The Unknown Ajax

unknown ajaxAfter my enormous success with my reading group this summer, having recommended Georgette Heyer’s The Talisman Ring, I decided to go ahead and take on one of Lisa’s other suggestions for people who don’t have much Heyer experience: The Unknown Ajax. This one wasn’t particularly intended to impress a group, or to fulfill any special criterion (my group, as you will possibly remember, was looking for a strong female protagonist) — it was just for fun, and because I needed some light reading, and Georgette Heyer seemed just the thing.

And oh, I cannot stress enough that she was just the thing. The Unknown Ajax presents the reader with the Darracott family, which strains credulity with its dysfunction. Old Lord Darracott is its tyrant, and the others, like it or not (and they don’t) bend to his wishes. Owing to a series of unexpected deaths, Hugh Darracott is the heir to the estate, but since he is of a merchant family, everyone is expecting someone who literally eats off his knife. Lord Darracott furiously invites the heir to the family home, hoping to “lick him into shape.” When Hugh arrives, he quickly sizes up the situation, and, having a sense of humor as large as his frame, begins to talk broad Yorkshire, look idiotic, and otherwise live up to family expectations — except that he obviously has an education, a sense of honor, and restraint that would do credit to a prince.

How Hugh and his cousin Anthea rescue restless Richmond Darracott, who longs to be in the army against the wishes of his grandfather; how they fool the customs officers about certain items of smuggling (sorry! free-trading!); how Hugh gradually convinces his meticulous valet that he will never wear the latest fashion; how they begin to convince each other that they have a sense of humor, a sense of their place in the world, and a strong enjoyment of each other’s company — these things I will not reveal, except to say that Heyer’s sense of comic timing and drama are marvelous. All I will say is that it is ultimately exactly as it should be, especially for those of us who have spent any time in Yorkshire.

I was slightly apprehensive at the beginning of this novel, simply (and maybe ridiculously) because Heyer uses so many exclamation points. It’s really a question of style — we aren’t used to that in modern writing, and it can seem overdone. But if you can overlook it as a question of difference from one generation to another, then I think you’ll really enjoy The Unknown Ajax as much as I did.

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15 Responses to The Unknown Ajax

  1. Sly Wit says:

    Although I did love the various valets–and that was a nice change from the usual Regency focus on the upstairs part of the equation–I could not get into this one (I recently read a bunch of Heyer). I think it was a combination of the speech patterns of Hugh, the wandering narrative, and the lack of real drama with the love story. However, I do agree that how it comes together in the final scenes is brilliant.

    • Jenny says:

      I agree that the love story was pretty quiet. I have to say I loved Hugh’s way of speaking Yorkshire dialect whenever he especially wanted to annoy anyone, though. First, it made me wonder if he personally knew Mary Lennox; and then afterward, with the little conversation he had with Vincent about the relative merits of Eton and Harrow… well! he won me over, that’s all.

  2. Lisa says:

    Oh yes, those exclamation points – they can be so distracting! Ending every sentence! I have to make a conscious effort sometimes to ignore them. I’m very glad that you enjoyed this one. Hugh is one of my favorite heroes, but I also have a soft spot for the willowy Claud, who comes through so splendidly in the end.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, wasn’t Claud great? That’s (another) nice thing about Heyer — she’ll lead you into believing a character is set as a certain kind of caricature, and then she’ll allow him or her to change, or reveal a different side of their personality. It’s very engaging.

  3. vicki (skiourophile / bibliolathas) says:

    I loved this one – he was an excellent and funny hero. Another one I think is under-rated – with a male hero at its centre rather than a woman – is The Quiet Gentleman.

    • Jenny says:

      A sense of humor and humility will win me over in a hero faster than anything else, and Hugh had both. (This also explains my impatience with Mr. Rochester.) Thanks for the recommendation! Heyer wrote so many that I am always looking for ways to sort them out.

  4. Hi, Jenny. When I was a young adult, I read most of Georgette Heyer’s books that were available at the time. I’d be interested in seeing what you think of “These Old Shades,” and its sequel (sorry, can’t remember the name) that was about the heroine’s son and his love when he grew up. These two books were definitely my favorite Heyers of all time.

    • Jenny says:

      I don’t believe I’ve seen those mentioned before, so I will definitely seek them out! Thank you!

      • Anonymous says:

        These Old Shades and The Devil’s Cub were the two first Heyers I read. I remember liking them quite a bit, especially Shades. Both take place pre-Regency. Apparently the story of the family continues in Regency Buck and An Infamous Army, but I haven’t read those (yet).

      • Sly Wit says:

        Huh, I wasn’t signed in. Anonymous, c’est moi.

  5. Helen says:

    I’ve loved the few Heyer novels I’ve read, but with so many still to read it’s difficult to know which one to choose next! After hearing how much you’ve enjoyed this one I’ll move it nearer the top of my list.

    • Jenny says:

      I’ve loved the few I’ve read, too. I think Venetia or The Grand Sophy will probably be next for me, but so many people seem to have lovely favorites, don’t they.

  6. So happy that you are being converted into a Heyer fan! Her books are perfect light reading, just the right blend of humour and romance, always done with intelligence and impressive attention to detail. The Unknown Ajax isn’t one of my favourites but Hugo is one of my favourite Heyer heroes.

  7. Deb says:

    Another abuser of exclamation points: Eugene O’Neill. In my teens (when I was a bit of a literature snob), I thought he must be a bad writer because he used so many exclamation points. I’ve since revised my opinion. The funny thing is, I read Heyer in my teens too and never even noticed her (over) use of exclamation points because her narrative style is so smooth.

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