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*** The storyline ***
Cold-hearted libertine Duke of Avon, Justin Alastair, infamously known as 'Satanas', is startled into an act of apparent altruism upon meeting a young red-headed lad. Leon is running away from a beating from his brother, a low tavern keeper, and on a whim, Alastair decides to buy him from the man.
Taking the impoverished youngster on as a page causes raised eyebrows from his friend, Davenant, who has never known Satanas to perform an unselfish deed. It provokes a stronger reaction still from the Duke's unspoken enemy, Comte de Saint-Vire, who has the same red hair, blue eyes and black brows as Leon.
What is the secret of Leon's identity? Is the Duke's uncharacteristic kindness actually no kindness at all, but a scheme to undo his old nemesis? Or can he find it within himself to live up to his page's hero worship and adoration?
*** My view ***
This historical romance from Heyer is set mostly in Georgian era France, with references to La Pompadour and so on.
It has a lot in common with Heyer's first novel 'The Black Moth', with strong resemblances between characters: most obviously the two dukes, Avon and Andover, 'Satanas' & 'Devil'. But the story here is more complex and everything filled out more. 'These Old Shades' is a stronger, more mature work.
The main characters are lovingly created. (To avoid spoilers, I won't discuss the character of Leon). The reckless, feckless Alastair family are products of their unstable background, and the Duke himself is cold and aloof through his experiences. All the Alastairs are convinced they are fated to be the way they are because of their 'mad' parentage, but they do actually show the capacity to change and think of others (a little at least). It's easier to like the Duke of Avon because of this rounding of his character and because you don't see his villainy at first hand, just hear of it as acts from his past.
As you'd expect, the plot of this historical romance is resolved in a most satisfactory way. Although I do have reservations about the large gap in age, experience and authority between the Duke and his eventual bride and his paternalistic need to take care of her rather than it being a marriage of equals. However, she is a feisty one.
Heyer's writing has great flow and engages the attention. It's thoroughly enjoyable stuff. I think this novel is one of Heyer's best, with twists and turns and a lot of smiles along the way.
To buy new from Amazon, the paperback is £5.59 while the Kindle version is £5.22. You should be able to find it more cheaply from other sellers or secondhand.