Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Cotillion is among the best of Heyer's classic Regency novels. Its heroine is a sheltered young woman who recklessly grabs for a smidgen of happiness after her miserly guardian launches a humiliating scheme to marry her to one of his nephews. When she was an orphaned child, the wealthy but pennypinching Mr. Penicuik, in an uncharacteristic fit of altruism, took her in and raised her. While not a blood relation, she has since been treated - and regarded herself - as a cousin to Penicuik's nephews. She has a weakness for only one of her cousins, the one who refuses to countenance Penicuik's scheme.
Although Heyer launched the "Regency romance" genre, her romances have little in common with so many today which revolve around a love interest's physique and sexy banter. Heyer's emphasize comedy over romance. If the finale of Cotillion is heartwarming enough to make readers reach for their handkerchiefs, the novel's chief delight is the tangle of potentially embarrassing scrapes Kitty gets herself into. Under the influence of a couple of small glasses of spiked punch, she inveigles one of her cousins against his better judgment into helping her spend a month in London. The scheme involves a certain amount of - well, dissembling, though Kitty hasn't a streak of unkindness in her character. Knowing nothing of city life, she is too naïve to realize what class of people one does and, in her circles, does not befriend, and she has too much heart to refuse help to a friend. The result is a web of misbegotten romantic attachments only a novelist with Heyer's plotting skill could shepherd to a happy ending.
Heyer knew the Regency period inside and out and lards her characters' dialogue with its slang. "Nice gudgeon I should look," one cousin protests. Readers who struggle with archaic language may find Cotillion is not for them; those who delight in it will find the novel delicious through and through. (1953, 355 pages in the recent Sourcebooks edition)More about Cotillion at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository