Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer's Regency romance, The Grand Sophy, a novel bubbling over with mirth, was just what I needed to shake me out of my recent reading doldrums. I thoroughly enjoyed the hours I spent in the company of the irrepressible heroine, Sophy Stanton-Lacy, and her relatives and acquaintances.

I had never before read a Heyer novel, as I typically shy away from anything labeled a "romance." (This one even had the Harlequin logo on the cover!) But after seeing glowing reviews of her novels posted at Historical Tapestry and other blogs, I decided to give her a try, and I'm so glad I did! Her prose was witty and sparkling, her plot deftly spun and her characters mostly endearing. (Those who were not at least made me chuckle!)

A pall of gloom has settled over the Ombersley household. Charles Rivenhall, the eldest son, has used a large inheritance to bring his family from the brink of financial ruin (caused by his father's gambling debts). Consumed with worry over the future of his siblings, he has become joyless and humorless and - worse - has gotten himself engaged to Miss Eugenia Wraxton, an intolerably prim and proper young lady who never hesitates to let others know of her breeding and virtue.

As if that weren't enough, Charles's sister, Cecilia, is infatuated with a handsome poet who writes very bad verse and is a dead bore, to boot. Her romantic notions have blinded her to the virtues of a much worthier man who not only has money and position, but truly loves her. And younger son, Hubert, has gotten himself into financial trouble, which he naively hopes to rectify by betting on horses.

Into this mess storms cousin Sophy, with her unconventional forthrightness, boundless energy and determination to set everything to rights. Arriving for an extended stay after her father goes to Brazil on a diplomatic mission, Sophy immediately takes the measure of each family member. She has a kind heart, a keen intelligence and a gift for manipulation, and she uses these traits to nudge her relatives toward what she knows will make them happy (even if they have not realized it themselves). Charles is offended by her unconventional ways and frequently clashes with her, but Sophy refuses to back down, and despite his claims of intense dislike for her, a spark soon ignites between the two.

Sophy always stays one step ahead of Charles as he desperately tries to rein her in, but in the end, she finally meets her match in him. All is resolved in a perfectly choreographed scene, with each major character arriving at an Elizabethan country manor and pairing off with the right person.

Heyer sketched the personality of her characters with crackling dialogue. I could hear their voices in my head and predict how each character would react in different situations. The plot moved at a brisk pace and never got bogged down. I always enjoyed returning to Sophy's world and discovering what she would do next.

If Heyer's other novels are half as much fun to read as this one, I will have found a writer to treasure. My grade: A.

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