These Old Shades is a mashup of several of my favorite romance plots all rolled into one story. It’s a May/December where the hero is significantly older than the heroine. It’s also a Guardian/Ward pairing as well as Employer/Employee. The heroine even goes half the novel cross-dressing, though the hero is aware of this fact. She’s also a bit of a Cinderella figure going from rags to riches. There’s revenge, kidnapping, and a little cat/mouse too. In short, it’s got it all.
The hero is one of the reasons why I love this story so much. He’s portrayed as a dandy with scented handkerchiefs and heeled shoes. He’s keenly aware of fashion and how he appears to others. But underneath his dandyish appearance, Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, is an alpha male hero to the core. He’s got an agenda with an old foe, Compte de Saint Vire, and with our heroine Léonie. The only thing he isn’t prepared for is love to knock him right off his dainty yet manly heels.
The heroine is a bit of a spitfire. To some she might appear as simply a fawning submissive under Alastair with her constant "Yes, Monseigneur" and "No, Monseigneur" but in actuality she’s very aware of what she’s doing. Léonie is described as a Nonpareil in the book which means there isn’t anyone (i.e. a woman who is) her equal. For the time period, which is pre-revolutionary France, this is definitely true. She cross-dresses, swordfights, becomes the hero’s personal page, wins over a prince, goes the way of Eliza Doolittle and learns to become a lady, and still manages to mangle the English language.
Georgette Heyer really utilized the side characters in These Old Shades in my opinion. One of my favorite passages doesn’t even contain the hero and heroine though it is entirely focused on them. It’s a section of dialogue between two side characters examining what’s going on between the leads.
These Old Shades is my absolute favorite Georgette Heyer romance. I haven’t read them all yet, but I have a pretty good feeling this statement would remain the same even if I had.
I give it a perfect score.