I've been a fan of Heyer's historical romances since I first read my mum's old copy of Beauvallet when I was a teenager. If you've never read one youI've been a fan of Heyer's historical romances since I first read my mum's old copy of Beauvallet when I was a teenager. If you've never read one you don't know what you're missing! My edition is very old, actually it's the First Australian Edition from 1948, it has no dust jacket, and the pages are brown and brittle. I have 39 of her romances (she also wrote about eight detective books with the help of her detective husband, but I've not read any of them); there are about three or four I don't have, though I've read almost all of them.
It is 1586 and Dona Dominica and her father, the late governor of the island of Santiago, are returning to Spain by ship when their vessel is captured by a British pirate - by the infamous Sir Nicholas Beauvallet, no less! Dubbed "Mad Nick", he is a dashing figure, tall and dark with a "neat" head of curly black hair, bright, mocking blue eyes and a pointy beard as was the fashion, friend of Sir Francis Drake and pet of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. He's a bit of a devil and laughs at everything. Finding the beautiful Dominica on board the Spanish galleon is a surprise, but Beauvallet commits himself to taking them safely to a Spanish port despite how incredibly dangerous and reckless it is. He's fallen in love with the spirited Spanish woman, and pledges to come back for her within a year and "make an Englishwoman of her".
Dominica doesn't believe him, but despite everything finds herself wishing it were true. Once Beauvallet decides on a thing, he doesn't waste much time, but getting into Spain isn't an easy matter for any Englishman, let alone an infamous pirate whom the Spanish believe has witchcraft on his side. Circumstances see him and his valet, the finicky, chatty Joshua, enter Spain from France with a Frenchman's papers, and the disguise is a tenuous one. He has to fool the king of Spain, the French Ambassador, and the many Spanish nobles while locating Dominica and planning how to bring her out.
Tense with looming danger, Beauvallet is a rollicking ride of romance, sword fights, mad dashes across country, midnight escapes, scheming aunts, dastardly cousins and one very engaging, lovable hero. Dominica is spirited, fiesty and intelligent, quick-witted and interesting - it is not hard to see why Beauvallet would fall for her so quickly.
One of the most remarkable things about Heyer's work, of which most are set in Regency London, is the historical accuracy with which she writes. You could learn more from reading one of her books than from one written in the time it was set! From the details of the clothing, to the etiquette and social graces, types of equipage, dances, food, liqueur, sentiments, current affairs and manner of speech - Heyer has it all nailed down, and with effortless ease. Her prose is never stiff or self-conscious, but full of wicked humour and confidence. Her skill as a writer is especially manifest in her ability to write dialogue, which I've always wished to emulate, and her great cast of supporting characters. Reading Beauvallet is a bit like watching Blackadder the Second for me, from references to men's plate-sized ruffs to sneaky asides about Raleigh and here and there a "beshrew me!", making it one of the most comforting, familiar books for me to read in a day :)...more