Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Helga Recommends: Patricia Veryan

My mother was a great fan of historical romance, and I happily followed her lead. There's pretty much nothing I'd rather read than a good historical--one with the right mix of historical detail and relationship-building. Ideally, a book that reflects the author's interest in and research about the historical period and not one riddled with obvious anachronisms and modern characters transposed onto historical settings. The less said about those, the better.

Let me get to the point. If you like Georgette Heyer's historical romances, you should try Patricia Veryan. If you like historical romance with elements of swashbuckling adventure (à la Scarlet Pimpernel), you should read Patricia Veryan. If you enjoy historical romances with characters that pop up in multiple books, especially series that end with rogues becoming heroes, Veryan could be a good fit for you as well. I am a Heyer fan, but I'm a Veryan fanatic. Every time I visit a new library, I go to the Vs in the fiction section to see how that library's collection measures up.* As you can see from the picture below, I am deadly earnest about this recommendation.

My personal collection includes my mother's copies as well,
hence the stack of duplicates on the right. 
From the late 1970s to the early 2000s, Veryan published more than thirty historical romances set in the Georgian and Regency periods. Most of her books are connected to four different series: the Golden Chronicles (set in 1746 in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion); the Tales of the Jewelled Men (featuring several characters from the Golden Chronicles); and the Regency-era Sanguinet Saga and Riddle series.

Why Do I Love Them?

This was surprisingly hard to quantify. To me, Veryan's books are a perfect blend of humor, romance, action, adventure, swashbuckling, and period detail. Perhaps it's because there are always interesting and life-threatening situations that put the hero and heroine in relief? There are very few books that I re-read, but these are on top of my list. I would be perfectly fine stranded on a desert island with only Veryan series and Oreos to sustain me. In short: my literary catnip.

This scene is from The Tyrant (which I was just re-reading the other day), in which the hero and heroine become engaged to hide the fact that they were aiding a fugitive. They hope to extricate themselves from the engagement once the danger is past, but in the meantime:
Carruthers swooped down and planted a kiss on her cheek.
She jumped back, saying indignantly, "I thought it was agreed there was to be none of that!"
He shook his head at her. "You'd make a poor spy, Miss Ramsay. You seem quite incapable of understanding that this is a most deadly predicament you have got me into."
"Of course I understand, but--"
"It is of vital import that we keep up the pretence if we are to come out of this alive."
She glanced around. "Certainly. But there is no one here to--"
"One of the first things I learned in my military career," he said gravely, "was that one does not fail to post sentries merely because there is no sign of the enemy."
Phoebe regarded him suspiciously, then started up the stairs. She halted on the third step and looked back. He stood there, watching her. She fancied to detect a quickly suppressed grin, but then he said "I believe we have taken sufficient precautions for tonight, ma'am. Mustn't overdo it." (68) 
Like Heyer's, Veryan's books are also "green light" reads--there are only a few (very tasteful) sex scenes to be found throughout the series. Perfect for when you've got an elderly lady at your reference desk who doesn't like those "modern" romances.

Where Do I Start?

If you're looking for a one-shot, test-the-waters book, try The Wagered Widow, Married Past Redemption, or Some Brief Folly. Both Practice to Deceive and Time's Fool are good series openers, although they aren't my favorite books in their respective series. Love Alters Not is another fun book, if you don't care about jumping in to the middle of a series.

Several of my personal favorites (Sanguinet's Crown and The Mandarin of Mayfair top this long list) are many books into a series and should be read as a culmination of plots from the preceding books.

Books to avoid unless you become a die-hard fan: The Lord and the Gypsy, The Mistress of Willowvale, Give All to Love. The Riddle series was her last, and I haven't re-read it multiple times like I have the other three.

Unfortunately, Veryan's books are very hard to find. Her last new book was published in 2002. They are not easily found in used bookstores--trust me, I check every time, even though I own all but a few of them. Georgette Heyer's books have recently been reissued in lovely trade editions. Let's hope for the same for Veryan's work in the near future. In the meantime, check your local library.

Other things I've recommended:
Paper Books

*My own library does very well, with 16 Veryan titles on the shelf. I check them out regularly to make sure they don't get weeded.