Heyer for Beginners — Beauvallet (1929)

For all my general (now rapidly diminishing, thanks to reading Heyer) aversion to historical fiction, I do have a soft spot for the piratical high seas adventures of Errol Flynn and Kirk Douglas and their fellows, from old black and white movies I would watch with my Great-Grandmother as a child. Mei Mei loved those movies and I loved spending time with her, and they have become so entangled with my memories of her that it is almost painful to watch them now. I felt echoes of that pain as I read Beauvallet.

At first, I thought this story was going to be a direct sequel to Simon the Coldheart, given its title, and I was looking forward to learning more of our man’s continued career, and maybe seeing Alan of Montlice find a bride. But instead we have fast forwarded from Henry V to Elizabeth I, and Sir Nicholas Beauvallet is sailing the seas on behalf of her Virgin Majesty in the war against the Spanish. To this end, he captures and boards an enemy ship on which the fiery, emotional Doña Dominica de Rada y Sylva, and, like his ancestor before him, falls immediately in love at first sight with a strong-willed woman. (Though Doña Dominica is no Margaret of Belremy.)

So Nick infiltrates Spain, to rescue Dominica from the ravages of the oppressive Inquisition, and this is where the narrative falls apart slightly for me, because court intrigue is bad enough, but add in religion and I get a bit weary of it all. It feels like it takes forever for Nick to smuggle Dominica out of the country, and all the while he is basically a spy in enemy territory, and that’s kind of wearisome, too.

Still, it is a mostly enjoyable book, and Nick is a gallant and witty hero, even if Dominica could, and should, turn down the histrionics a notch or twelve. What puzzles me about it mostly, though, is that Heyer chose to suppress Simon for some reason, but left this one standing? Not that either should have been suppressed, but Beauvallet over its progenitor, for sure. And also, it’s a sequel — if totally standalone — so why remove the original from circulation? I don’t understand. Simon is great.

And Beauvallet is, if not great, at least pretty good. Mei Mei would have loved it.

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—when not writing reviews for Romantic Intentions Quarterly and eating her body weight in durian.