Venetia - Georgette Heyer There's not much I can add to a review of "Venetia" that hasn't already been written many times, but still I want to add my two cents worth. "Venetia" is funny, romantic, full of tension, brimming with intelligent three-dimensional characters that jump off the pages and land straight into my heart and mind. My book looks like Starlite and Rainbow Brite exploded all over it because of all the multi-colored post-it tabs marking places I want to re-read/remember. I have never read Georgette Heyer's books I am ashamed to say, but now that I've read one, I will pull out all those GH books from my TBR stack and savor each and every one.

I love love love Venetia! She is intelligent, even-tempered, says exactly what she means, and not once did she wallow in self-pity or bitterness because she is surrounded by a bunch of selfish louts for family and friends and has never had a proper London season. Venetia has had no real friends and has been isolated from society, and so is a bit naive and innocent. There has been no one who laughs at what she thinks is funny, who talks with her as an equal, who enjoys the things she does until Damerel. The way she sees others and herself clearly, faults and all, is her most refreshing and unforgettable trait, and her honesty with people who are unused to anything except artifice make them think she is odd and doesn't really mean what she says. Despite her innocence, she is not so foolish as to think Damerel's escapades are all without substance. The way in which she thumbs her nose (nicely, of course, because she is a lady of good manners) at what propriety dictates or what society deems proper and acceptable is another reason I love her. And that is an important characteristic that draws Jasper Damerel to her.

Ah, then there's Damerel. There's quite a big age difference between Venetia and Damerel (he's 38, she's 25). He's the real Corsair that Oswald only pretends to be. His past is scandal-ridden beginning with running away with an older married woman at age 22, which resulted in his being ostracized by society and his family as well as accusations of having killed his father. Despite his rakish rep and bad behavior, there are many aspects of Damerel's character that prove he is not just a libertine (although libertines are, in fact, a guilty pleasure for me). Aubrey, Venetia's younger brother, limps because of a hip deformity, and Damerel treats him as he would any other 16-year old boy. He doesn't treat Aubrey as an invalid like Edward Yardley does, nor is he disgusted or horrified by his disability as Oswald Denny, Charlotte, or Mrs. Scorrier are. Damerel shows surprising mercy, grace, and sympathy for Oswald when Oswald gets rejected quite firmly and finally by Venetia. After all, Damerel knows what it's like to be a young man in love with an older woman. He knows the hurt and embarrassment in rejection, and he shows compassion for Oswald, deserving or not. Damerel's respect and affection and friendship for Venetia after their first meeting and the way he thought of her happiness above his own couldn't have just appeared from nothing; the seeds were already there. It just took the right catalyst to make those qualities flourish within him.

Another character I love is Aubrey. He "loves books more than people", and it's not hard to understand why. Other than Venetia and, later Damerel, no one sees Aubrey the person. They all see just that he limps. He reads a lot older than 16 to me partly because he does have such a brilliant mind but also because he, too, has had to deal with life's hard knocks and has to keep getting back up. Despite his somewhat absent-minded treatment of Venetia, I had no doubt that of all her family he truly does love her and appreciates her. I loved the way he put Mrs. Scorrier in her place subtly and humorously when he suggests she sit at the "bottom of the table". Or when he insults Edward in Latin, but the Latin is too difficult for Edward to translate so Aubrey obligingly dumbs the line down to something he can understand: "Non amo te, Sabidi!" (I do not love you, Sabidius.") I laughed out loud here and looked forward to each time Aubrey poked his head up out of a book.

My favorite scene is the one in which Venetia and Damerel are in the barn discussing the motherless kittens. This scene is staged through Oswald's eyes and ears, and it is a pivotal moment for Damerel as well as Oswald. I read it through a couple of times because it felt as if something had shifted. Then I had the "Aha!" moment. Oswald witnesses their flirtatious banter, the teasing, the laughter between Damerel and Venetia, and he now has certain knowledge that not only is Damerel, in fact, a rival but more importantly Venetia's emotions have been engaged by Damerel. Even more significant is how Damerel reacts to a perfect opportunity for seduction and doesn't act on it, thwarting Oswald's dream of rescuing Venetia from the rake's improper advances. Seduction is what rakes do well, and seduction of Venetia has been Damerel's goal since the first time he mistook Venetia for a village girl and kissed her. So why didn't Damerel kiss Venetia? (And it was apparent this would not be a kiss he takes this time because she definitely wanted him to.) For me, this was the moment that I knew the friendship and attraction between Damerel and Venetia had changed into something deeper. Damerel the rake had already begun to change, but in this moment I believe he recognized what he feels for Venetia is more than just sexual attraction, not just another conquest.

As for Oswald, his impassioned if stuttering declarations of love to Venetia are rebuffed by her so that he can have no doubt in his mind that she does not see him as her romantic Byronic hero. Venetia's harsh words and mockery make it clear she sees him as a "schoolboy", "too young to love." His male pride is injured, and he is frustrated and infuriated and embarrassed. When he attempts to force himself on Venetia, all of his daydreams of being Venetia's knight errant are crushed as, ironically, Damerel rescues the fair damsel in distress instead of himself.

I think the first meeting between Damerel and Venetia will always be a favorite of mine from now on. I can't remember the last time I read a romance in which the two main characters exchange Shakespeare quotes in their first encounter. I loved how the friendship between Damerel and Venetia grows and changes and deepens. I loved that Damerel called her his "dear delight", and that Venetia looked past the rakish veneer of Damerel and saw "a well-informed mind, and a great deal of kindness." I loved how Venetia fought for Damerel and how Damerel puts Venetia's happiness above his own, however misguided. I loved that Venetia didn't want to reform Damerel. I loved that she could tease and cajole and laugh at his rakish ways. I loved her hope that he will always love her because they are "such dear friends." I loved her expectation to know and her willingness to accept all facets -the good, the bad, and the ugly - of Damerel and that he, in turn, will do the same with her.

"Venetia" is a brilliantly funny book, but there were a few moments when I had a knot in my throat and an sob-hiccough slipped out involuntarily, like when Venetia returns to the Priory, Damerel is foxed, and thinks he's seeing a hallucination brought on by too much alcohol. When he realizes she's really there, his genuine joy at seeing her again was so intense that I felt it too. "He held her in a crushing embrace, fiercely kissing her, uttering disjointedly: 'My love - my heart - oh my dear delight! It is you!'" (Sigh.)

Ms. Heyer's writing style was a delight to read, full of Regency cant, and historical ambience. All the characters in "Venetia" add to Venetia and Damerel's story whether it's the "worthy" Edward Yardley (who reminded me of the odious Mr. Collins), or Lady Denny (who was like the Regency equivalent of Dear Abby or Miss Manners), or the "sweetly mawkish and so smoothly dull" Charlotte, or the arrogantly domineering Mrs. Scorrier with her overinflated sense of self-importance (who reminds me of Mrs. Elton), or the absent Conway who manages to make his presence felt despite being offstage for the whole book, or the selfish and vain Lady Aurelia Steeple, or her kind but rakish husband Sir Lambert. "Venetia" was a terrific book from the first page to the last.