These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (1926)

These Old Shades is set in 1756 so technically it’s not a Regency novel (which strictly speaking ran from 1810 to 1820). Nevertheless, it certainly has the feel of a Regency novel although most of the action takes place in France during the reign of Louis XV of France.
This was a fun read with a mystery attached to it.
The Duke of Avon – Justin Alastair to his acquaintances and ‘Satanas’ to those who had heard the gossip attached to his person, was a man who had no soul, or so he said of himself. At first he presents as an arrogant libertine but he had a good friend, Hugh Davenant, an honourable man whom he had known for a long time. Hugh believed that Justin’s disappointment in an earlier love affair may have been the means of the making of his friend but that hadn’t happened so far. If a man is known by the friends he keeps, the fact that Hugh was a guest in his home augured well for the Duke of Avon.

One night as Justin was walking home through Paris, a reckless undertaking for a rich gentleman, a boy hurtled into him. Taking him to be a robber, he held him firmly and took a good look at his face and was struck by something that he observed. Very shortly, the boy’s older brother, Jean, came running after the boy, furious and threatening to beat him. The Duke said he would take León, the boy, for his page, paid his brother for him, and took the boy home. Hugh Davenant was not impressed and told Justin so, asking him if he had a special reason for his acquisition.

‘As you so sapiently remark, my dear Hugh, I have a special reason.’

There are some wonderful characters in this book: Avon grows upon you over the course of the story; his brother, Rupert has a central role at one stage and is such a great character! Hugh, León…and many others beside add interest and their relationships with Avon reveal more of his history and why he is the man he is.

‘Tell me of your life in Paris, then,’ said Justin…And so León told his tale, haltingly at first, and shyly, hesitating over the more sordid parts, his voice fluctuating with each changing emotion until he seemed to forget to whom he spoke, and lost himself in his narration. Avon listened in silence, sometimes smiling at the quaint philosophy the boy unfolded, but more often expressionless, always watching León’s face with narrowed keen eyes. The hardships and endurances of those years in Paris were revealed more by what was left unsaid than by any complaint or direct allusion to the petty tyrannies and cruelties of Jean and his wife.

León was devoted to Avon and looked up to him as his hero and deliverer. He would not hear a bad word against him, although there were many!
There’s a kidnapping, a mystery solved, and humour aplenty. Louis XV puts in a brief appearance as does Madame Pompadour, his mistress. The decadence of the times, the foppish vanity of aristocratic men with too much money and too much time on their hands, the rigid class system are explored. Revenge and justice are key themes.
I enjoyed this story very much. It has a well-developed plot, exciting action and a dollop of history.

‘No, wait, mon ami, La Pompadour has seen you. Ah, she smiles! You have all the luck, Justin.’
‘I could find another name for it,’ said Avon but he went to the King’s mistress, and bowed exceedingly low as he kissed her hand. He remained at her side until the Compte de Stainville came to claim her attention, and then made good his escape…

Linking to Carole’s Books you Loved

5 thoughts on “These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (1926)

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