Desert Isle Keeper
Frederica (#73 on AAR's Top 100 Romances)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on July 10, 2000
We don’t title our reviews here at AAR, but if we did this one would be called Georgette Heyer: Impressions of a Neophyte. Many readers grew up reading Georgette Heyer and came to love romance and Regencies in particular because of their similarities to her work. I am coming to Heyer in the opposite way, after reading countless romances, including many Regencies. Frederica is the first book I have read by Georgette Heyer, but it won’t be the last.
Frederica is the story of the Marquis of Alverstoke, a confirmed bachelor, and Frederica Merriville, the bold but uncalculating woman who wins his heart. I’m sure I’ve read dozens of books that feature noble bachelors, none of whom intend to marry until they meet the heroine, and no doubt several of them may have been inspired by this book. It’s a familiar plot, but I’ve seldom seen it work as well as it does here.
Alverstoke is a man who initially doesn’t bother to concern himself with anyone’s needs but his own. He has a pack of relations who have plenty of money and connections, but still apply to him for every need. As the book opens his sister and the mother of his heir ask him to host come-out balls for their daughters, and he turns them down flat. But then another distant relation applies for his aid. Her name is Frederica Merriville, and though he was distantly connected to her father he has never met her before. Frederica has a beautiful sister – Charis – and she wants Alverstoke’s help to launch Charis into society. Alverstoke finds himself oddly intrigued by Frederica, and he decides to hold a cone-out ball for his nieces after all. But he will invite Frederica and the Charis, thus annoying his relatives whose daughters will never be able to compete with Charis’s beauty.
Charis may be beautiful, but she is also politely referred to as a complete ninnyhammer. However, her beauty and artless manners make her an instant success. Although Alverstoke has no particular interest in the Merriville family at first, he gradually finds himself drawn into their circle. In addition to Frederica and Charis there are three brothers, all of whom require Alverstoke’s help one way or another, and a completely unforgettable dog named Lufra. Lufra’s antics make for one of the best scenes in the book, which is laugh-out-loud funny.
Unless you are a complete ninnyhammer yourself, you will doubtless guess that Alverstoke will come to love Frederica and give up his selfish bachelor ways. But even if you’ve read a thousand romances that sound just like this, you are likely to find Frederica refreshingly different. Why?
It’s subtle. And I’m not talking about the love scenes, which were practically non-existent when Heyer was writing. Frederica is subtle in all the right ways. There is no whack-you-over-the-head sensuality, no love at first sight, no instant lust. Heyer actually shows Alverstoke fall in love gradually and believably. His transformation from confirmed, self-absorbed bachelor to dedicated family man is so gradual that he is completely unaware that it is happening. The reader can see it through his actions, though, and that’s the wonderful part.
The plot takes its time. If you read romance you know where this story is going to go, but Heyer never rushes the relationship. The book is not slow; there is always plenty going on, and most of it affects the relationship between Alverstoke and Frederica one way or another. But there is none of that artificial-feeling rush to take the relationship to the next level, because it evolves naturally over time. So often romances are about two people who feel instant sexual attraction, then eventually realize they are in love. This book is about two people who are perfect for each other, and the events that conspire to bring them together.
Children further the romance. I was surprised to discover that children play a pivotal role in this book. Alverstoke’s reactions to Frederica’s brothers and his understanding treatment of them is significant in the development of the romance, and Heyer contrasts Alverstoke’s behavior with that of other characters who do not truly understand Frederica or her family. The children are not the stock, two-dimensional figures that often appear in romances, but are actually well-drawn beings with believable motivations. They add depth and humor to the book without being overly precious.
The characters seem real. Without well-drawn characters, all the above virtues would be meaningless. Frederica and Alverstoke seem genuine, which is probably the biggest strength of the book. No one would mistake them for lifeless paragons. Both characters are likable and good-hearted, but they clearly have their faults, too. Alverstoke is truly a selfish man as the story begins. Frederica is much more concerned with others, but she is also bossy and managing. Fortunately they bring out the best in each other, and each becomes a better person as they fall in love.
My one warning to fellow neophytes is that Heyer uses a lot of Regency cant, and frankly I couldn’t figure all of it out from context. I’ve read many Regencies, so I know what it means when a woman “makes a cake of herself” or someone “does it much too brown.” Still, there were a lot of phrases that were completely new to me. However, this didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book, which is solidly entertaining from start to finish. If you’ve never gotten around to trying Heyer, I encourage you to try Frederica. From what I have observed in online chats, everyone seems to have several favorite books written by Heyer. There are a lot of Heyer books out there, several of which are being rereleased this year. I can’t wait to discover what my favorites are.