Max Ravenscar is one of Georgette Heyer’s favorite hero types: he is 35 years old, single, and the head of his family for many years. He is a powerful athlete and superb horseman. He is harsh featured, strong-willed, and suffers no one to cross his will. And, oh yes, even more importantly, he is extraordinarily, amazingly wealthy. Deborah Grantham is also a favorite type: well-born and gently raised, but her family has suffered reverses, and she is forced to make her way. Her father was a military man, but more importantly to our story, a gamester. Her aunt, with whom she resides since her father’s death, is a widow forced to make ends meet by running a private gaming club. She was successful on a small scale, but is in no way equipped to run a profitable business, and inevitably, has fallen into debt.
Max’s nephew Adrian has fallen hard for Deb Grantham, and his mother, Max’s aunt, one of the women who depend on Max to keep their worlds untroubled, implores him to extricate the young man from this potential pitfall. Deb Grantham, a lovely 25 year old Juno-esque blonde, has a strong will and temper, along with a finely tuned moral code and sense of her own worth. At their first meeting, Ravenscar is surprised by her, but also beats her badly at piquet. The following day, he offers her money to turn his nephew loose. Deb has been playing with Adrian to keep another suitor, one who wishes to make her his mistress, at bay. Incensed at Max’s blunt offer, she plays a role that suits what he thinks she is, rather than showing her very real anger. Predictably, they show each other their worst sides, misconstrue actions, get into and out of scrapes, forestall any serious problems, and inevitably, end up in each other’s arms.
Other characters include the raffish sidekick, her father’s friend and confidante who is devoted to Deb, a spoiled younger brother, who is appalled at the slide into not-quite-respectable territory his aunt and sister have begun, an enchanting younger step-sister who gives her older brother something to think about, and a very young and foolish ingénue who is not so foolish as to allow herself to be married to a far older man of worse than dubious reputation. It is a great mix and a lot of fun.
Along the way, Heyer, who knows her periods well, reveals some of the cracks in the world of upper class Eighteenth Century England. The wellborn do not work; their money is inherited. If the families waste their fortunes, the choices for their children are harsh. Improvident parents marry children off to the highest bidder they can find, no matter how unsavory the reputation. Few opportunities present themselves for those girls who do not marry: companion or governess for the not so lucky. Deb Grantham shows this when she responds to Ravenscar’s comment that she is accomplished. “No,” she says, “drawing, singing or playing an instrument are accomplishments.” She means of course, suitable for a young lady. She was not fortunate to acquire those skills, but instead has learned card games like faro and piquet. She does not expect to marry because of her slightly tarnished reputation. Max is cynical in part because he has been the head of his family since far-too-young an age. Not only has he had too heavy a burden caring for his various family members, but ambitions mamas trying to marry off their daughters have disgusted him with their headlong pursuit of his name and his fortune. Naturally strong-willed, no one has crossed him in a long time. Deb’s expert fencing with him, whether playing cards or pitting her will against his, comes as a not entirely welcome surprise. They are equally matched; he may have doubts about her eligibility to marry into his family, but her behavior actually is more honorable than his. When he plays for high stakes against Lord Ormkirk, his lordship is drunk. The race, for breathtakingly high stakes, is against a man who he knows has inferior driving skills. It’s all right; both his competitors are bad men, but Deb, for all that she is plays in her aunt’s gaming establishment, would not take unfair advantage. She cannot afford to.
But, being a rollicking romance, all ends well, and Deb can stop playing faro, Max will pay her aunt’s debts, and everyone ends up happy. Including Georgette Heyer’s loyal readers.
About Lady Anne, the reviewer: A confirmed Janeite and co-founder of Janeites on the James (our Jane Austen group), an expert on all things Georgette Heyer and the Regency Era, a lady well read and well bred, Lady Anne is known for her discerning eye for both literature and her breath-taking garments made by a select mantua maker. Cloth’d and coifed, Lady Anne knows few equals, and when she enters a room she is a commanding presence. She is also Ms. Place’s special friend and confidante.
To read more about gambling during this era, please read the post that sits below this one or click here.
- Faro: Or Bucking the Tiger, The Gentleman’s Page
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