When in an opening scene of a novel the hero picks up the heroine and physically carts her off over his shoulder you know you're in for a rocky ride of a story. Or in the case of Georgette Heyer's Beauvallet a wild romp of a read. Published in 1929 Beauvallet is one of her earlier novels filled with adventure, romance and excitement.
"Mad" Nicholas Beauvallet is an English privateer who happily trawls the seas for Spanish plunder for the Crown. Beauvallet has a reputation reaching far and wide for his audacious raids and devil-may-care attitude. His family would prefer him to give up his reckless lifestyle to marry and settle down, but he thrives on excitement. When his latest prey includes not only silks and spices but a beautiful Spanish señorita, however, he may just acquiesce to their wishes.
"'A challenge?' inquired Beauvallet. 'Oh, rash! I told you that I never refused a challenge.' He bore down on her, and dodged, laughing, the dagger's point. He caught her wrist, and had his other arm firmly clasped about her waist. 'Cry peace, sweetheart,' he said, and took the dagger from her, and restored it to its sheath. 'Come!' he said, tossed her up in his arms, and strode off with her to the quarter-deck."
Doña Dominica de Rada y Silva is returning to Spain after being raised in the colonies. Nick is instantly smitten with this feisty Spanish beauty, though it will take a little persuasion on his part before she reciprocates the feeling. Alas, only a little. Dagger-wielding though she may be initially, Nick quickly charms his way into her heart. Ever the gentleman Nick agrees to set Dominica and her ailing father down on the Spanish coast, but he promises to return for her within a year.
Here's where the adventure comes in. Queen Elizabeth gives her leave for Nick to travel to Spain, but with the Inquisition raging and no love lost between Elizabeth and King Philip, it's a dangerous proposal. He crosses into Spain by way of France where a run in with a member of the de Guise family (read Marie de Guise, or Mary Queen of Scots) on secret and very pressing business means his adventure will be filled with political intrigue as well. This Elizabethan setting is quite a change for Heyer from her Georgian and Regency romances, though she seems equally as comfortable writing about this period and and generously uses the language and slang of the times (maybe on occasion a little too generously). She also knows her way around the Spanish Court and writes convincingly of the history and attitudes of the mid-1500s.
If you're new to Georgette Heyer you might want to start with one of her later books unless you're looking for a light story filled with lots of adventure. Her assiduous research, what will become part of her signature style, is impeccable, but her characterization felt a little thin. I never felt I had a sense of what either Nick or Dominica was really like, particularly Dominica. Really this is more Nick's story. There was little of their interior lives to be seen on these pages. Although the action revolves around their passion for each other it seemed more a case of telling rather than showing, so that part of the story never really came alive for me. Unlike The Corinthian, which is one of my very favorite Heyers and also an early novel, there was no real spark and very little development to their relationship romantic or otherwise. It seemed like too much too quickly to me, and I just never felt quite convinced by the characters no matter how dashing Nick was or beautiful Dominica.
As rollicking, swashbuckling adventure stories go, however, Beauvallet is well done for an early attempt and sold quite well when it was originally published (picture Errol Flynn as Nicholas Beauvallet!). She moves the story along at a nice pace, and if you like action filled with swordplay and daring escapes you might find this one an enjoyable read. Although probably not one of my favorites, I found it entertaining going and interesting to compare with her later books and more developed characters. I'm looking forward to returning to the Regency period I think, and her more mature and intellectual heroines. Besides I love the playful wittiness of later stories set in drawing rooms and ballrooms that tend more towards comedy of manners (though I do like a good adventure story now and again as well). As a side note, I love the cover of this book--these reissues are really nicely done. Many thanks to Sourcebooks for sending this one along.