Published by Audible Studios
Released on February 4, 2010
Length: 11 hrs and 50 mins
An aristocratic family is reeling from the loss of two family members only to learn the son of the family prodigal is the new heir. And what a prodigal he is likely to be reared provincially in the wilds of Yorkshire in the wool industry and only attaining some respectability through an officer’s rank in Wellington’s army. Oh yes, the Darracotts are in an uproar about Hugo, the Unknown Ajax. As one of the most sparkling of Georgette Heyer’s gems, I couldn’t resist picking this one up in audiobook and enjoying it once again.
Georgette Heyer has a gift for the Regency comedy of manners, spirited Regency dialogue and cant, ripping plots, and slow-burn sweet romance. The Unknown Ajax takes us to a family estate on the coastal border of Sussex and Kent where the majority of the story is the happenings during a family gathering for the arrival of a long lost family member. This is just after the allied victory at Waterloo ending the Napoleonic Wars when many military are returning home including the new heir of the family.
The Darracotts are all in an uproar about some country bumpkin from Yorkshire inheriting their prestigious family title and estates. None want him and least of all Anthea whom her grandfather, the current Lord Darracott, is insisting she marry this new heir while Vincent another grandson feels the injustice of giving way to the rural interloper. Into this atmosphere of genteel hostility arrives large, phlegmatic Major Hugo Darracott.
The book introduces the situation, the characters, and then how Hugo’s arrival is like the cat among the pigeons- a part he gladly plays because he is well aware what they all think of him. He was curious about his dead father’s estranged family and now he’s seen them. He knows he must inherit and take over the estate after his grandfather so he has his work cut out for him to charm them in his own whimsical way. But, of all of them, he most seeks to win over his beautiful, sharp tongued and equally sharp-witted cousin Anthea. Meanwhile, an over-zealous custom’s agent hangs about hoping to catch the smugglers operating in the area and there are rumors of a ghost at the family dower house.
I have enjoyed most of Georgette Heyer’s books over the years, but this one is probably one of my top favorites. It all boils down to Hugo. He’s such an engaging hero. He puts up with a great deal from all his new-found family and their ignorance about his past that he faces with either silence or amusement. He’s humble and doesn’t need to show off just how capable he is. It all comes out slowly though so that by the end not one member of the family is in doubt of his worth.
The comedy of how Hugo fools them all and just the quirky, fun characters surrounding him particularly Claude the high-strung dandy who studiously sets out to bring Hugo into fashion or that rivalry among the valets going on below stairs. Just so much to make one smile and laugh.
But, she doesn’t neglect the suspenseful moments or the sweet sparkling romance to give the story its heart. The way the final scenes play out is riveting even while delighting the reader’s sense of humor. The adorable way Hugo courted Anthea into first liking him to finding herself falling for him was another master stroke.
The focus of this book is on the family as a whole and the dynamics of having such characters all under the same roof. I thought this was all painted so well and was itself an entertaining part of the story.
This was my first occasion to hear Daniel Philpott narrate and I was impressed with his range of voices from curmudgeonly old Lord Darracott to tart Anthea, dramatic Claude and stately Lady Aurelia. And many more. Genders, classes, regional accents, pacing, tone, and timing were all splendidly worked.
All in all this revisit to an old favorite went prodigiously well, as Hugo might say. I can heartily recommend this one to those who enjoy sweet Regency era comedy romance or want to ease their way into the classics through this almost-classic.
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