It shouldn't happen anymore, and yet.
She does this more than you think, mostly because her name is "Georgette" and that sounds like a vicar's wife that thought racy was wearing less than three petticoats to bed or something. And if you read her back catalogue and do Frederica and Arabella and The Quiet Gentleman and even Unknown Ajax, The Grand Sophy, The Nonesuch, and Charity Girl, all wonderful but also very Regency, it's an impression that sticks (at least until you re-read much later and start getting suspicious). At that point you get to Bath Tangle and are like 'ooh, a little racy there Georgette, hehe' because-well, it is, seriously--but you think to yourself because her name is Georgette she just innocently wrote some of that without any idea how it looked and I bet you also really thought Serena and Ivo's wanted to get married super fast just to avoid the humdum about being engaged twice.
(Hint: no, it really wasn't. Ivo and Serena were engaged in some of the most creative foreplay in history and used other people to do it for years, and I honestly think the main issue was two tops learning the value of maybe tossing a coin to decide who's bottoming tonight. I'm serious; all this could have been avoided if they had a shilling around somewhere the first time around but were too rich to have coined money. All set to hunting metaphors and sure, saying he'll mount her while in London gave you pause, but by the end, 'taking fences' has some unsettling connotations.)
People talk about Venetia (rake, orgies, hero possibly (definitely) nailed the heroine's mom), and Cotillion (my personal favorite) and The Masqueraders (all the crossdressing and vague sexual identity crises you never knew existed in that combination) and the Georgian Gothic saga that includes the French revolution with a genuinely unsettling heroine and an honest to God fucking scary hero (for two generations, even), and I agree. All of them are off chart, and Cotillion in the bargain confuses and upsets you because you're seriously invested in Kitty not getting involved with Jack and Freddie's awesome but the plot is not reassuring you because Regency likes reforming rakes, the fuckers and within you is found a hatred of rakes which you pretend isn't really hypocritical but Freddie.
However, I'd like to put up an argument that Black Sheep is the weirdest just on principle that no, you couldn't have seen that coming and you weren't supposed to. Because it's fucking sneaky about it, and you can't tell me she didn't do that deliberately just to fuck with her readers. This isn't like The Reluctant Widow where it starts off with '...seriously, what?' and goes to secret doors and shootings and French spies and super creepy-ass dandy murder-cousins.
The Black Sheep tricks you into a state of 'oh, this is socially impossible love because Regency what shall they do' because she tricked you on purpose and you genuinely can't work out how this will be fixed (because Regency). And Georgette says 'I love the smell of social expectations in the morning and it's delicious when broiled with a light wine sauce, tell me what you think'.
Black Sheep goes from 'okay, normal fortune hunter chasing spinster heroine's niece' to 'black sheep mysterious uncle of fortune hunter, so he's kind of an ass, but okay' and you think you have this, right? No, you don't, but it's adorable you think that. The black sheep hero 'wait, he eloped with and seduced the heroine's brother's deceased wife and mother of the niece?' because holy shit that's kind of not a small social or family issue and while you're still reeling, '...prostitutes?' and plot. I'm serious; the prostitutes solved like all the major problems, and some ruthless kidnapping for justice takes care of the rest.
I am not going to tell you how these things fit together to a truly byzantine whole, but I will tell you to read it and you tell me the moment you had to actually stop a second because 'what the hell just happened' comes out of your mouth.
Runner Up For Huh: Sprig Muslin, which doesn't exactly violate the standards of Regency but circles them mockingly like daring you to be suspicious. Also, like Charity Girl and the other Runner Up for Huh, The Foundling, Georgette gets much more invested in anything that isn't the main romance and runs with it.
Sprig Muslin is worth anything for the existence of Amanda. It's also the best example of a story in which the hero and main character stumble into someone else's story and have no idea what to do so go with it. You will remember Amanda when you forget the hero and his love interest and pretty much all the plot because Georgette forgot the hero and the love interest and the romance to plow into the wonder that is Amanda's determination to marry her man and God help you if you got in her way (even by accident).
The Foundling has a similar situation, in which the focus is absolutely not about the romance and even the hero gets co-oped into an entirely different story, one in which he spends an inordinate amount of time keeping a gorgeous but not terribly bright girl from quite literally by accident giving up her virtue for a purple dress (seriously) when not escaping his own kidnapping/murder or toying with hiring his kidnapper/murderer as a butler (on purpose).
There's more to the story, I know--like the love interest and the romance--but I didn't read for that; I read to find out if he could get the girl married to someone--anyone--before someone gave her a purple dress and no, I'm not being metaphorical but Georgette sure as fuck was and how. Because the girl wanted a purple dress and a gold ring on her finger she told the hero sincerely, but as it turns out, she wanted the purple dress more, and I had to stop now to laugh because that wasn't even subtle but it took me two reads to believe it and between readings, I start wondering if I was overthinking it and then read it again and no, I'm not.
Georgette Heyer's works, ladies and gentlemen: sometimes, I think she basically chose a career of trolling the Regency genre just to see if anyone noticed.
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