Enter Paris and Versailles in the time of Louis XV. Corruption and intrigue are ripe in France and give an open playing field to the English Duke of Avon, affectionately known as Satanas to his enemies. Starting broke as a youngster, he had gambled a young Austrian noble out of his fortune to pay for a lavish and sumptuous lifestyle.
This is the scene set by Georgette Heyer for one of her best books set into the historical period she is best at recreating for her readers. The story takes the reader through period France and England rich in details that make it imaginable and vivid. And, as is usually the case in her novels, the characters are well-built and believable.
If you think of Georgette Heyer mainly as a writer of romance novels, this one will take you through mystery and whodunnit spiced up with comic relief. When the Duke walks the back streets of Paris one night, an urchin runs into him. Seemingly out of a whim, he buys the boy of his brother to become his page. Slowly, the reader is introduced to devious scheme for revenge he hatches against the Comte de St Vire for an old but rankling insult.
The beauty of the book besides offering a thrilling thread to rip you along to the end is the detail of the descriptions. It lets you imagine the Paris of Louis XV and the nobility and their hangers-on that peopled the fashionable houses and salons. It paints a pretty picture and shows how the majority lived in vivid glimpses when dealing with the bought boy's past.
The build-up of the intrigues and counter-intrigues is playing out like a minuet. The Duke of Avon makes his moves as if leading an intricate dance while leading others on a string. When the Paris urchin is kidnapped from the Duke's estate in England, his brother gives chase, taking the reader along through England and into rural France.
What makes the book so eminently readable is the amount of detail packed into the descriptions. The fashion, hairstyles, modes of travel and to powder and patch is spot on for this very moment in time. If you want to escape today for yesteryear, this is the book to read. Georgette Heyer's These Old Shades is available on Kindle. Do yourself a favour on a rainy weekend; get it and read it.
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