I am not usually interested in romantic fiction. The romantic fiction I typically enjoy has derring-do, villains of various and sundry levels of evil, the occasional explosion, and a hero and heroine who fall in love as they fight side by side to stop the bad guy (think Lord of the Rings). That is my preferred romantic fiction; I do not enjoy stories about summers where girls run into eligible guys who somehow just happen to walk into their small towns.
So when a friend of mine insisted I read Georgette Heyer’s The Talisman Ring, I agreed to take a look at it. My compadre and I have similar views of so-called “harlequin romances” and, since Georgette Heyer was a favorite of this friend’s, I figured, “What could go wrong?”
I was not disappointed. Georgette Heyer was a British writer who specialized in writing romances set in the centuries around the 1800s. Her fiction is a great deal like Jane Austen’s – except she wrote her books in the twentieth century, while Austen wrote about what she saw around her in the early 1800s.
Heyer’s work has received untold acclamation for its historic authenticity. I cannot say anything about that, since I do not really bother with it beyond how it affects the ways the characters behave. Nor do I take the time to verify the accuracy of the historical details.
It is not that I do not like historical accuracy; it is simply that I do not know enough about the latter to comment on it, and I have not the time to confirm it. Setting is always a big seller and it always will be. I like the film Avatar entirely because of its setting of jungles, floating mountains, and bioluminescent plants and animals. In this movie, all the rest can go hang.
These diversions aside, what can you expect from The Talisman Ring? A rip-roaring good time, for a start! Heyer’s romantic fiction, more so than Jane Austen’s, is almost always sprinkled with comedy. In fact, one might say her works are romantic comedies. For all I know, that is how they are classified.
Anyway, The Talisman Ring starts out with Sir Tristram Shield arriving to see his uncle, Baron Sylvester Lavenham, who is barely hanging on to “this mortal coil.” In fact, it is probably only a few days before he will kick the bucket.
Shield apparently has no love or concern for his uncle. Shield appears cold and unfeeling, though he has a sense of humor and an honorable, kind heart. At the same time, he is eminently sensible and practical, and he sees no reason to go around wearing his heart on his sleeve.
Shield goes up to see his uncle and final matters are discussed, among them the fact that Shield is thirty and unmarried, and the last of his line. In typical aristocratic fashion, this is something he wants to rectify somewhere in the near future.
Staying at Sylvester’s house are Shield’s cousins: Basil, the heir to Sylvester’s fortune and a fop, and Eustacie, the men’s seventeen year old French cousin. Sylvester got her out of France just ahead of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, and so she was spared going to the guillotine in a tumbrel. Sylvester wants her and Shield to marry, simply for convenience.
Times being what they are, both Shield and Eustacie see the sense in this. But Eustacie proves to be a romantic with a desire for adventure, and Shield is unable to wrap his mind around the girl’s fantasies. To top it off, Basil is mincing around the mansion, sighing and purring to his cousins, waiting for Sylvester to kick off and wondering over the whereabouts of their other cousin, Ludovic Lavenham, who is the direct heir to the old man’s fortune.
Upon hearing about cousin Ludovic, Eustacie is at once curious. As far as she knows, she has only two cousins – Basil and Shield. Who is Ludovic and why has she never heard of him before now? Shield tries to avoid the subject, but Eustacie is determined to know, and so Basil obliges her.
Apparently, Ludovic was the debonair, dashing heir of Sylvester Lavenham. He was a dead shot with a pistol and, like all good gentlemen of the time, he liked to gamble. He would go out with his friends and have a game every other evening.
Well, the last time he was at one of these card games, Ludovic was losing. So he bet the most valuable thing he had on him – his talisman ring, a signet ring that was the heirloom of his family and virtually priceless. Ludovic lost the bet – and the ring – to one of the other players. A few days later, Ludovic went to redeem the ring, since he promised that whoever won it would get the money he could not bet at the game as soon as he could arrange it.
Except the winner of the card game denied that Ludovic had said this and attempted to keep the ring for himself. Ludovic got drunk that night, then headed out to have a duel with the crass fellow and get the ring back. Shield stopped him, sent him home, and tried to meet the man in order to reason with him. However, he and Ludovic had barely parted ways before a shot rang out! (Cue suspenseful music!)
Shield doubled back and found the winner of the talisman ring dead in the woods, the ring nowhere on his person. When questioned, Ludovic said he had shot at an owl and missed. He did not encounter the man that night and did not have the ring on him the next day. Knowing that this defense would not hold up in court, Shield and Sylvester sent Ludovic overseas, where English law could not touch him. So Eustacie learns as much as anyone knows about Ludovic.
Somewhere in the next couple of days, Sylvester dies. With Sylvester’s death, Basil wants Shield to try and find Ludovic. In all the fuss, Basil was the only one who believed Ludovic’s claim of innocence; that he had in fact shot at an owl and, being drunk, managed to miss it – he who never missed a target in his life. Shield says no, but Basil quietly says, “I think you should.”
Meanwhile, Eustacie comes to the conclusion that Shield is very un-romantic. He does not think of, nor does he crave, adventure. Well, if he does not want any of that, then she does not want to marry him! So a few days after Sylvester’s death and funeral, she sneaks out to catch the midnight stage to London to escape Shield and boredom.
What she gets is caught. On her way to the stage station she is discovered by smugglers – or rather, rum runners. Their leader is a certain romantic fellow (*cough* Ludovic *cough*) who charms Eustacie at once. However, the law catches on to the runners’ presence and, to buy his men time to get away, Ludovic leads the lawmen on a merry chase – with Eustacie sitting before him in the saddle!
During the chase, Ludovic is shot. Eustacie takes him to a nearby inn (where Ludovic has stored his illegal wines on previous occasions, and they know him). There, Ludovic is patched up, and Eustacie meets Miss Sarah Thane, the sister of a Justice of the Peace. Sarah and her brother are staying at the inn because her brother has a cold – and he likes the wine too much to up and leave just yet. Eustacie explains her and Ludovic’s situation to Sarah, who has to hide her mirth at the youthful exuberance of the girl. Sarah Thane agrees to help Eustacie protect Ludovic and find the man who framed him for murder – and so partaking in the adventure she admitted she had always craved.
Well of course Ludovic was framed! Dear readers, I am shocked – shocked! – that you should disbelieve his story! Quite surely, Shield shot the man, blamed Ludovic for it, and stole the talisman ring! He even collects such trinkets. How could he not be the villain of this piece?
*Sigh.* Eventually Sarah and Eustacie later agree that Shield is not the perpetrator. But they agree to this only after Shield has arrived at the inn, had an argument with a recuperating Ludovic, and stood by listening to them try and fit him in to the villain’s mold. Sadly, he is not a square peg and he fits roundly in a nice circular hole, but he takes the savaging of his character with rare good humor. Though, since Shield is a bit cold to outward appearances, you have to pay attention to see that he is highly amused by all the wild theorizing.
So then who murdered the man, stole the talisman ring, and framed Ludovic for it all? You will have to read the book to find that out, readers! I highly recommend it. If you are not laughing by chapter – oh – four, then call me a Zaber Fang’s uncle!
Until next time!
The Mithril Guardian