Although I've yet to find an author who can in any way replace Jane Austen, I think part of the reason I find Georgette Heyer's books so enjoyable is that she wrote stories that remind me of Jane Austen's world. Regency (most of the time) settings, sparkling wit and an entertaining banter between hero and heroine like Austen, often the stories are comedies of manner but Heyer also wrote the occasional adventure story or stories that verge on the farcical. They are usually frothy fun and nearly always end happily. Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle is even more Austen-like as there is a definite nod in the direction of Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I wouldn't call it a retelling, but Sylvester reminds me just a tad of Mr. Darcy and Phoebe just a tad of Lizzie Bennet, but no worries as in the end they are their own characters full of foibles and shortcomings but essentially decent and likable.
If you've read Georgette Heyer you'll know that her stories are generally very romantically inclined yet also very chaste. It's all about the getting together rather than the what comes after (though there are a few exceptions to that rule). Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle is one of Heyer's more romantic romances. With each insult (however kindly spoken) that is uttered, and each conversation which is miscommunicated the lovers are wrenched further apart, and that means they'll fall even harder when they do decide they really are in love.
Phoebe Marlow isn't exactly who comes to mind when the Duke of Salford, that would be Sylvester, is making his list of qualities he finds attractive in a prospective wife. He has indeed made a list: clever and with some degree of beauty, and with the same elegance which his mama is graced with. No hen-witted ladies as he doesn't want to hoist a fool on his mother. He narrows the ladies within his acquaintance who are so endowed down to five and then asks his mother to choose! For Sylvester this is simply an arrangement and love need not come into the picture, however much the Duchess prefers Sylvester make a love match or none at all.
Into the hat the Duchess throws Phoebe's name. Phoebe is the granddaughter of the Duchess's good friend and Sylvester's godmother, Lady Ingham. As a matter of fact there was talk at Phoebe's birth as the ladies toyed with the idea of a prospective engagement to Sylvester some day in the future, but nothing ever came of it as Phoebe's mother died and she was raised in the country. So the wheels are set in motion for Sylvester to properly meet Miss Marlow, but as his first introduction to her at a ball was so unmemorable, it won't be surprising to hear how their second meeting goes. Not well.
The Duke of Salford is invited to Lord Marlow's estate with offer of few days hunting, but of course his real intention is to check Phoebe out and decide whether she really is marriage material. He almost instantly regrets his decision when he realizes he is to be the only guest making it obvious that something's afoot. Phoebe's step-mother is under the misapprehension that Sylvester is there to offer for her, turning Phoebe into a bundle of nerves which means she isn't going to 'show well' in front of the Duke.
Sylvester's take on Phoebe:
"She had neither beauty nor countenance, her complexion was poor and her figure worse, her dress was tasteless, and the colourless voice in which she murmured how-do-you-do confirmed him in his instant belief that she was insipid. He wondered how soon he would be able to bring his visit to an end."
Phoebe's opinion of Sylvester is no better:
"He is not shy and he is not stiff. His manners are assured; he says everything that is civil because he places himself on so high a form that he would think it unworthy of himself to treat anyone with with anything but cool courtesy; and because he knows his consequence to be so great he cares nothing for what anyone may think of him."
Their meeting is dismal and their dislike great, though to be honest for Phoebe it is dislike, the Duke is so condescending he thinks only of himself and how he might escape. Phoebe beats him to it. In fear that he will offer for her, an offer that she finds repugnant, she decides to run away rather than be forced into a marriage she does not want. Her plan is to go to London and her grandmother, Lady Ingham. She sets off with her good childhood friend who's the son of a local squire, and from there the story turns quite adventurous. Snowy roads and an overturned barouche mean a broken leg for her friend Tom and a stay at a local inn where Sylvester comes upon them, and things become very entangled in the usual engaging Heyer style.
There's a good bit of romance in Sylvester and a good bit of adventure as well. Sylvester is overly full of himself, unable to show his true self in front of Phoebe and ready to believe the worst. Phoebe doesn't help things along much as she is an aspiring author who has had her first book published anonymously, though she makes the great error of basing her characters a little too closely on London's members of high society. Her villain shows too close a resemblance on the Duke of Salford--his eyebrows take on a satyr-like appearance when he's annoyed--making the comparison unmistakable, and when word gets out who wrote the book Phoebe becomes something of an outcast. It's unsure whether the two will ever get together. Getting things all sorted out is, of course, what makes for such entertaining reading. I've read enough novels by Heyer now to be able to compare and this one ranks in my top three (my other favorites being The Corinthian and A Civil Contract). Next up I have Bath Tangle to read, and will post about it later this month.
My copy courtesy of Sourcebooks.
Edited: I thought I'd note something that one commenter pointed out and is quite right about--although Heyer was inspired by Austen, Jane Austen wrote about her contemporaries and times in which she lived, whereas Heyer wrote historical novels about the Regency period and used quite a lot of detail to create that particular world. A perhaps not so subtle difference that I should have thought more about, but this novel brought to mind Austen so much the comparison came immediately to mind when writing my post! Sorry for the slip.