These Old Shades has the distinction of reading for the entire Leon section like the creepist creepy-creeper slash in history. I kept stopping even knowing why it was happening because hello, as reader, I knew (I mean, I hoped at that point, because I was trapped within that narrative and wanted to be able to look at myself in the mirror the next day with something like respect), but everyone else in the story didn't so what the hell, debauched French aristocrats? I get this was a different time period, and yes, I know the stories of what Louis XV's court was like, and the entire donkey and girl show of legend, but--
--seriously, the entire sitting at Monseigneur's feet while he stroked his page's face and talked gleefully--and often, let me point out--about how he owed him body and soul--I AM QUOTING--my God.
Even like, the Token Upright and Moral Friend is like "OMG SHOCKING" but I did not see him grabbing Leon and running, running, running for the hills either. Or for Champagne, anyway.
I recommend it on pure WTF AM I READING and because it's idfic at it's most blatantly glorious, Justin is so fucked up it's a surprise he stands upright, and all the characters are just not exactly lovable but it kind of doesn't answer because Georgette Goddamn Heyer must have had a blast writing it and you can damn well tell she was laughing into her very proper sheets every night.
The Devil's Cub, the sequel-ish about Justin and Mysterious I Will Not Name Heroine Because Spoilers's sociopathic offspring (if you read the first, you cannot be surprised by this), leaped upon my kinks like an Olympic gymnast Gold-medaling the trampoline--holy God, nothing she wrote ever hit like that.
The thing is, you start the story with Dominik, Marquis of Vidal, See My Sociopathy Is Fairly Inherited From Both Sides (and How!), shooting highwaymen and splattering their brains upon the ground on the way to a party. Then he kind of--leaves the body there. And you are not feeling this is going to be say, a romance you will entirely understand, which is the genius of this thing--Georgette is hitting tropes out of the park--but you really can't see it because you are so unnerved when you realize he's the hero and wtf are you reading?
Yeah, like that.
The young Marquis is a sociopathic dick to everyone, which they seem to be healthy enough to find unnerving but also, being well, really unnerving themselves, also charming. Dominik is all about shooting people. Highwaymen, peers of the realm, random passers-by, he drinks heavily, carouses, kind of seems to hate everyone, and from context, how he got to this with parents who are supposed to be sympathetic being Hero and Heroine before this is a mystery you don't care about because you kind of hate them and him anyway, so whatever.
And also, he like, duels at the drop of a wine bottle in gambling hells and trying to seduce bourgeois girls of respectable family who are not terribly bright but gorgeous and kind of not respectable themselves. He's miserable--you really get the feeling this is some kind of really anachronistic disorder--and his dad after the entire gambling hell thing exiles him to France and tells him to keep his hands off the bourgeois girls, which means he tells her he wants to make her his mistress and run away with him.
Sadly for his aspirations of ruining, Not Bright But Gorgeous has an older sister who is levelheaded, kind of even-tempered, and Not Happy Dominik is trying to make off with her sister (who may be willing, but fuck that shit, Mary is not putting up with her sister being dumb) and intercepts the letter and takes her place. Dominik, being in a hurry and rather drunk, doesn't notice until they get to--a place where you get on boats to go to France, whatever, where Mary decides to reveal herself and fuck with him liek whoa.
So Dominik, being a fucking sociopath, kidnaps her bound for France and says he'll get her drunk to get her on the ship. Mary weighs her options and declines alcoholic assistance, then gets seasick at which time Dominik has on his hands a woman with a really terrifying weapon of projective vomiting, and it's suddenly hilarious.
It's really hard to explain, but that's when I liked Dominik a little, holding the basin and thinking evil just got very strange when you are cossetting the abductee and holding a basin for her.
Later, he gets drunk (shock) and tries to seduce her, at which time Mary takes out the pistol she stole while in the carriage and clarifies his intentions toward her hymen are unwelcome. The entire seasickness thing did not penetrate, apparently; Dominik starts toward her and Mary shoots him. She really doesn't want to do it, and apologizes afterward and Dominik kind of stares for a while and then gets a fever, with the understanding that Mary is a lady who can shoot you with her eyes closed and still strike a direct hit and will also bandage you up afterward. But she will shoot your ass again if you threaten her virtue, and still feel bad about it. And bandage it again, of course. I'm going to say, as heroines go, I kind of love her for that. I get the feeling she would shoot and bandage until the lesson sank in, and feel terrible, but that doesn't affect her aim all that much. At all.
This is when Dominik realizes Mary is a Lady (and knows how to shoot people); conscience-stricken (I KNOW) he says he has to marry her. She's appalled at the idea. As one might very well be.
Anyway, Dominik and Mary go to Paris with grim determination while Mary makes plans to run run run to be a governess somewhere, being ruined and all, while Dominik prevails upon Juliana, his cousin, to take her BFF Mary (they were friends in school) into her house with Tante Elizabeth as chaperone. Then he realizes The Horrific Roadblock to Marriage--they're Anglicans in France and they have to find a Protestant parson.
I am not joking, this is the roadblock. (Can't go to the embassy due to teh embassy being obvious for reasons regarding ruining. It's very convoluted but it makes sense when you read it.)
Dominik's sociopathy is somehow restrained, possibly due to Mary's entire "I won't ever marry you even if it kills me" and Dominik's "You wish death would get you away from me!" which Mary finds less scary than just goddamn irritating. Unlike Dominik, she is not one to use exclamation points when periods are fine for punctuation. There's a secondary plot with the sensible Comyn, who is not a lord but rich and came to Paris to sensibly elope with Juliana. Comyn knows he is in the wrong story altogether and deals with it all very calmly and coolly, up to and including calmly and coolly (and hilariously) letting Juliana in a fit of pique break their engagement and grimly go offer his hand to Mary immediately so to get the hell away from these people.
(That would have been the scariest marriage ever. Comyn is calm, cool, sensible, and has no need whatsoever of Mary's calm, cool competence at all. They couldn't have gotten through their wedding night without backgammon. It's actually brilliant how Georgette really made you afraid of this going through. Just, no. I mean in all seriousness, the scariest part of the story was their flight to Dijon to the Anglican pastor that Dominik unearthed.)
Dominik, who had the night before showed really uncomfortable signs of returning breaks with reality when Comyn was caught doing something so ungentlemanly as visit Mary and kiss her hand, has an epic breakdown when Mary and Comyn run off together. Comyn, being as I said calm, cool, sensible, honorable, and possibly suicidal, left a letter for Dominik helpfully explaining what he's doing and where they're going. Juliana throws a fit her former sekrit boyfriend made off with Mary and the two of them hit the road like the fist of an angry god (Dominik's default setting).
Comyn, being suicidal, is not getting Mary rushing their asses to Dijon (having been there, done that with Calais to Paris with Dominik, she's aware that stopping to breathe is a bad idea, much less for anything else), and they finally get there and into beds while Mary waits for Dominik to leap from the shadows (she's a smart girl; she knows this will happen). Dominik and Juliana find them at the inn, where Comyn, being again fucking suicidal (he's seen Dominik drunk off his ass calling for a duel in a gaming hell and then Comyn was second to the guy Dominik dueled and then he ministered to the almost-dead guy, so what the fuck, Comyn) says that he and Mary are married.
At which time Dominik tries to strangle him to death right then and there.
Mary gets a urn of water and throws it at them, at which time Dominik goes with what he knows and calls for a duel in the inn to the death because widowhood would suit Mary much better. They start the duel, Juliana is hysterical, Mary is nearly bouncing with frustration and finally grabs a coat to catch at their swords and Dominik's sword makes a tiny cut in her shoulder.
By the way Dominik reacts to that, you wonder for serious about his time in bedlam, as in, why was he never there. Hysterical (so not kidding), he half-strips her in the middle of the inn common room so he can tenderly cover the scratch with a handkerchief and stare at Comyn hatefully and crazily promise he can marry Mary all he wants but he'll never, ever, ever, ever have her as she is Dominik's and it's so ridiculously hot I had to stop and kind of love everything in the universe.
(Oh fuck it, judge away; the entire sequence was insanely hot.)
Anyway, Dominik sends Mary tenderly to her room and Comyn admits he wasn't married to Mary, at which time even Dominik is staring at him saying "ARE YOU FUCKING WITH ME? WITH THE CHOKING AND THE SWORDS AND SERIOUSLY?" As one does. At which time Dominik's mom shows up and Mary hears her say how much she hates the ruined girl Dominik will marry and decides it's time to run away again, which honestly, she's quite good at. Jumping on a stagecoach, she takes off to parts unknown while Dominik declares he'll kill everyone and be disinherited and all but he will marry Mary even if she will never ever let him near her hymen.
Meanwhile, in a different town, Mary is treated badly by a landlord and his wife before a Mysterious Yet Weirdly Familiar Older Nobleman shows up to help her get a room and beguile her into dinner. At which time he charms the story out of Mary and realizes she's actually a human-shaped anti-sociopathy treatment regime and possibly, a mid-tier deity of some kind. Mostly, she just wants a nice post as a governess somewhere, as being in love with Dominik is bound to just end in his family hating her (this is what she worries about. Not so much Dominik, which in a weird way you get. Around her his powers of I Am a Serial Killer become dimmer, like IDK, crazy-kryptonite). He'll be disinherited, which is also problematic from Mary's perspective, I suppose because they won't have the money to get all the bloodstains out of Dominik's clothes with his crazy-killing.)
Dominik shows up to stare in horror at his father and Mary; his father states he sucks and Mary could do much better than this, but if she's okay with it, he's already put a plan in place to marry them off and all is fine. Apparently, as long as they have the money for the aforementioned bloodstain problem, marriage is fine, and so Dominik's mother meets her and loves her and its' all good.
I love this book so much I'm stupid from it. It's ridiculous. It's cliched. But during the narrative, you do not see the cliches because it's just that--IDEK. Amazing.
ETA: A passage that should have badly freaked me out is this entire convo with Juliana that was a reminder that, right, Dominik is fucked up sociopathic, while he told Juliana he could force her to eat and do whatever else he wanted to her, dammit, since he had her in his power just like he had Mary but Mary was totally not having vapors about it (being one with the vomiting on him and shooting him and such). It's so goddamn creepy and it was actually just Dominik's really terrifying version of a romantic declaration. It's unreal. There's a sense of "daww" how cute while Juliana is going "I AM IN THE POWER OF MY PSYCHO COUSIN MURDERER" and yet. Daww. Dominik, you crazy-puppy.
Dominik, Marquis of Vidal to Juliana, his first cousin, on the way to Dijon:
"You think it was vastly romantic for Mary to be carried off by me, don't you? You think you would enjoy it, and you cannot conceive how she should be afraid, can you? Then think, my girl. Think a little! You are in my power at this moment, I may remind you. What if I make you feel it? What if I say to start with that you shall eat your dinner, and force it down your throat?"
Juliana shrank back from him involuntarily. "Don't, Vidal! Don't come near me!" she said, frightened by the expression on his face.
He laughed. "Not so romantic, is it, Ju? And to force you to eat your dinner would be a small thing compared with some other things I might force you to do. Sit down, I'm not going to touch you."
Justin, Duke of Avon, to his son Dominik, Marquis of Vidal, on his betrothal to Mary:
"Delay your affecting demonstrations a moment longer, Vidal. I have to inform you that your late adversary** was, when I left England, on the road to recovery."
"My late adversary?" frowned his lordship. "Oh, Quarles! Was he, sir?"
"You not appear to feel any undue interest in his fate," remarked Avon.
The Marquis was looking at Mary. He said casually,"It makes no odds to me now, sir. He can live for all I care."
**The gambling hell thing that made Avon send Dominik to France.
"I comfort myself with the reflection that your wife will possibly be able to curb your desire--I admit, a natural one for the most part - to exterminate your fellows."
Ms Heyer, I salute you. You are brilliant.
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