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The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
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Jan 25, 2009

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bookshelves: heyers-i-own, historical
Read in January, 2009

The Reluctant Widow has a very gothic setting since the majority of the action is set in a house that makes our heroine think of phrases such as "decayed grandeur" and "depressing dilapidation" when she sets foot in it, which she never would have had to do had she not mistakenly gotten into the wrong coach when she arrived in the village of Billingshurst. Because of this one innocent mistake Elinor Rochdale instead of finding herself at the end of her journey in Mrs. Macclesfield's establishment where she was to take up position as a governess to her high spirited boy finds herself instead in a forbidding house talking at cross purposes with a gentleman of fashion who thought she was there in answer to the advertisment he had set out for a woman who would agree to marry his dissolute and alcoholic cousin Cheviot whose guardian he was in order to quell rumours that he had designs upon his relative's fortune. Due to certain circumstances and Lord Carlyon's persuasive nature Elinor does end up marrying Cheviot on his death bed and the story only grows stranger (or should I say funner?) from there for the house hides a stolen memorandum that French supporters of Bonaparte would very much like to get their hands on and which Elinor, Carlyon and his family must try and discover before anyone else can.

Heyer has combined adventure and mystery elements in her romance wonderfully and her dialogues, as always are a delight to read. She has a wonderful way of capturing the voice of her characters and making them all distinct from one another. The Carlyon family is now on my list of favourite Heyer clans and I only regret that we never got to see the other two sisters of the family. But we did get to meet Ned or Lord Carlyon who is the head of his family and has the knack of phrasing outrageous plans in the most sensible manner - a trick which often puts Elinor out of countenance with him. There is also John the second youngest brother who always tries to be sensible and straight-laced and is often seen chastising his younger brother Nicky but if anyone were to speak against Ned's outlandish schemes or deride Nicky's high spiritedness he will instantly take umbrage and defend them to death (and he is not averse to flying kites if only to ensure that Nicky does it in a proper way). Nicky is the youngest in the family and is currently rusticated due to reasons involving a performing bear that he was tempted to borrow. Happily though his time at home seems to be proving as adventurous as anything since it involves accidentally killing his cousin, finding hidden passages in aforementioned dead cousin's house, getting shot at because of inconveniently placed rusted armours, trying to discover important documents gone astray and keeping an eye on potential killer dandies (which he does not think are dangerous at all, only Ned would have it said that the paltry fellow Francis Cheviot is actually very cunning). The women in the book do not get as much screen time except for Elinor ofcourse but when they do they are as charming as ever. Elinor, our herione, is actually very independent and free spirited but whenever she encounters Ned has a tendency to become very cross at his inconsiderate plans that always seem to place her in the middle of danger. Miss Beccles, her companion, is so awed by Ned and is continually singing his praises which makes Elinor even more cross because her ex-governess seems to go along with the most ridiculous of plans instead of opposing them like some strict old scandalised woman. Also we see in the briefest of glimpses Georgy - one of the three sisters in the Carlyon clan, and she seems very perspicacious and affectionate. Finally I have to mention Francis Cheviot - another one of the wonderful foppish characters Heyer has such a skill for creating. Except this isn't a dandy you would like to cross paths with because for all his whining and melodramatic ways he has a very ruthless streak that makes even Ned shudder. And Ned isn't the kind to be put out of countenance often (or so Elinor claims).
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