in fact! No doubt, it is so loved and appreciated around the globe.
I could go on and on and on about it and still not be satisfied with what I’ve written because this is not even a tenth of what I feel! I’ve come to love and appreciate Georgette Heyer even more after this and am royally spoilt for other books!
I would just say: IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THIS BOOK, YOU’VE LEFT A BEAUTIFUL TREASURE UNOPENED. A MUST READ IN THIS LIFETIME!