The Talisman Ring

Georgette Heyer

Cover of The Talisman Ring

Rank: A
No. Times Read: 2
Last Read: Spring, 2012

Author Name: Georgette Heyer

Review: I have just recently finished reading The Talisman Ring for the second time and feel the need to make a few comments. First off let me say this is a fantastically enjoyable book, filled with humor, adventure, and delight; it is certainly one of my top recommendations to try to hook people on Georgette Heyer. Despite this I tend to have trouble getting people enthused and always seem to have to first explain away the fact that this is classified as a romance. That’s right, if you look at my genre tags I have put down both “Romance” and “Historical Fiction”, but if you look at the spine of the book for the genre it says “Romance”, and for that reason I missed out on these wonderful books for years and years. Although several people whose taste in books tends to jive with mine recommended these, I was uninterested in reading “smut dressed up in bad historical costuming”, and so seeing the label on the spine I dismissed them out of hand.

The Talisman Ring, however, is a historically accurate romance set in the Georgian period, meaning that while there is passion and romance, there is no smut, in keeping with the courtship rules of the era. Nor is the “historical costuming” inaccurate as many (or even most) fiction pieces are; Heyer was an exhaustive researcher, to the point that her Napoleonic era novels are so accurate and give such a good view of the life of the period that they have been used as required reading at Oxford University in classes covering the Napoleonic wars. However because the modern Romance genre has become so synonymous with bodice-rippers and Fabio-style covers, there is a certain amount of embarrassment for many in heading into the shelves and pulling out a book so labeled. Let me assure you, however, that any of Heyer’s romances will amply reward you for your bravery amongst the genre shelves with stories of love skillfully interwoven with peril and humor.

One of the things frequently said about Heyer is that she is “The next best thing to reading Austen”. I disagree as this supposes that to like Heyer is to like Austen, and further also suggests an incorrect ranking of the two. Heyer writes historically accurate characters for a modern audience, while Austen ultimately had to please an audience which would have viewed many of Heyer’s characters as hoydens and shrews instead of girls filled with spunk and sass (two of my favorite characteristics in a lady!). One fine example is seen in The Talisman Ring, where our young French heroine decides that she is no longer interested in being betrothed to her forbidding, older, boring cousin and determines to run away in search of adventure. She sets off in the dead of night with no maid and only her band-boxes and a pistol stolen from the bedroom of her dashing cousin, absent from the country having fled a trifling charge of murder. Now this girl is unquestionably silly, but also possesses daring no Austen character would ever demonstrate. Austen heroines are often spirited, perhaps even pert, but never over-bold, never wanton—they never truly cross the line. It’s not a question of historical accuracy (Austen does have female characters who run away, elope, and take lovers), it’s a matter of how they are held up. In an Austen novel these ladies are never the heroine; always the embarrassment.

One need not be an Austen fan to love Heyer, though if you are fond of the comedy of manners and flying dialogue that you see in Austen, I encourage you to look closely at Heyer. The Talisman Ring like many of her works has strong elements of farce and mystery. The action is driven by the desire of the dying family patriarch to safely dispose of his young granddaughter by marrying her to one of her three cousins. One cousin, the heir to the patriarch, is eliminated from the running as he has fled the country after being accused of murder (something our young heroine finds both shocking and fascinating), leaving only two cousins available for matrimony: one who believes his cousin to be innocent and the other who does not. The question of the heir’s innocence comes to be of paramount importance to our young heroine as a rather large inheritance as well as her marital prospects all become entangled with the matter. Add to this midnight chases, freebooters, hidden cellars, bow street runners and a justice of the peace and his not-so-young but still adventure-minded sister, and to top it off, our young heroine’s desire to have adventure and romance even if it should end in tragedy (she is almost sad to have escaped the terror, as it would have made the crowd weep to see her taken to the guillotine dressed all in white, with, perhaps, just a simple ribbon around her throat…).

I laughed out loud in places, giggled quietly in others, and read the book in little more than one sitting. Try this one to start, or some of her other bests: The Grand Sophy, Faro’s Daughter, Frederica, The Convenient Marriage, The Nonesuch, Cotillion, False Colors, Arabella, and well…it’s hard to go wrong with any one of her romances!

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