"Sylvester" (or "The Wicked Uncle") by Georgette Heyer

Seeing as I recently purchased fifteen of Heyer’s novels in one go, it comes as no surprise that I should be reading, and then reviewing, one of them. The only problem is I seem to be spoilt for choice. Prior to buying these novels, I would just seek out whatever story line caught my fancy – but now, with so many novels at my disposal I’m in a bit of a stupor when it comes to choosing which one to read first.

In any case, best to start with the one I read first, and happened to absolutely love: “Sylvester”, or “The Wicked Uncle” as it is sometimes called, was pure entertainment. The novel opens with the titular character deciding (in the most pragmatic and reasonable of ways) that he must acquire a wife. Like many of the regency, he views marriage as a business arrangement and not at all linked with romance, love, or the acquirement of a deeper self-knowledge.

His mother, on whom he dotes, directs him in the way of the daughter of a very close friend, Phoebe Marlow. Though Sylvester, Duke of Salford, despises being forced to act on decisions that are not his own, he allows himself to be persuaded this once if only to please his mother.

However, at Austerby, Sylvester finds that Miss Marlowe is not at all his idea of the perfect wife; she is a painfully shy, mousy girl who cowers wide-eyed in front of her step-mother, and mumbles to her feet when talked to. Unbeknownst to him, word has reached Miss Marlowe that she is the chosen bride of Sylvester’s, and she is determined to do everything in her power to avoid it. A moonlight escape, a thrilling carriage ride, and an uproar-inducing letter later, Miss Marlowe is disposed to lodge at a local inn in order to ensure that Tom Orde (her childhood friend and partner in crime) is able to recover from certain injuries acquired after said thrilling carriage ride.

As things would have it, Sylvester, driven by curiosity over the girl who is so thoroughly repulsed by him, happens to stop at the same inn. And that is where the fun ensues. Sylvester’s pride continually takes several hits from Phoebe’s sarcastic jibes and Phoebe, in turn, comes to learn of quite a different side to the Duke.

To me, this romance was enjoyable to read because it was so realistic. The relationship betweeen the Duke and Phoebe was believable in its simplicity. There is no instant attraction or ‘unattraction’. Instead of falling to extremes, Heyer allows her protagonists’s relationship to develop in a natural manner. At first, anyway. The last third of the book seemed a little unbelievable, with the heroine behaving in a way that invited some questions. I felt it could have been dealt with in a different way, however, the story was resolved in quite a satisfactory manner.

My favorite part about Heyer’s books is the banter, and this one had especially good banter, making me one happy reader. The hero and heroine were continually throwing sarcastic jibes at each other, laughing at themselves and each other in an easy way that can only be called friendship.

“Never”, declared Sylvester, much moved, “did I think to hear you express so much solicitude on my behalf, ma’am!”

“Well, I can’t but see what a fix we should be in if anything should happend to you,” she replied candidly.

The appreciative gleam in his eyes acknowledge a hit, but he said gravely: “The charm of your society, my Sparrow, lies in not knowing what you will say next – though one rapidly learns to expect the worst!”

The two protagonists were well-develoepd I thought, and as usual, Heyer painted some entertaining secondary characters who helped push the story along and provided some giggles on the way.
Because the last part was slightly unbeleivable I feel I ought to give this book a lower rating, but I feel the vibrant and easy relationship between Sylvester and Phoebe is enough to boost its numbers.

4 stars

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