Well, I didn’t expect this.
Not after all the romances. Yes, there was The Great Roxhythe, but I thought that was an anomaly. And then Georgette Heyer throws this full-out University-level history text at us, pretending to be a novel, and I am not sure how to respond to it. If it had been written by any other author, I probably wouldn’t be at quite such a loss for words. Over these past few months, I thought I had gotten to know Heyer pretty well. But then this!
I am still not sure what to say.
The story is about Charles II and his flight from England — his “royal escape”, if you will — from the non-monarchists following the disastrous Battle of Worcester, which he lost and therefore also lost his crown and country. For six weeks, Charles and a small retinue make their way from the battlefield to the coast, fleeing to exile in France, but not if he gets caught and is either summarily executed or forced to stand trial for treason or the like by the revolutionaries who have captured Parliamentary rule.
I didn’t know a lot about the various factors involved in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s whole deal, and so this book was very beneficial to me, from a scholarly perspective. I also did some reading about the era as a result of this book, about Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads and the near-annihilation of Catholics under the Puritan reign, and it made me so mad I wanted to hit something. Also, it was nice to have some backstory on Charles II after spending quite a bit of time in his older version’s company during The Great Roxhythe, which, in hindsight, I am coming to like more and more.
What I think most surprised me about this book, though, is the lack of meaningful relationships here. I wasn’t expecting romance necessarily, but even a strong Roxhythe/Christopher attachment would have,I think, enhanced the narrative. And it might also have upped the tension level, which I found sadly… nonexistent. This is a LONG book in which not a lot happens, and I did find it dragged more than once.
Still, it is an accomplished work of scholarship, and is yet more evidence of Georgette Heyer’s depth and breadth of knowledge, as well as her versatility as a writer. Worth a read, if only for that.
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 bodyweight in durian.