The Talisman Ring is one of Georgette Heyer’s early novels. While the book combines the humour that is her hall mark and is set in the Regency Era and sports not one, but two romances, it will be hardly fair to simply categorize the book as a romance. It is a mystery rolled into a romance. And while the mystery occupies our minds, the romance creeps on us unawares.
The mystery revolves around the murder of Mathew Plunkett, who was killed sometime before the story starts. Ludovic Lavenham, the heir to the Baronetcy of Lavenham is accused of the crime and is a fugitive from justice when the story opens at the home of Lord Lavenham, Ludovic’s grand uncle Sylvester who is in his deathbed. Enter Eustacie, the half french grand daughter of Sylvester with a thirst for romance and adventure and Sir Tristram Shield, another nephew of Sylvester who is prosaic and staid and with whom Sylvester has arranged a marriage of convenience for Eustacie and we find ourselves already intrigued. Throw into this mix Basil Lavenham, the Beau, the heir to the estate should Ludovic also die, who is suave and smiling and fancies himself one of the dandy set and all the elements of a romance is in place.
When Eustacie runs away and falls in with Ludovic, who has become a smuggler, the romance between the two is inevitable. She wishes to clear Ludovic’s name and in this she is assisted by Sarah Thane, a chance acquaintance who professes to have a thirst for adventure equalling Eustacie’s. Sarah is chaperoned by her brother Hugh, a harmless sybarite, whose memory retains only what is important to him. The missing Talisman ring is the key to solving the mystery, but who has it? Is it in the possession of Tristram, who is a collector of antique objects who has been most insistent that Ludovic is guilty and should be shipped out of the country? Or is it in the possession of Beau and does his belief in Ludovic’s story and his conviction that Ludovic should have faced his trial instead of escaping hide a more sinister motive?
The romance between Eustacie and Ludovic blossoms almost immediately, Eustacie approving wholeheartedly of Ludovic’s devil may care ways and recklessness, and Ludovic being charmed by her spirit and beauty and her naivete. The second romance in the book is more subtle and only in the last pages is the reader allowed a glimpse into their feelings, though their earlier exchanges hint at a deeper attachment for the other.
The plights of the hapless bow street runners, Hugh Thane’s near-sightedness and tunnel vision, Sarah’s artless prattle to throw their quarry off the scent provide laugh-out-loud moments that will have you, to quote Heyer herself, in stitches.
For those who have read Heyer, shades of Leonie can be discerned in Eustacie, but at no point does she feel like another version of Leonie. She is as different from Leonie as chalk and cheese while still sharing some of her traits. Ludovic is wholly charming and Sarah is the level headed heroine who manages to empathise with the adventurous spirit of Eustacie as well as to keep her more reckless behaviour in check.
The book, just like most of Heyer’s other works, is well written and is rich in period details that makes the reader feel as if he is living the adventure. For Heyer enthusiasts, this book is a must-read.