After 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.