Heyer for Beginners #10 — Devil’s Cub (1932)

Devil’s Cub
Heinemann, 1932

Setting: London, the English Coast, the English Channel and throughout France
Time: 1770


I really had it in my mind that Georgette Heyer really didn’t do those. Yet, here we are, two sequels interrupted only by one rather heavy historical fiction novel – I wonder if that’s why this sequel exists? Could be it that Heyer was so exhausted from the rigors of in-depth research into the career of William the Conqueror that she needed to set her mind to a world she had already created and could more easily control?

Not that anyone could believe Dominic, Marquis of Vidal, is controllable. In fact, a more volatile brat of a hero I have rarely read, and his planned seduction of a young woman – but then not marrying her, and essentially leading her to an unwilling career in sex work – really taints him for me. His father, the Duke of Avon, was well-known for his past doubtful activities, of course, but we didn’t see it in action, for all that we know he abducted the lovely Jennifer against her will, several years before the book began. He, at least, had intended to wed her.

Mary Challoner, the woman who so bravely saves her sister from an ignominious fate at the hands of Vidal, is another matter. She is by far my favorite Heyer heroine yet. Oh, I liked Prudence, and Léonie is adorable, in this book as well as in her own, but Mary is not only a firebrand, she is practical and thoughtful and just a really good person, in stark contrast to Vidal. In fact, right up until she falls for Dominic’s bad boy wildness, she could easily be transplanted into a contemporary twenty-first century novel and not be out of place.

Actually, even after she fell for the bad boy, she wouldn’t be out of place. There are a lot of “bad boy redeemed” stories in modern romance, after all.

It would be hard to imagine, however, a modern romance in which the bad boy seeking to be redeemed is a murderer and admitted rapist. He even attempts to rape Mary, seemingly in a fit of anger – for which brutality she shoots him, it is so satisfying. He is so rough with her he chokes her, and leaves bruises. It’s… not great. Not great at all. In modern romantic literature, he would be relegated to fetish subgenres usually self-published, and given titles like Taken or Violated.

The fact that her spirited defense of her own person, and personhood, convinces him that Mary is a person of quality and worthy of his attentions – he even offers to wed her, to save the reputation he has thoroughly sullied by abducting her and taking her to France with him, again in anger –should not in any way make him any more likeable.

But it does.


I guess none of us is immune to the allure of the bad boy.

And I would be less than human if I wasn’t won over by the slow-burn romance that develops between Vidal and Mary as they surmount obstacle after misunderstanding after calamity after love rival to somehow find their way to an understanding, and to – it is to be hoped – a marriage as long and happy, if still as full of surprises, as that of Vidal’s parents.

Ah, Vidal’s parents. Aside from Mary, the best part of this book is definitely the reappearance of the Avon family, from the all-knowing Duke to the mischievous Duchess to Lady Fanny, who is now possessed of a daughter as lovely as she is, and one who is expected by many to marry her cousin Vidal. (I know this is an historically accurate portrayal of something that happened all the time back then, especially among the aristocracy of most countries, but… no.) And Lord Rupert! I still love Avon’s brother Lord Rupert so much, and I really wish he had his own romance. If Heyer was going to go in for the sequel route (which it turns out she did, and which most historical romance novelists do these days), I do wish she’d given us his happily ever after. (I don’t suppose she did, though?)

And what a delight is the muddled conclusion of this novel, as all interested parties converge and witty barbs are exchanged and snide observations are made and profound revelations are, well, revealed. The book, from its dark opening of murder, abduction and attempted rape, takes a very abrupt turn to comedy about a quarter of the way through, and this ending is the perfect culmination of all the various threads that have been left dangling, tantalizingly, throughout. It’s very, very funny, and very, very satisfying.

Almost as satisfying as when Mary shot Vidal. Remember that? That was tremendous.

I won’t say I felt this way throughout the entire read, but once I got to the end of the book, I felt like it was a breath of fresh air, and yet another something new – if familiar, given the These Old Shades connection – to add to the Heyer canon. Certainly, after the much more difficult, painstakingly detailed reimagining of the life of William of Conqueror and his associates, both real and imaginary, this book came as a blessed relief.

I do wish there had been more Lord Rupert, though.

FAVORITE NEW WORD: I don’t know that is a new word to me, exactly, but I was very taken with Juliana’s use of “dispraise.” It means exactly what you think it means, but it has been sadly lost from everyday conversation.

HISTORY LEARNED: I knew something of Charles James Fox, from studying political figures of the Georgian period, but his appearance early in the narrative, at the side of Vidal and even more ruinous in his play, had me curious about him, so I conducted further research. He may have been notorious for his vices, but few of them were political in nature. He was a supporter of both the American and French Revolutions, an anti-slavery campaigner and a proponent of religious tolerance. He was, if nothing else, a man very much on the right side of history.


Maura Tan was born in Zanzibar, grew up in Morocco and lives in Singapore, where she is currently studying for her third degree in Contemporary Literature.