Faro's Daughter, by Georgette Heyer
Faro’s Daughter has been my introduction to Georgette Heyer, and I had a blast reading this novel. After a string of bad-boy contemporaries, some better written than others, reading Heyer was like sipping a refreshing trou normand after a too-heavy first course. It also made me realize how much I’d missed reading good dialogue. Sometimes, I feel like physical interaction is used to replace a need for creative, intelligent conversation. Lengthy tales of emotional angst or repeated expressions of desire - hot as these may be- don’t usually count as creative and smart for me; they often seem to be just overtures to the sex scenes.
Now don’t get me wrong: I love hot reads, and in fact just glommed the entire Tessa Bailey catalogue in a week. But I also like to switch gears, and novels like Faro’s Daughter are perfect for this. Here’s a book where the hero and heroine don’t kiss until the last page, and whose ending leaves some interesting questions unanswered. Max and Deb do, indeed, agree to marry at the very end, but there’s no syrupy epilogue set months down the line, with a happily pregnant Deb or a completely changed-for-the-better Max. No, instead we’re left to wonder what the engagement announcement will do to the already tenuous relationship between Deb and Max’s families, and to imagine how they will handle the fallout. I really like that, because I’m not dead-set as a romance reader on having all ends tied neatly together. Love and family are messy, and unions have consequences.
One of these consequences will surely be the fireworks between Max and Deb as they renegotiate their relationship. For much of the novel, Max has been led to believe that Deb means to marry his cousin; Deb, for her part, thinks that Max hates her with a passion. The ultimate declaration of love has shades of Sense and Sensibility, with a shocked Deb bursting into tears at having her secret hopes dragged out into the light and fulfilled.
And, again, there’s the dialogue. Max and Deb’s exchanges are both elegant and punishing. Neither can back down from a challenge, nor stow away their pride, and they engage in an almost painful game to best each other. But we understand that these two fundamentally respect one another, and accept each other as worthy rivals. This leads to some hilarious scenes, like the dinner in Vauxhall or the cellar caper; but even at their craziest, Max and Deb play by honourable (to them) rules, and don’t strike out recklessly at one another.
Faro’s Daughter is a novel about gambling: not just because Deb works at a gambling house, but because every one of her daily actions feels like a carefully calculated risk. She plays matchmaker and saviour for various other characters based on her intuition of an outcome, but is also tricked herself on more than one occasion. And, while she steps on a few toes on the way to her own reckoning, she makes sure to soothe as many hurts as possible.