First off, let me say that this four-star rating is for the story of Frederica itself as written by Georgette Heyer... not the ebook publication -- if I were just rating the ebook edition, I'd be forced to give it two stars for the simple fact that chapters nine and ten were not formatted correctly, requiring the long and rather laborious persistence on the part of the reader as one is forced to translate every ",Äò" or "Äô,"into quotation marks... not to mention every dash, umlaut, or accented letter. And Heyer novels are filled with dashes and dialogue. It was terribly frustrating, particularly as the book was just settling into its delightful rhythm. Really, the publishers ought to be ashamed for such a shoddy publication.

Now, on to the much more pleasing subject of Frederica, which is by far the most delightful Georgette Heyer novel that I've read to date. Quite honestly, I look to Heyer as a novelist whose Regency works all have much the same ring to them but I take some comfort in the predictability. A certain Regency time period (to which I am partial) will be depicted... similarly, there will be at least one couple who achieves a happy end by the time the book closes, usually with the requisite amount of worry that all will come to naught. Such is the case in this novel, but it's not the storyline that makes this such a singularly delightful book; it's the fantastic humor that glitters from most every page.

Indeed, Frederica is a terribly funny novel that follows the plight of one Marquis, Lord Alverstoke, a thirty-seven year old bachelor known for being one of the most elegantly dressed men in London... and quite a rake. He evidently cares for no one and takes pleasure in frustrating his others' plans to either have him matched or somehow make him pay for things that he knows they can quite well afford on their own. One of these sisters is quite determined that Alverstoke should hold a ball at his home to launch her daughter into the ton, but Alverstoke sees no reason on earth why he should saddle himself with such responsibility... not until a distant cousin turns up, asking a small favor that he can quite easily turn into some amusement. Since he's used to being asked for favors and money, it's a bit of a surprise when this cousin only wants a trifling thing and then she and her family spend the rest of the book decidedly trying to not inconvenience him... which only makes him want to offer them everything! Frederica Merriville wants Alverstoke's help in introducing her younger sister, Charis, to London society. A beautiful girl with grace and a sweet temper, Charis should not be allowed to languish in the country and be wasted... or so Frederica quite insists. Normally Alverstoke would not put himself out for anyone, but he finds himself liking Frederica's charming chatter and frank manner, so he agrees to not only own them as family, but stand in as a fake guardian so that they might easily pass in the first circles of society. Alverstoke agrees to host his niece's party... but only if his sister acts as the appropriate woman to sponsor the introduction of both Miss Merrivilles, gaining them access to parties and Almack's. It should be a simple duty discharged, but what Alverstoke doesn't count on is the fact that he becomes quite wrapped up with the Merriville family, including the young brothers Jessamy and Felix who are both unique and interesting boys that could really use a guiding male influence.

Having never really known the warm embrace of a loving family, Alverstoke falls in love with them all... but none so particularly as the smart and clear-headed Frederica, who might not hold a candle to Charis's looks, but he feels Frederica is worth a dozen of her sister. Smart, composed, and charming in her own right, Frederica seems to honestly believe that she's as good as an old maid. She's been running the household for so long that she's long given up any ideas on her own future so she can be mother hen to Charis, Jessamy and Felix... with some mild thought spared for Harry, the eldest boy who's up at Oxford and serves as the titular head of the family now that their parents have died. When problems turn up, though, Frederica finds herself relying more and more on the advice of their dear Cousin Alverstoke and Alverstoke is only too willing to put himself to great trouble for others for the first time in his life. And as another first, Alverstoke now faces a dilemma he's never before encountered: he might realize that he wants her, but what if Frederica does not want him?

It's hard to not fall for the Merriville family, they're such a large, loving and bumbling brood. They all have such good intentions and most of them are smart enough to be interesting conversationalists and characters. Felix is ridiculously intelligent and Jessamy is a bit of an old soul, struggling with moral issues without realizing he should be a boy while he still can. Charis is supposed to be the astonishing beauty, only made more attractive by her sweet disposition and genuine lack of pretension. Of course she's quite dim-witted, which means the reader will find her to be a rather negligible character; it's really Frederica and her brothers that delight. Then there's the wonderful Lufra, the family dog, who drags everyone into some scrape or another. (A particularly ridiculous and wonderful event involves Lufra chasing after cows in a London park and Frederica has to claim that the dog is a rare and expensive Barcelona collie that belongs to the Marquis. The Marquis then finds several disgruntled persons upon his doorstep and he has to snap into gear to catch up with Frederica's tale and insert his own humor -- "not Barcelona, Baluchistan! Baluchistan, Frederica!" -- to save Lufra from being seized by the authorities.)

Alverstoke is a wonderful character... thirty-seven and practically set against marriage, though not quite a confirmed bachelor. His rakish ways mostly occur in the past, so we have to take society's word for it, as he quite quickly begins to fall for Frederica. We at least see ample evidence of him being a selfish fellow without a wish to lift a finger for others in the beginning, but his change happens rather quickly, with occasional moments where you can see his old habits flashing up before his new self triumphs. Particularly charming was his interactions with the two schoolboys; he barks orders and calls them names, but it's all in good fun, so as a result, the boys adore him and obey his every command. Alverstoke himself experiencing for the first time the utter power held by an adoring young boy that might make one "[perjure one's] soul without hesitation" for the sake of that boy's peace of mind and do any number of unpleasant things, like tour a foundry or watch the launching of a balloon. His dry wit makes everything endurable and the boundless energy and antics of the Merriville family are made charming as he comes to think of them as quite his own.

I frequently laughed aloud, quite smitten with the ridiculous prattling of Frederica and the dry barbs of Alverstoke. Indeed, his reactions to tense situations are wonderful and I could quite easily see the dialogue (once the story was sufficiently trimmed and streamlined) being turned into a film. A bit of a comedy of errors, perhaps, even though everything is rather predictable, which isn't always a bad thing. The length of the novel could certainly have been trimmed -- somewhere over halfway through, I found myself wishing that we could get on with things. The names are all ridiculous, to be sure... but still, one endures for the sake of light comedy.

I certainly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a light Regency read, and I challenge you to not find yourself laughing out loud at some point as rakish and selfish Alverstoke transforms into a family man quite by accident. You might want to hit each of the Merrivilles at some point, but in the end, it's all quite worth the read.

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