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The Talisman Ring (1936) is not one of Heyer’s most well-known novels. It’s one of those for which you can’t quite remember who the hero was, whether he was Regency Buck Mark I or Mark II (biographer Jane Aiken Hodge’s useful terms), or whether the heroine was spirited and tempestuous (see Bath Tangle for the classic redhead heroine-in-a-strop) or meekly mature (see The Nonesuch for the obvious future wife of the hero disguised as a demure and witty governess). The Talisman Ring contains so many characteristic Heyer events, characters, actions and relationships, that it’s a very good introduction to all things fabulously Heyer. It does lack her magnificent high society scenes, so if you want those you should look at These Old Shades or Powder and Patch for the pre-Regency period, or The Grand Sophy or Venetia for heroes in unpowdered hair. But for a rollicking well-plotted Regency adventure, in which the leading characters develop interestingly over the course of the novel and are all deliciously charming, I recommend The Talisman Ring. I simply love this novel, and return to it often.
The Talisman Ring has two heroines (the enchanting Eustacie and the practical but quizzically romantic Sarah Thane) and two heroes, the dashing Ludovic, the new but exiled Lord Lavenham; and his cousin, Sir Tristram. This helps with the doubling of roles and situation comedies that all Heyer novels must have. There is also a dastardly villain (he is silkily polite, so therefore he is a villain), a clown-chaperone in the form of Miss Sarah Thane’s brother (for a lady must not put up at an inn alone), and a multitude of smugglers and faithful inn servants. There is smuggling, there is a highwayman, there are bullet wounds in wild midnight rides, and there is drama in the hunt for the lost antique ring that will clear Ludovic’s name of murder. There is also laugh-out-loud comedy, which is why Heyer is so much beloved. She is never stuffy, or earnest and melodramatic. She can write passion very nicely, but she is far, far better at the scintillating situation comedy and the farce in a crumbling old house with too many doors for the wrong person to walk through at the wrong moment. Her half-French heroines (Eustacie is a very close relative of the pre-Regency Léonie, Duchess of Avon, of These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub) are great fun because they speak in a, how you say, Anglais of the most precise and ungrammatical, and they are fierce, practical, unafraid of getting into arguments and keen to see their enemies dead at their feet.
The older heroines of the Heyer pantheon are not really that old, since they must still be marriageable in the modern reader’s mind, so they rarely get beyond 30. They are witty, humorous, understanding, far too kind to their irritating dependents and relations, and possess a stunning command voice when faced with an impertinent landlady. Miss Sarah Thane is slightly different, in that she enjoys so much being Eustacie’s temporary chaperone, due to Eustacie’s insistence on having an Adventure. Sarah is possessed of a sense of humour that no-one except her counterpart Sir Tristram (we’ll get to him soon) can perceive. She revels in the melodrama that the marooned Eustacie insists on introducing to the really rather prosaic situation of being holed up in an inn with a wounded smuggler hidden in the landlord’s secret brandy cellar, and the wicked cousin prowling about looking for evidence of smuggling so he can denounce his so-dear young cousin Ludovic to the arms of the law, and inherit the title.
Sir Tristram will have none of this nonsense, and steadily tries to bring common-sense, rationality, even logic to the riotous goings-on in the inn, but no-one will listen to him, and so he too is dragged into a ridiculous plot to break into the wicked cousin’s house and find the secret panel in the library wainscoting where the ring must be hidden. Sir Tristram finds himself in a boxing match (he has a punishing left) with the evil valet, and has to save his countenance by acquiescing with every farrago of lies into which Eustacie and Sarah fling him. When the Bow Street Runners arrive, we feel that we have entered the nineteenth century properly, and that middle-class respectability and universal suffrage will soon follow. In the end, the solution to the mystery is found, the villain is undone, the marriages are arranged, and the happy characters emerge from their pastoral forest and return to a real life we never need know anything about, since they exist only for our amusement.
Georgette Heyer, The Talisman Ring (1936) is available is many second-hand editions, and is undoubtedly still in print.
Kate was introduced to Georgette Heyer’s novels by her Aunt Jeanette, to whom she is forever grateful. She reviewed Jennifer Kloester’s biography of Heyer here, and podcasted about Heyer’s The Masqueraders here.