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Whenever I'm in a reading rut I always turn to my favourite author, Georgette Heyer, knowing that reading one of her wonderfully frothy Regency novels will revitalise my love of the written word. Just recently I've been staying away from home at my old family house with only the TV (with a screen the size of a postage stamp) and my trusty Kindle for company, however nothing on my Kindle was tempting me and whilst mooching through the bookshelves I found an old copy of Regency Buck which I must have left behind when I left home 40 years ago and settling down to read it, I was soon back in reading heaven.
Judith Tavener and her brother Peregrine first encounter Julian Audley during their journey to visit their newly appointed guardian and their first impressions of that gentleman are not good. Both Judith and Peregrine find him extremely arrogant and a complete dandy and more to the point, he always seems to see them at their worst possible moments. Their father has recently died and left them as wards of his good friend, the Earl of Worth, but circumstances have played a cruel trick and Mr Tavener's will had referred to his friend as the Fifth Earl of Worth when, in fact, he had been the fourth in that illustrious line. When Judith and Peregrine are ushered in to meet the fifth Earl, their surprise is only matched by their dismay because instead of the elderly gentleman they expected to encounter, the fifth Earl of Worth is none other than Julian Audley and he doesn't look overjoyed to see them either.
I know many people dismiss romantic fiction as being one of the less well respected genres of literature but Georgette Heyer proved over and over again that in the hands of a writer who not only was good at their craft but also brought excellent research into play, romantic fiction could more than hold its own and this book, like all her other Regency novels, is no exception. Not only does it tell an engaging and entertaining story featuring wonderful characters but it's filled with so much historical information that the reader is immediately transported back two centuries to the glory that was Regency England.
The heroine, Judith, is a young woman who is only months away from being twenty-one when she will no longer require a guardian but until then she's required to do what Worth tells her which really doesn't sit well with someone like her. She's used to being more or less in charge of her own destiny having been the daughter of a man who had been a widower for many years and Judith is used to issuing orders rather than taking them and she certainly doesn't intend to be instructed in how to behave by the Earl of Worth!
She tells herself she dislikes him and indeed, to begin with she truly does dislike him but as he gently guides both herself and her young brother through their first London season, she begins to realise that he isn't the supercilious dandy she'd first thought him to be and yet there is an air of mystery about the man which makes her suspicious of him whilst at the same time wishing she didn't have those doubts.
As for Worth, he's annoyed that Judith and Peregrine didn't obey his initial instructions which were to remain in the North until he visited them. He's found himself guardian to two young people through a legal error and it's most inconvenient especially given the fact that neither of them seem to like him particularly. It's up to Worth to ensure that his wards steer a safe course through Society and he's also faced with the fact that an unknown person is trying to kill Peregrine.
In most Heyer novels the characters are all fictitious though real life historical figures frequently get a mention from time to time. In this novel, however, there are several historical characters woven into the fabric of the story including Beau Brummell and the Prince Regent, as well as some lesser known but equally real figures from that era. These are so well integrated into the story that it often becomes difficult to separate fiction from fact.
I've already mentioned the in-depth research which gave each of Georgette Heyer's books such authenticity and this one's no exception. One of the first set pieces of the story is an open air boxing match between Tom Molyneux and Tom Cribb, both of whom really did fight at the time and place mentioned in the book, and the information about both boxers, their seconds and the fight, as well as the boxing cant used back then is so expertly worked into the dialogue that the reader learns historical facts without even realising. It's just such attention to detail which gives Heyer's books an edge over any other historical romance writer.
This is essentially a romance but there is plenty of action and intrigue in the plot to have the story rattling along at a great pace and just as Judith dislikes Worth on first acquaintance, so does the reader, but as the story progresses, we begin to see the real Julian Audley and he's far more the hero than the villain of the piece. In fact, the villain also has something of a role reversal as the story unfolds, beginning as a likeable chap but his friendly demeanour hide a far more sinister side.
Like all Georgette Heyer's books, this one manages to tell a great story whilst keeping true to the manners and mores of Regency life. Her heroines don't ever fall into bed with the hero unless there's a wedding ring on their finger, and even then the reader is left outside the bedroom door. That isn't to say that the book lacks sexual tension but the build up of the romance is a slow burn and all the more satisfying for being so. Regency Buck is one of the rare novels where there is physical contact between the hero and heroine, albeit only a stolen kiss.
Regency Buck is one of my favourite Heyer novels, largely because it manages to incorporate so much action, humour, romance and realism into something which on the surface appears to be all lightness and froth. It's simply a master class in how a good historical romance should unfold.
Used copies can be picked up from 1p plus postage. This title is also available in Kindle format for £5.22