The Color of Heaven by Kim Dong Hwa: C+

From the front flap:
Ehwa, now a confident young woman, finds herself in the same maddening situation as her mother: waiting for a man. Her mother hopes for the return of her roaming lover, and Ehwa, in turn, gazes up at the same moon as her fiancé Duksam, a farmer who has gone to sea to seek his fortune so that he can marry her.

I do honestly want to like The Color Trilogy. I like the idea of a mother and her daughter living together in a rural village in turn-of-the-century Korea. I like learning about food and traditions that are new to me. I like the detailed drawings of the landscape and, especially, the family kitchen. The problem is there’s just so much about the series that annoys me that I simply can’t like it.

The central plot of this volume is that Ehwa’s love, Duksam, has left town to attempt to make a living as a fisherman, and so she is left to wait around until he returns to marry her. Her mother is also waiting for her traveling salesman lover to stop by, so they proceed to have many, many conversations about men and how it’s the lot of women to wait for them. I’m not sure they ever talk about anything but men, actually.

I know that the limited scope of life for a woman in this time and place is historically accurate, and that for a mother to say, “There is nothing better in life than getting married” reflects a period where marriage provided the ultimate in protection for a woman. But still, I can’t help but get fired up by speeches like this:

After waiting and waiting, you begin to lose track of whether it’s the moon or the sun in the sky, and that’s when he comes in with a smile on his face. As soon as you see that face, all is forgotten and you begin chasing after his footsteps once again. That is the heart of a woman.

To be honest, I think a large part of my ire is due to the fact that The Color Trilogy is written by a man. If a woman wrote these things, I’d still be annoyed, but coming from a male author I can’t help but read such statements as downright condescending. Try as I might to view these attitudes through a historical lens, I’m simply unable to get over my knee-jerk reaction.

It isn’t only Ehwa and her mother who are obsessed with discussing men and women. Everyone in town gets into the metaphor that women are flowers waiting for butterflies (men) to alight upon them, and almost all of them talk in language that’s incredibly, ridiculously poetic. In an early example, Duksam says, “I’m going to head for the sea. The sea that’s as wet and salty as your tears, and as bold and clear as your eyes.” Now, I admit that I have little appreciation for poetry, but this sounds to me like something one would come up with as a parody of purple prose.

Every now and then someone speaks plainly, like when Duksam frankly discusses his fear of leaving Ehwa behind, which had me wishing for more of the same. All of the imagery and metaphor might appeal to some readers, but to me, I would’ve enjoyed The Color Trilogy a lot more had it been more straightforward.

I reviewed The Color of Heaven for this month’s Manga Manhwa Moveable Feast. More reviews and discussion of this trilogy can be found here.

The Laughing Cavalier by Baroness Orczy: B

From the back cover:
The year is 1623, the place Haarlem in the Netherlands. Diogenes—the first Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel’s ancestor—and his friends Pythagoras and Socrates defend justice and the royalist cause. The famous artist Frans Hals also makes an appearance in this historical adventure. Orczy maintains that Hals’ celebrated portrait of The Laughing Cavalier is actually a portrayal of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s ancestor.

What a perfectly abysmal blurb that is. Egads.

The Laughing Cavalier, one of two prequels to The Scarlet Pimpernel, tells the story of a penniless foreign adventurer who passed down his exceptional qualities—such as “careless insouciance”—to his descendant, Sir Percy Blakeney, the hero of the more famous work. This fellow, a half-English rogue enjoying the life of a vagabond in The Netherlands, goes by the name of Diogenes and has for companions/minions two fellows calling themselves Pythagorus and Socrates. When Gilda Beresteyn, sister of one man and former love of another who together conspire to kill the current ruler, overhears of these plans, Diogenes and his men are hired to spirit her away so that the assassination atttempt may proceed without her interference.

What follows is essentially a lot of what one would expect. Diogenes’ swaggering merriment (and, indeed, I ought to have counted the number of times his countenance, eyes, or laugh are described as “merry,” because the total would easily be in the triple digits) and saucy attitude make him the perfect adventure hero, capable of deftly handling many abrupt reversals in his fortunes. Gilda is the feisty and sensible noblewoman who is indignant at her plight at first but eventually comes to see that her captor is far more honorable than he originally seemed. The would-be traitor, Stoutenburg, is reduced to impotent fury by Diogenes’ constant smirking and eventually has his plans ruined and loses Gilda, whom he had planned to eventually woo back to his side.

As a story, the plot is not very deep or complicated. It takes fully one quarter of the book to simply arrange the details of the caper, making one antsy for Gilda to just get abducted already! Once she is, most of the rest of the book is comprised of simply moving her from place to place. The conclusion is fairly predictable, too. That the two leads end up together is neither a surprise nor a spoiler—this is a story leading to eventual parentage, after all—but it’s still fun to read their banter, even though Gilda’s sudden realization of her feelings comes rather out of the blue. I could very easily picture their relationship unfolding on screen—perhaps because it’s not exactly a new idea. (The Princess Bride comes to mind.)

I also really enjoyed the setting. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book taking place in The Netherlands before, so all the snowy landscapes, misty windmills, and icy rivers fit for nocturnal journeys on ice skates offered something new and different, even if the story itself did not. Also, there were tons of nifty Dutch honorifics and swear words! If you ever want to insult a Dutchman, apparently all you need do is call him a “plepshurk.”

In the end, I enjoyed The Laughing Cavalier and will read the follow-up volume, The First Sir Percy, at some point in the near future.

This review has been crossposted to the Triple Take blog, where K and I did a “double take.” You can find her review here.

Adolf 5: 1945 and All That Remains by Osamu Tezuka: B+

From the back cover:
As American B-29s mercilessly bombard the city of Kobe, childhood friends Adolf Kaufmann and Adolf Kamil are finally reunited. But their love for the same woman threatens to break the last tenuous thread of friendship between them.

While Hitler spends his final days in Berlin, far away in Japan, the fate of the documents revealing the secret of his heritage is sealed forever. Then, over a quarter of a century after D-Day, the two Adolfs cross paths again—this time in Israel—but the gulf between them has only widened with time. Will the once staunch childhood friends make peace with each other before it’s too late?

Against the backdrop of the final days of World War II, the suspenseful resolution of Adolf‘s various plots plays out. Adolf Kaufmann arrives in Japan to find that the very man he’s been sent to interrogate about treacherous documents is now married to his mother. What’s more, the Jewish girl he sent to safety in Japan is now engaged to his former best friend, Adolf Kamil. While American bombs terrorize the citizens of Kobe, Kaufmann destroys any last shred of sympathy we had for him as his convictions that Germany is always right transform into a maddened zeal to secure that which he believes he deserves, no matter what other people have to say about it.

The key word of my summary paragraph is “suspenseful,” because that’s chiefly what this volume is. There’s more emphasis on wrapping up the story than on the characters themselves and years pass in the blink of an eye, with the final scenes occurring in 1983. Increasing the scope in this way does, however, emphasize the difference between leaders and regular citizens. The terrified Japanese people had surrendered long before their government actually did, for example, while Kaufmann was unable to give up on the Nazi cause after Germany’s defeat. Those who had joined without qualm were the first to walk away, whereas he, who had struggled so hard to stifle his own beliefs and buy into the Jew-hating rhetoric, was left clinging to the Nazi ideals the most tightly. “I gave up everything for this,” he half-exults, half-laments, when he finally succeeds in locating the sought-after documents.

I do love that the documents, subject of so much pain and misery, finally come to light at a moment where they are utterly useless. So much effort has been expended on locating them and, in the end, they’re simply handed back to Toge because they’re not worth anything anymore. It was all futile and, in the end, I think Tezuka is making exactly that same point about war in general, and this war in particular.

I’d love to see Adolf reissued in a swanky new VIZ Signature format, perhaps split into two omnibus editions. It’s not hard to come by as it is, but it’s definitely an unforgettable manga that deserves to be back in print.

Adolf 4: Days of Infamy by Osamu Tezuka: A

From the back cover:
While Adolf Hitler continues to wage war on the world and the Jewish people and Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, Japanese reporter Sohei Toge finally falls in love with one of the many women who has fallen for him!

Meanwhile, Adolf Kamil, a Jew living in Japan, befriends the Communist son of a Japanese MP in an attempt to deliver the secret documents about Hitler to a famous spy who will play a major role in the defeat of the Third Reich. But Adolf Kamil’s best friend, Adolf Kaufmann, by now a confirmed Nazi, is sent to Japan with orders to destroy the precious documents at any cost!

The fourth book in Osamu Tezuka’s outstanding Adolf covers a period of several years in the early forties in which Germany declares war on the Soviet Union and the presence of a Russian spy, Ramsey, in Japan presents Toge and his fellow conspirators with an opportunity to get the papers about Hitler’s Jewish blood into international hands. Most of the volume deals with arranging for the documents to be transferred to Ramsey, though love is in the air, too, as several couples discover feelings for each other. I assume this is Tezuka’s way of saying that even when times are grim, the human heart cannot be extinguished.

While he only appears in the last couple of chapters, the emotional crux of this series for me remains unfortunate Adolf Kaufmann, now a Lieutenant in Hitler’s service. In her forward to this volume, editor Annette Roman describes him as “impressionable,” which is precisely the perfect word for him. He does horrible things out of a real, though misguided, sense of devotion for Hitler, and when he realizes that the Führer has become mentally unstable, it’s a real blow to him. When he dares mention his concerns to another Nazi, the response he gets is basically, “Yeah, we know.”

Another comment Roman makes is that while Adolf can be enjoyed as a simple thriller set against the backdrop of World War II, Tezuka uses this plot to examine every “evil humans are capable of.” That’s especially true with Kaufmann’s plight. Even though he oversees terrible, terrible atrocities, we’ve seen him grow up and we know about his desperate need to prove himself worthy. His acts are evil, but it’s hard to believe that the person is the same. The other Nazis, on the other hand, perpetrate the same cruelties Kaufmann does, but without the idealization of a charismatic leader and deep personal insecurity as an excuse. Is Kaufmann really better than they are? Not ultimately, but he has been humanized by his struggle while they have not.

More turmoil is definitely in store for Kaufmann in the upcoming final volume. Unable to trust Hitler’s judgment, he refuses to obey an order to kill a renowned general pegged by the Führer as having been involved in an assassination attempt against him. For this insubordination, Kaufmann is shipped off to Poland in disgrace. It’s there that he reconnects with Lampe (of the Gestapo), who reiterates an offer he’d made before: go to Japan and destroy the documents and anyone who has knowledge of them. The volume ends on a marvelous cliffhanger as we know what Kaufmann’s mother has been up to in his absence, and how this will tie in with the task he’s been ordered to perform.

One does feel a little guilty anticipating the excitement and drama of the pending conclusion, but it’s a testament to Tezuka’s craft that he’s able to shine a light on inhumanity while simultaneously entertaining his audience.

Adolf 3: The Half-Aryan by Osamu Tezuka: A

From the back cover:
Now that the documents revealing Hitler’s secret have apparently been destroyed, it seems Japanese reporter Sohei Toge’s ordeal is over. But it turns out the Gestapo, not to mention the Japanese police, are still after him! Miss Ogi, his murdered brother’s dedicated school teacher, may be Sohei’s only hope! What does she know about the fate of those priceless documents?

Meanwhile, young Adolf Kaufmann has been brainwashed by the Hitler Youth, who send him to Lithuania to help the SS hunt down Jews. There he falls in love with a young Jewish woman—and he’s willing to risk everything to spare her from deportation to a Nazi death camp…

Then, in a terrible twist of fate, Adolf is ordered to execute Isaac Kamil! How can he kill the father of his best friend? But what will happen to him if he refuses?

We begin with the immediate fallout from the conclusion of volume two, in which a shootout between Toge and his foes transpired and the all-important documents were apparently lost in the sea. A couple of chapters are devoted to wrapping this up, but as the subtitle suggests, this volume actually spends the majority of its time with Adolf Kaufmann, the half-Japanese boy in training to join the Hitler Youth, whose life sucks a whole lot just now.

Even though Kaufmann has excelled in school, he still feels insecure about his place due to his heritage, an impression reinforced by special loyalty tests only non-pure students are required to perform. He gets in a few fights with a classmate over this point and when the father of his Jewish childhood friend Adolf Kamil—who, though extremely unfortunate events, comes to Europe to rescue some refugees and ends up in a labor camp—recognizes him and seeks his help, Kaufmann denies the acquaintance. Later, he meets a lovely Jewish girl and forcibly arranges her escape, sending her back to Japan to stay with Adolf Kamil, who finally makes his reapparance in this volume and ends up in possession of the documents, which weren’t destroyed after all.

I really admire how Kaufmann’s inner conflict is portrayed here. Even though he carries out some truly horrible orders, he manages to remain a sympathetic character because he is struggling so much with the persuasive power of a charismatic leader and his own inate beliefs. It’s much easier for him to hate Jews when they’re a nameless, faceless group, and one can see how even some small exposure to Hitler—as a reward for his “bravery” (really desperate self-preservation) in capturing an Asian spy, Kaufmann begins to train as Hitler’s aide—ratchets up his fervor, but when he’s one-on-one with a person, it’s no longer so easy to tow the party line. His desire to belong is understandable, as is his panic when connections to his past threaten to expose his own doubts. In these situations, he instinctively reacts to squash the threat, even when the consequences are awful.

In his introduction to this volume, Matt Thorn writes that a common theme in Tezuka’s work is criticism of the “human tendency to be contemptuous and fearful of difference.” One can really see that on display here, as Kaufmann’s turmoil shows that it’s easy to villify a group before you have attempted to know them. And once you have, then it’s hard to sustain the hate. I’m not generally one to employ lofty quotations, but this one by Longfellow is one of my favorites, and it applies: “If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

If I had one complaint about this volume of Adolf it’s that I can’t really care much about the fate of the documents. The human stories are far more interesting, and even the brief tale of the pub owner who nurses an injured Toge and falls in love with him over the course of a single day makes more of an impact with me than the possibility that Hitler’s shameful lineage might be exposed.

Adolf certainly doesn’t qualify as a fun read, but it is definitely a powerful one. Before this series, the only Tezuka I had read was Dororo. While Dororo is definitely good, it’s this later, more sophisticated tale that has really gotten me excited to read more of his works.

Emma 1-2 by Kaoru Mori: A

More than any other non-shojo series, Emma is the one I most frequently see being mistaken for shojo. It’s easy to see why: it’s a low-key love story between a lovely and graceful maid and the liberally minded son of a wealthy merchant family. When we first meet Emma and William, she is working in the home of his former governess, Mrs. Kelly Stownar, whom he’s been very remiss in visiting.

When he does finally deign to visit, William is immediately entranced by Emma, preferring her over the aristocratic match (with the sympathetic Eleanor) his father endorses. Many other would-be suitors confess their affections for Emma, but she turns all of them down. William, though, is different: he doesn’t ask for a definitive answer, but is content to merely to converse with her. Kelly, who worries what will become of Emma after her death, nudges the two together, but her encouragement is countered by William’s father, who refuses to approve the match.

I find it rather difficult to articulate my love for Emma, which beguiled me immediately. I liken it to my immediate affection for Castle Waiting; though the themes of the stories are different, the bond between Emma and Kelly is not unlike that between the disparate denizens of the titular castle, and Kelly’s attempt to ensure Emma’s happiness is the kind of story that really wins my heart. I also really appreciate that Eleanor is not portrayed as a scheming villainess; she’s a genuinely likable girl and the instant rapport she shares with William makes it seem much more feasible that they could actually get together than is typically the case when romantic rivals are introduced.

As good as the story is, it’s really the art that I have the most to say about, which is definitely a rarity for me. Kaoru Mori did copious research on the time period (circa 1885), and it really shows. Interiors (homes, ballrooms) and exteriors (bustling street scenes, public buildings) all look fantastic, and evoke atmosphere as well as era. While a variety of panel sizes is used, the panels never break free of their rigid rectangular confines, and if that isn’t a metaphor for the class system, I’ll eat my keyboard. Writing a comic about Victorian England and having the action sprawl all over the page would be completely wrong, but that hadn’t occurred to me until I’d seen it done completely right here.

Mori is also adept at using pacing and paneling together for dramatic effect. The most striking example of this occurs near the end of the second volume. Emma is leaving London and, after several abortive attempts to see William before she goes, boards a train. William gets wind of this too late, and there are some great panels as he pushes his way through the crowds at the station, finally bursting through into a two-page spread depicting an empty platform. It’s really masterful, and I had to reread that sequence a couple of times to admire it.

With such artistic and storytelling skill on display, I was very surprised to read that this is Mori’s first serialized manga. Seriously? If that’s the case, I’m genuinely excited about what she might create in the future, and would like to preemptively request that it all be licensed for American audiences.

I read these two volumes for the second Manga Moveable Feast, for which I am a very tardy contributor. For more reviews, essays, and thoughts about Emma, please check out Rocket Bomber, our host for this endeavor.

All ten volumes of Emma are available in English from CMX. The main storyline concludes in volume seven; volumes eight through ten are comprised of side stories.

Adolf 2: An Exile in Japan by Osamu Tezuka: A

From the back cover:
Japanese reporter Sohei Toge returns to his homeland, where he finally learns the secret that led to his brother’s brutal murder at the hands of the Gestapo. But now the Japanese secret police are on his tail, and the SS officer who tortured him in Germany has followed him to Japan to hush him up—permanently!

As fate would have it, Yukie Kaufmann, the Japanese widow of a high-ranking German Nazi, is Sohei’s only hope for survival. Meanwhile, Yukie’s son, Adolf, is being brainwashed by his teachers at an elite German school for the Hitler Youth. Why are they trying to make him hate Jews, including his best friend, Adolf Kamil!?

As the second volume of Tezuka’s masterful Adolf begins, two years have passed since the death of reporter Sohei Toge’s brother, Isao. Isao was in possession of documents that he believed would bring down Hitler, and Toge is trying to fulfill his promise to ensure that it happens.

Toge finally succeeds in locating the documents in the beginning of the volume, but his life rapidly deteriorates from there as Nazis, secret police, and foreign agents converge on him to try to claim the papers for themselves. He’s tortured, watched day and night, fired from his job, ousted from his residence, and ends up a destitute day laborer who experiences periodic visits from one especially determined investigator named Akabane.

All of this is quite riveting, but the accumulation of bad luck as hardship after hardship is heaped upon Toge makes for a painful read. When he’s mistakenly arrested for arson after losing the documents, his spirits are finally broken and he doesn’t even care if he’s charged and sent away. Of course, no rest waits for Toge, and after a brief interval in jail, he returns to a life of running, train-hopping, deserted islands, and shootouts, though with a kindly police detective on his side.

Most of this volume focuses on Toge, whose action-heavy story reads like a thriller and can be enjoyed extensively on that level. More disturbing and subtle are the glimpses we get of Adolf Kaufmann, whom we last saw as he was being unwillingly shipped off to the Adolf Hitler Schule to learn to be a good Nazi. While Adolf is doing exceptionally well academically, his tolerant attitude toward Jews doesn’t sit well with the school administrators. His top grades entitle him to receive an award from Hitler himself, and after a brief time in that charismatic man’s company, he comes out a changed boy, writing to his mother of his desire to shed blood for Germany, and beginning to parrot the rhetoric he’s read and heard about the inferiority of other races.

It was inevitable that Kaufmann’s innocence would be corrupted in this way, and there’s really nothing else he could do in such circumstances, but his transformation is, to me, a greater tragedy than the death of Isao or all of the misfortunes Toge endures. With his depiction of Kaufmann, Tezuka seems to have some sympathy for the regular citizens who were swept up in Nazi fervor, not unlike Americans who oppose the war but still support the troops who are waging it. We typically think of Nazis as the personification of evil, but the real truth is not so black-and-white.

My one regret with this volume is that it does not further the story of Adolf Kamil, the Jew living with his family in Kobe, at all. We know little of him, compared to Toge and Kaufmann, so perhaps he is not meant to be a star in his own right, but rather to represent a constant about which Kaufmann’s feelings will radically change through his experience in the Hitler Youth. The volume’s introduction does mention the racism he experiences as a non-Asian living in Japan, however, so perhaps there will be more to come later on.

I would not hesitate to call Adolf a manga classic. Like the best classics, it’s not only required reading, it’s also absorbing and unforgettable.

Kaze Hikaru 9-11 by Taeko Watanabe: A-

Beware: spoilers ahead.

I have come to the conclusion that Kaze Hikaru is not only worth owning—as opposed to borrowing it from the library, which is what I’ve been doing up until now—but is also pure evil (in the very best way, of course).

Volume nine begins with a reorganization of the Shinsengumi that sees Sei reassigned from active patrolling to a position taking care of the headquarters. This is arranged by Yamanami, who is the second member of the troop to learn her secret and who wants to keep her out of harm’s way. Okita fully approves of this arrangement, though Sei does not. The first half of the volume is fairly lighthearted, featuring a bunch of guys who see Sei and Okita’s separation as an opportunity to vie for Sei’s affections. Saito and Okita intervene, which gives Sei ample opportunity to thoroughly misunderstand the intentions of each.

Problems begin to percolate near the end of volume nine, as Sei learns one of the troops is planning to lodge a complaint against the captain. Inter-troop tensions continue into volumes ten and eleven, when Todo returns with a bevy of new recruits, including a bigshot named Ito Kashitaro who promptly ruffles a bunch of feathers. Ito’s arrival is played for comedy for several chapters—because he’s a lover of beautiful things, he outrageously pines for both Hijitaka and Sei—but abruptly gets more serious when he invites Yamanami into his confidence and puts him in a position where he’s caught between the complicated and conflicting ideologies of Ito (for whom he feels loyalty because they’re from the same sword school) and Captain Kondo.

Throughout these volumes, Sei and Okita’s relationship continues to subtly evolve in minute yet important ways. We also learn more about the supporting cast, most notably the incredibly sympathetic Yamanami. He’s a really sweet guy who tries to nudge Sei and Okita together and gives her some really good advice. Here’s a particularly lovely exchange:

Sei: Okita-sensei’s like the wind… there’s nothing to hold on to. I’m merely a blade of grass who is always swayed by doubt and unable to catch up with the free-spirited wind.

Yamanami: Without grass even the wind would lose sight of itself. So you have to sway more and show the wind that ‘this is your home.’

These words really stick with her and are shown to be true later on when she is restored to patrol duty and Okita muses that he doesn’t feel as free to sacrifice his life with her around.

I should’ve known, therefore, that just when we’re made to love Yamanami very much, something awful would happen. He is still haunted by atrocities he witnessed at the prison, and when further news of bakufu brutality reaches him, he can no longer continue to serve them and deserts the troop. He knows full well what the penalty will be, but accepts it without complaint, refusing too to state his reasons, knowing that it might throw his comrades into chaos. It’s all the more terrible because he didn’t fail the cause—the cause failed him!

I can’t remember the last time a manga made me cry like this. And so, that is why Kaze Hikaru is simultaneously marvelous and evil. It lulls you into a false sense of homey security and then suddenly reminds you that you’re dealing with a lot of passionately idealistic men with a strict (and bloody) code of honor. You can love them as individuals, but be warned—their story will break your heart.

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer: A-

theseoldshadesFrom the back cover:
Society believes the worst of Justin Alastair, the notorious Duke of Avon, who is clearly proud of his sobriquet, “Satanas.” It is he who buys Léon body and soul from a scoundrel in a Paris backstreet. The red-headed urchin has strangely familiar looks, and should play a fine part in Justin’s long-overdue schemes to avenge himself on the Comte de St Vire—until, that is, Léon becomes the ravishing beauty Léonie…

These Old Shades is the supremely entertaining tale of the clever and manipulative Duke of Avon and his spirited page-turned-ward Léon/Léonie. The book has an interesting publishing history, in that it’s a sequel of sorts to Heyer’s first novel (The Black Moth) but with the characters’ names changed since the events of said book did not allow for a direct sequel. It stands alone perfectly well, though, and I experienced no disadvantage from not having read the earlier work.

The basic plot is pretty simple, if slightly improbable. The Duke of Avon has many enemies, and chief among them is the red-haired, black-browed Comte de St Vire. When Avon should happen to run into a youth who bears a striking resemblance to the Comte, he immediately realizes the boy, Léon, must be the result of some indiscretion on St Vire’s part and resolves to use him as a weapon to destroy his foe. Most of the rest of the book consists of flaunting Léon under St Vire’s nose, both as a boy and later as the lovely Léonie, and trying to induce St Vire to admit to what Avon has surmised but has no concrete proof of. It all wraps up tidily at the end, and with a terrific final line, to boot.

The characters are the real charm of These Old Shades. I love characters like the Duke of Avon—seemingly foppish, but really incredibly dangerous. He always speaks languidly and sardonically and kind of reminds me of what Mr. Bennet (of Pride and Prejudice) could’ve been like had he been ruthless instead of indolent. Léonie is irrepressible (yet completely devoted to Avon), and though she (eventually) submits to learning to be a girl, still derives great delight from traditionally boyish pursuits. Supporting them are the Duke’s siblings, friends, and neighbors, who are all charmed by Léonie and make a fun audience for Avon’s schemes.

The one complaint I could make is the eventual direction of Avon and Léonie’s relationship. Avon states at one point that he has only a fatherly affection for Léonie and that he is convinced that she looks upon him as something akin to a grandparent. It would appear he was mistaken about that, but a paternal vibe was planted so firmly in my brain that when the story proceeded to pair them up romantically it was kind of icky.

All in all, though, I really enjoyed These Old Shades. It’s somewhat of a relief, coming after a rather disappointing first attempt at reading Heyer, since I was so convinced I’d like her books that I once bought a whole slew of them on eBay. Happily, the story begun here is continued in three more books, so those will likely be the next of her books that I tackle.

The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer: B-

masqueradersFrom the back cover:
Temporarily abandoned by their scapegrace father, Prudence and Robin Lacey are forced to masquerade as the opposite sex to avoid capture by their political enemies.

Prue makes a devilishly handsome young man and her brother Robin is equally beguiling as her “sister.”

This, however, makes for some dangerous entanglements when Prue, as Mr. Merriot, falls in love with Sir Anthony, and her brother, posing as Miss Merriot, finds his heart struck by the lovely heiress, Letty Grayson…

Long have I nurtured a desire to read the works of Georgette Heyer, and what better place to start than the one with all the cross-dressing!

The Masqueraders is best described as a romantic farce. Siblings Prudence and Robin Lacey are the children of an exceedingly clever father who repeatedly gets them both involved in his schemes. Most recently, this involved being part of the Jacobite rebellion, causing them to go into hiding garbed as members of the opposite sex. Their father sends them to stay with a family friend where they are introduced into society as Peter and Kate Merriot.

Prudence, in the guise of Peter, begins to develop affection for the large and observant Sir Anthony Fanshawe while Robin, as Kate, comes to feel for a young heiress called Letty Grayson. To top it off, their father soon arrives, claiming to be Tremaine of Barham, heir to a Viscounty. Because he is an infuriatingly circumspect fellow, he won’t give them a straight answer as to whether he really is this person or if it’s just another of his masquerades, and both children have their doubts. Insert into this narrative blooming romance, a surly rival for Letty’s affections, a masked ball, a second claimant, a duel avoided, a duel provoked, a rescue, a death, an arrest, a subsequent rescue, and a pleasant though predictable ending and one gets an idea of the nature of this lighthearted tale.

While I did enjoy reading The Masqueraders, it never succeeded in surprising me any. Too, I found the siblings’ father to be quite tiresome—especially his tendency to proclaim himself a great man—and never did see what Robin liked so much about Letty other than her looks; her head is full of thoughts of romance and little else. More to my liking was the pairing of Prudence and Sir Anthony. Stolid and wry, he’s a likable fellow and also admires Prudence for the best of reasons, citing that he has never once seen her betray fear or lose her head.

All in all, this is a frothy confection that amuses without offering much substance. Still, I definitely liked it will enough to persevere in my goal of reading all of Heyer’s works. I know her fans are many, so if anyone has any particular recommendations of what I ought to read next, I’d be happy to receive them.