I just had the pleasure of being able to enjoy reading one of Georgette Heyer's Regency Romance novels for the first time. I don't get that experience very often, because I've read most of Heyer's books by this point, and read several this year that I didn't necessarily care for. Sourcebooks has been putting out beautiful trade paperbacks of Heyer's works for a few years now, and I got two of them for Christmas: The Grand Sophy, my absolute favorite, and Regency Buck, which I had never read. Although The Grand Sophy must still remain my favorite for several reasons, Regency Buck is now right up there with Sylvester, Cotillion, and a few other of my "almost favorites." If you aren't a fan of Regencies and don't want to be yawning by the end of this review, you might want to stop here. For anyone brave enough or who just doesn't have enough else to do, feel free to read on. :)
Unlike many of Heyer's Regencies, which set up with a drawing room conversation between a few minor characters or a major and a minor character, Regency Buck launches right into the story. Mr. Peregrine and Miss Judith Taverner are on their way to London after the fairly recent death of their father has left them wards of the Earl of Worth, who they have never met. On the way, Perry hears of a prize fight about to take place near the town where they have randomly stopped to rest, and he insists they stay for it. Judith reluctantly agrees, and they meet several interesting gentlemen during the course of their stay. One, a very pleasant man who gives up his rooms at the inn for them, turns out to be their cousin, Mr. Bernard Taverner. The other is a high-handed dandy who seems rather lacking in manners, accosts Judith on the road, and refuses to give his name. To their dismay, when the Taverners reach London they discover that this insufferable person is none other than their guardian, Lord Worth. Despite his obvious reluctance to have anything to do with them, as the young Taverners make their place in society, Lord Worth continues to take a high-handed approach with them. Judith finds herself unable to decide whether she detests his interference or appreciates the security he provides. Meanwhile, several plots to remove the Taverners from their large fortune - and also possibly their lives - must be dealt with, as well. The mysterious aspect of the plot is so subtle that the reader is never totally sure whether anything nefarious is actually taking place or who the villain or hero will turn out to be.
This book is set at the very height of the fashionable Regency period, when Beau Brummell actively sets all the fashions, Gentleman Jackson is quite active in his club and in society, Almack's is at it's very height of influence, and the Prince Regent's summer castle at Brighton is the place for high society to spend the warmer months of the year. Judith and her brother are swept along by all the brilliance and activity that their rank and fortune allows them. Judith in particular is quite the rage, with her combination of beauty, fortune, and pert opinions. She is pursued by a number of suitors, including a Royal Duke, but finds much more interesting pursuits for herself in driving a phaeton and becoming a connoisseur of snuff. Her easy friendship with such society greats as Mr. Brummell and Lord Petersham, not to mention her guardian and protector, Lord Worth, keeps her buffered from some of the censure that some of her unorthodox behavior might otherwise incur. She is certainly one of the most delightful and fascinating of Heyer's heroines.
As I mentioned, I enjoyed this book very much. I think it is an absolute essential read in the genre of Regency Romance. It defines and describes the period better than any other book I have read, while also presenting an intriguing plot and a very satisfying romance. Having read An Infamous Army, I was already familiar with most of the characters. Because Regency Buck actually comes first, a few of the plot twists were ruined for me, but I still found the book hard to put down. For anyone considering reading Georgette Heyer, it is important to know that most of her books stand alone, but a few have common characters. They are These Old Shades, Black Sheep, Regency Buck, and An Infamous Army, and they make the most sense if they are read in that order. I didn't care for An Infamous Army, which is much more historical than romantic, and contains both an irritating heroine and painstakingly accurate details of the Battle of Waterloo. Unless that somehow sounds exciting, I would suggest skipping that one altogether. The other three are quite good, though Regency Buck is the best, and can be read by itself.