Georgette Heyer’s so-called romances are some of the world’s most popular and enduring stories, full of adventure and intrigue and witty banter, more reminiscent of Jane Austen than Mills and Boon. She wrote her first novel in 1921, and went on to become one of pre-war England’s bestselling novelists, basically inventing the wildly popular ‘Regency romance’ genre. If, like me, you’re less interested in the love story than the Napoleonic spies, then this is right up your alley.

Elinor Rochdale descends despondently from the stagecoach, expecting a poor carriage to meet her and take her on to her odious post as a governess to two spoiled brats in rural Sussex. In a classic adventure twist, she is picked up by the wrong carriage (of course, there were two young ladies answering advertisements expected to arrive that evening!) and walks into a household in desperation and, soon, uproarious turmoil. The quote on the back cover really says it all: “Married at midnight. Widowed by dawn”. What more could you want?

Elinor’s new family, the Carlyons, are delightfully drawn, one major characteristic assigned to each one in a highly successful historical/romance ploy – Ned is calm and aloof, John dour and worrisome, Nicky exuberant and chatty. Elinor herself is fiesty and witty, sharp-tongued and obtuse. She ‘dislikes’ Lord Carlyon from the get-go, and not without reason, but her antagonism never gets in the way of the plot, and it is a wholly unbelievable dislike anyway – we know from the first that they are meant for each other, and instead of having to endure chapters of burning longing and desire/hatred/desire, the romance portion of the story is neatly swept to the side in deference to the main event: Napoleonic spies! Traitors in their midst! Secret passages and midnight visitors, and one very excitable dog!

The conversation sparkles, the banter flies, the old house is swept clean and mended top to bottom, and many delicious if slightly foreign-sounding meals are described in elegant detail. In short, it is a marvellous romp through Regency England via the early twentieth century storytelling sensibilities, and the most fun I’ve had with a book in ages.

Check out some of our other Georgette Heyer books on the catalogue here, and let us know what you think. Bodice-busters or spy thrillers?