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"These Old Shades" by Georgette Heyer

Spoiler Warning: try as I might, it is impossible to write a review for These Old Shades without revealing the identity of The Black Moth. If you intend to read The Black Moth, I strongly recommend that you forgo reading this review until you have finished it.

These Old Shades is available at

these old shades"Have naught to do with Avon: he was not called Satanas for no reason."
--Lady Fanny Marling

"I have something of a reputation, my father, for - uncanny omniscience. Whence, in part, my sobriquet."
--Duke Justin "Satanas" Alastair

In the late 1980s, I read Robert Heinlein's  Job: a Comedy of Justice, a modern, humorous and irreverent retelling of the biblical story of Job. In Job, Heinlein characterizes Satan as somewhat of a janitor to The Deity. Satan's reason for existence was to clean up the messes left by The Deity's penchant for playing practical jokes on humanity. I could not help thinking of Heinlen's Satan while reading Georgette Heyer's These Old Shades. In the Heyer book, the Duke of Avon plays the role of Satan with much more relish than Heinlein's long-suffering janitor. However, like Heinlein's Satan, Avon does quite a nice job of setting things right in his own unique way.

In this quasi-sequel to The Black Moth, Heyer changes the names of the characters, although their personalities remain recognizable and their histories and relationships remain much the same. Tracy Belmanoir, Duke of Andover has morphed into Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon; Lady Lavinia Carstares, the Duke's sister, is now Fanny Marling and her husband, Richard Carstares, is now Edward Marling. Andover's Brothers Andrew and Robert Belmanoir have combined as a single brother, Rupert Alastair, who appears to have more in common with the rakish Andrew than the more upright Robert. John, brother to Richard Carstares in The Black Moth, is now Anthony Merivale, who is apparently not related to Edward Marling. Merivale's wife, Jennifer (previously Lady Diana Bauleigh), was once abducted twice by the Duke of Andover and rescued both times, at great cost, by John Carstares (Anthony Merivale). Jennifer is still apparently the Duke's lost love, although we learn that another, more bitter and more humiliating love experience seventeen years prior may have locked up the Duke's heart--perhaps forever.

In addition to name changes, the characters exhibit subtle differences between The Black Moth and These Old Shades. The most arresting differences involve the Duke's motivations. In The Black Moth, Tracy "Devil" Belmanior does the wrong things for the right reasons. In the end, the reader suspects that his rather shocking behavior effected precisely the results he had planned, bringing a little pain to others in exchange for their happiness. In doing so, he deliberately brought an enormous amount of pain upon himself, and his pain shall be more difficult to heal. In These Old Shades, Justin "Satanas" Alastair apparently does the right things for the wrong reasons. Alastair demonstrates some contrition over his past, but his altruism could stem as well from a desire for revenge over his humiliating youthful love experience. Like a doting father, however, he places his own happiness secondary to his ward's and is willing to endure any amount of suffering and deny himself any amount of happiness for his ward's benefit.

In The Black Moth, one appealing facet of Andover's (Tracy's) personality was his disdain for the sartorial splendor dictated by men's fashions of the day. By contrast, Avon (Justin) favors foppish purple and rose silks and red high heels, and at one point adopts the new "rage" of Paris, a fan. Perhaps the purpose of the former's somber black was to have the advantage if he happened late one night upon John Carstares (aka Anthony Merivale) plying his trade as a highwayman. The latter, Avon, however, does dress his page in black velvet--symbolic, maybe, of his passing the mantle to his future ward. Or not.

Getting slowly to the point, These Old Shades revolves around the chance meeting in an alley of Avon and Leon, a "tavern boy" who is running from an abusive older brother. Either through his fine-tuned powers of observation or his super-human sensibilities, Avon senses that Leon is something other than what he presents himself to be. Admiring (or perhaps recognizing) Leon's "Titian" red hair and aristocratic features, Avon buys the boy from his brother and takes him home to be his page. The story's suspense revolves around Avon's motives in taking the boy in and in later making the child his ward.

The story follows as an amusingly twisted romance, forcing the reader inside the skin of a young ward--admiring, yea, worshiping a character who has no right to be admired, much less worshiped. Georgette Heyer skillfully keeps the reader guessing how this story could and should resolve itself, and the joy of reading the story is that anyone who has read Heyer previously knows not to take anything for granted.


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