Beauvallet by Georgette Heyer Heyer has the reputation of being the mistress of romance, perhaps even the mother of the modern romance novel. I must confess that I’d not read anything of hers before now. This is quite different from the modern romance. The modern romance (as I alluded to in my last post about the genre) has very strict rules regarding the characters, the plot outline, and the ending. The point of the modern romance book is building a strong relationship, with setbacks and romantic interludes at regular points along the way. I would say that Heyer breaks nearly all of the rules, except that it’s more likely that they just hadn’t been articulated yet. It is a journey between two people who find themselves highly attracted to each other in the beginning. There is a happy ending. But the middle is quite different, and there are no love scenes.
So much for what isn’t there, and on to the book itself. The book opens with a sea battle between a Spanish merchant ship and an (in)famous English privateer. The Spanish captain has deliberately antagonized the privateer, Beauvallet, in hopes of impressing the beautiful and single lady whom he is carrying from the colonies to Spain, with her ailing father. Naturally, he fails. Nicholas Beauvallet meets the lady, Dominica Rada y Sylva. There are instant sparks which they both know to be inappropriate (so far following the Basic Plot). Beauvallet sets the rest of the Spanish crew of on a boat to the nearest island, but vows to carry Dominica and her party to Spain, despite the risk to his life. On the journey, they fall more deeply in love. Nicholas says that he will journey back to the heart of Spain to win her hand; Dominica says that he shouldn’t risk his life to do so, but that if he does get there, she will come back to England with him. All of this takes place at the beginning of the book. Then, Nicholas goes back to England to get permission from the Queen to leave the country again. The rest of the book is his Daring Adventure – alone but for his manservant – to make his way into Spain to kidnap the willing Dominica. Matters there have gotten more complicated as well. Dominica’s father has died, leaving her in the care of her noble but impoverished aunt. This lady plan for gaining Dominica’s fortune for her own use is to have Dominica marry her simpering son. The aunt is a delightful villain, lazy and agreeable. When Dominica tells her, for example, that she cannot marry the son because she does not love him, her aunt tells her that marriage will give her the freedom to take all the lovers she wants, but Dominica must marry her son. The whole story is told in beautifully flowery and authentic-sounding language, as like to what I’ve seen less skilled authors try as real fragrant roses are to plastic. On the whole, this is much more like The Princess Bride, with all the swashbuckling but a somewhat toned-down sense of humor than your typical romance book. Dominica manages to be high-spirited while retaining behavior believable to the time period, a very fine line that Heyer walks brilliantly. There manages to be a lot of romantic tension with nothing more than the occasional kiss exchanged, but this is almost more adventure than romance and enjoyable by fans of both genres.