Although Lady Anne and I are good friends, we often engage in vigorous verbal sparring. You are about to read a typical exchange between the two founders of the Janeites on the James in which we disagree about the merits of The Talisman Ring. The winner is clearly Lady Anne, who has read the novel more times than anyone of my acquaintance. Our conversation is actually quite civilized this time, for during our more heated exchanges we have been known to throw teacups and negus bowls at each other.
Vic: As you know, Lady Anne, I had the toughest time finishing this novel. I wanted to publish a review of The Talisman Ring weeks ago, but I could not care less about how the story ended and kept pushing the book aside. That’s when I felt desperate and decided to enlist your aid.
Lady Anne: When you told me you were having trouble, I was surprised, because I think this is a very sprightly and amusing read.
Vic: That’s because you like mysteries. You actually read them for pleasure. Whodunnits do not thrill me; they never have, to give Georgette her due. I was looking forward to reading The Talisman Ring because so many people have raved about it, and some have called it their favorite GH novel. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that it was thin on historical romance and overstuffed with mystery and plot. I kept yawning instead of wondering when and how Sir Tristam and Miss Thane would help Ludovic recover his ring.
Lady Anne: It’s true I am far more of a mystery fan than a basic boy-girl romance reader. But I liked the humor in this, whether it was Sarah’s brother who has strong feelings about smuggled liquor, or the wonderful conversation between Eustacie, Sarah, Tristram and Hugh, as they were walking outside the Inn, where at least four conversational threads go around and through. Or Sarah and Tristram in the dining room of the Dower house. And then, when Ludovic can establish his claim, the first thing Hugh says is I want to buy that horse from you; as if that was the important point. I thought the ebb and flow of dialogue was some of Heyer’s best. But it is true that it is not romantic fluff, but frankly, Heyer does very little of that in any of her books.
Vic: Yes, you are right (again). I hope you are not hinting that I am into fluff and tripe. That would raise my hackles. I like to read Georgette Heyer novels for their scintillating dialogue, historical details, sparkling wit, and the constant push-pull between the hero and heroine, which was sorely lacking in this convoluted mess. Frankly I think Ms. H simply tried to do too much in one novel. She wrote the book in 1936 when she was 34 years old. My sense is that she had not yet developed the effortless style that became the hallmark of her mature romances. In her later novels she could juggle several story lines and introduce an assortment of entertaining characters that I CARED about and who left me gasping from laughing too hard. This plot is too dependent on bunglers, like those Bow Street Runners, who were more ridiculous than realistic. Really, I can’t understand why you like the book so much.
Lady Anne: Nor can I see why you have so much trouble, because the dialogue is great fun. Eustacie, whose English is very literally translated from French is funny. Sarah Thane and Tristram share a very compatible sense of the ridiculous, which serves them so well; they are of an age and oh-so-very tired of the Marriage Mart. But I think what’s missing in The Talisman Ring for you are those historical style nuggets – not much discussion of clothes or curricles, Almacks or balls, or the opera or on-dits – nothing at all of London or the Season. That’s something that continually fascinates you. There is not even discussion of the food they are eating – just the different (illegal) wine that Hugh and Ludovic work their way through.
Vic: You are so right. While GH’s settings were authentic and her historical details are spot on, she concentrated more on dialogue and action in this book. But these are not the only reasons why I dislike The Talisman Ring. Both couples were problematic for me, and our main hero and heroine were provided with very little back story. What exactly was Sarah Thane’s motivation for embroiling herself in someone else’s mess? And Georgette never adequately explained why Sir Tristam was so wary of all women- or perhaps I missed this little detail while I was scratching around for a cup of undiluted caffeine. Please don’t tell me that I could have divined all these details by reading between the lines, for I take no pleasure in such nonsense. Speaking of which, I especially didn’t like Ludovic or Eustacie; their characters seemed too ditzy and unrealistic. In fact they drove me batty. Georgette must have lost interest in them as well, for she did not complete their story or bring it to some conclusion.
Lady Anne: Well, I was certainly more interested in Tristram and Sarah, and I suspect most readers are, because that is where the book ends. And there was nothing clueless about their romance; they knew very early on that they had found each other. I thought it was fun to watch that. It is clear that Ludovic, now that his claim to his title is clear, will marry Eustacie. That was settled early on in the book; as Sarah said, “I think the youngsters will make a match of it,” and Tristram says that Ludovic has no business thinking of marriage when his future is so clouded. That was why all searched for the ring and brought Basil to book. (You were probably nodding over those pages and missed it.) I do agree that the youngsters are more archetypes than interesting characters, but I thought Ludovic was charming in his young and heedless fashion. I suspect Sarah and Tristram’s mother will keep Eustacie safely chaperoned until the courts complete their business, and Ludovic and Eustacie will spend time in London and at the Castle, happily ever after. As far as Heyer’s writing goes, I think it is more to the point that 1936 was when Heyer was in the midst of her first rush of drawing room mysteries – Death in the Stocks, Behold Here’s Poison, They Found Him Dead, and Why Shoot a Butler were all published about that time frame. She was very prolific in the mid-30s. That’s also when she was doing all her big Wellington research; An Infamous Army was published in 1937, and it is generally considered her best work.
Vic: Lady Anne, you sly puss! Have you purchased Jane Aiken Hodge’s The Private World of Georgette Heyer or have you committed all these facts to memory? You are so right. Not only was Georgette busy, she was suffering from a bout of flu when she wrote this book. Oh, I could discourse with you forever, but I must wind up this review. Thank you, Lady Anne, for an enlightening discussion. Perhaps, when I am in a more generous mood, I’ll give The Talisman Ring another chance, but not before I read The Grand Sophy, which is coming out in July.
LadyAnne: Well, I certainly hope you are not looking for lover-like dialogue in The Grand Sophy! That young Miss is as unrealistic as Ludovic and Eustacie put together!
Vic: No sappy, lover-like dialogue for me. I adore the spats that Georgette’s characters engage in and the way her bossy heroines flout convention. To return to The Talisman Ring, you can order the book at this link. The publisher gave it the most luscious cover imaginable. I keep the book out in full view because it looks so pretty on my tabletop.
Our regency fan rating:
Lady Anne: 3 regency fans
Vic: Cover: 3 regency fans, Story: 1 ½ to 2
Read my other Georgette Heyer reviews below:
- Read Lady Anne’s recent review of Cousin Kate here