English Intrigue in Louis XV's France

Dive into Paris and Versailles during the time of King Louis XV. Corruption and intrigue are ripe. France is an open playing field for the Duke of Avon. the English peer has earned the nickname Satanas from his enemies. Broke as a young man, he had toured Europe as a gamester. He gambled a young Austrian noble out of his fortune and retired to enjoy a lavish and sumptuous lifestyle.


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This is the scene Georgette Heyer set for one of her best books. It is set into the historical period she is best at recreating for her readers, a time of wigs, powder and patch. The story takes the reader through period France and England from fashionable Paris to the ancestral seat of  Avon Hall. The descriptions are rich in details that make it imaginable and vivid. And, as is usually the case in her novels, the characters are well thought out and believable.


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You might think of Georgette Heyer as a writer of romantic novels. This book is more a mystery story spiced up with comic relief. When the Duke walked the back streets of Paris one night, an urchin ran into him stopping him in his tracks. Seemingly out of a whim, he bought the boy from his brother and made him his page. The reader only slowly catches on to the devious and devilish scheme for revenge the duke hatched against the Comte de St Vire for an old but rankling insult.


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The beauty of the book lies in offering a thrilling story to keep readers spellbound to the end while being exact in historical detail. It lets readers imagine the Paris of Louis XV when rich nobles and their hangers-on peopled the fashionable salons and attended fantastic balls in their palaces. It paints a pretty picture for the rich while showing how the majority of people lived in vivid glimpses when dealing with the bought boy's past.


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Intrigues and counter-intrigues are played out like an intricate minuet. The Duke of Avon makes his moves as if directing an orchestra while leading others on a string like puppets. When the Paris boy was kidnapped from the Duke's estate in England, the duke's brother gave chase. The ensuing pursuit is taking readers along through England and into rural France.


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What makes the book so eminently readable is the amount of historically correct detail packed into the the smallest detail of dress, hair, or conveyance. Fashion, hairstyles, modes of travel and down to powder and patch are spot on for this very moment in time. If you want to escape today for yesteryear, this is the book to read. Georgette Heyer's These Old Shades is available on Kindle. Do yourself a favor on a rainy weekend; get it and read it.


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Further reading
How a House Became a Home in Georgian London
The Sex Workers of Georgian London
Royal Changelings