Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Classics Circuit: Royal Escape by Georgette Heyer

A year or two ago I'd never heard of Georgette Heyer.  Then I noticed her name popping up on every book blog under the soon and beautiful reprints of her novels caught my eye at libraries and bookstores.  Eager to try this "new to me" author I signed up for Ms. Heyer to stop by The Blog Jar on her Classics Circuit tour.

Heyer wrote three different genres of novels:  Romance (mostly set in Austen's Regency era), Mysteries, and Historical Fiction.  I chose to read Heyer's historical novel Royal Escape.

Royal Escape is set around 1651 and concerns the defeat of Charles II at Worcester from Oliver Cromwell's army.  Charles II, who knows he is destined for the chopping block, must make his way through treacherous England and to safety in France.  Heyer's novel includes the famous legend of Charles II hiding in an oak tree to elude his captors.

First off, I'd like to say that I had mixed reactions to this book.  When I began the novel I was hooked.  All the mud, war, and tension fraught with lurking death intrigued me.  Additionally, I was comfortable that Heyer had done a great deal of research as a through bibliography was at the back of the book.  On I sped through the novel and then slowed about 250 pages in when I realized that I was suddenly bored out of my mind.  With nearly 200 more pages left in the novel, I didn't know how I was going to finish, but finish I did.

So what happened?  Let me count the frustrations!
  1. The characters are flat.  Charles II is swarthy and we get a description of that every time someone new spots him.  We don't truly get a picture of this character.  I couldn't keep his companions straight either, because they all sounded the same.  Untrustworthy servants are obviously shifty and trusty servants glow with pride at serving the King.  We have all manner of faithful old ladies, a saucy lady, and a pure lady to boot.  All dialogue and thought processes the reader is privy too are stilted.  There is no real character or internal struggle or depth.  Which would be fine if the book was so damn long.
  2. It gets real predictable real fast.  At every scene Charles shows up at a home, is smuggled in, is recognized or introduced to someone.  That someone either gives us paragraphs full of homage or sneaks out of the house.  I couldn't keep the homes straight because EVERYTHING IS THE SAME. 
  3. Oddsblood!  Apparently, this is an expression used at the time that can also be substituted with "oddsfish".  It is used to express horror, joy, surprise, revelation... pretty much any emotion.  You'll find it every three pages and once you notice it, it will drive you mad.  
On the whole, I think if the book had been shorter and a bit more tightly edited it would have been wonderful.  I am certainly going to read Heyer again, but perhaps a mystery or romance next time, the talent is there, but perhaps not bested showcased in a historical novel format.  


    Hannah Stoneham said...

    Really interesting review - thanks for sharing. I have read a couple of the romances and never been impressed with them. I think that Heyer wrote too much for it to be really good if you know what I mean. It is the same with Jean Plaidy who also wrote historical fiction.

    There is also a biography of Georgette Heyer - but if I remember it is rather borning!

    Happy blogging


    Aarti said...

    I have long been a Heyer fan but have never tried one of her historicals, as I think she tried to become a "serious author" with them. Not to great effect.

    fleurfisher said...

    Oh dear, that is disappointing. I looked at one of her historical novels in the library yesterday, not having known she wrote them until then. Maybe there's a reason why! but I read my first Heyer mystery or the Classics Circuit and liked it a lot.

    Lindsey Sparks said...

    I had the same three frustrations when I read Heyer's Friday's Child for the Circuit. Or half read it anyway. The characters were so flat and boring I couldn't keep them straight or care about what was happening. I enjoy historical romances, so I had hoped to discover a new great author, but alas, not so much.

    Karenlibrarian said...

    Oddsblood! I'll have to try and incorporate this into my vocabulary. Thanks for sharing that, your review was hilarious. This won't be going on my to-read list, though I did enjoy the Heyer mystery I read earlier.

    Rebecca Reid said...

    Oh sorry it ended up being disappointed! It sounds like it has so much good premise behind it!!