I admit it, I have a bit of a kink when it comes to girls masquerading as guys and managing to pull it off. Especially during times when, historically, it was believed that women were incapable of even a fraction of what men were capable of. To shed the dress and don some breeches and go about the country side takes moxie and young Leon, er, Leonie has that in spades. Her story is wildly entertaining to read about and yet Georgette Heyer manages to kick it up another notch by adding in court intrigue, a debauched rake, and an ancient score that needs to be settled. Little Leonie finds herself in the middle of a whirlwind of scandal and only with the help of her savior, the Duke, does she have a chance to survive.
I have loved all of Georgette Heyer's gender benders, The Corinthian, The Masqueraders and now I can add These Old Shades to the line up. Her historical novels are so filled with period detail you feel like you really are in the century she is portraying. While it may be a stretch to believe that such characters as the Duke and Leonie can manage to pull off their very scandalous story then just remember it is France from before the time of Napoleon. The dissatisfied lower classes had to become dissatisfied somehow and some of the upper crust's hi-jinks definitely contributed to that.
Speaking of class differences that was one of the only problems I had with this story. The classism displayed by the characters, while accurate for the time, in some ways I think went a bit too far. The Duke loves Leonie and at the same time expresses disgust and distaste for the people in the class she was raised in. There was some character development as well that made the characters themselves reflect the very traits that distinguish them as being a commoner or a noble even in situations where it would be far fetched to believe it. In the nature versus nurture argument These Old Shades falls firmly on the side of nature and I can't say any more or will risk spoiling it.
Georgette Heyer makes you fall in love with her characters even if they really don't deserve it. Whether it is a debauched rake who is addressed as Satan (and rightfully so) on a number of occasions, or a headstrong girl who thinks little of everyone save for her savior the Duke Heyer will make them lovable and you will care what happens to them even if you don't agree with them, their ideals, or their lifestyle choices. The romance turned out to be very sweet and left me wondering what will happen to them down the road. Thankfully I don't have to wonder long because this is the first in a trilogy. Next is Devil's Cub followed by An Infamous Army each taking place generations later. I look forward to it!