//by Georgette Heyer//published 1968//
So this little regency gem by one of my favorite authors was quite a bit different from the other Heyer works I’ve read. While still engaging and interesting, full of delightful dialogue and likable characters, Cousin Kate was a more melodramatic work, with an underlying tension that was actually quite exciting.
Our story opens with the heroine, Kate, arriving at the home of her childhood nurse, Sarah (excellent name, that). Kate, an orphan, was left penniless a year (a few years? a few months? not exactly sure how long) earlier and has been attempting to earn her living as a governess. Dismissed from that position thanks to the unwelcome attentions of the son of the master of the house, Kate has come back to Sarah’s to regroup and decide what to do next with her life.
Of course, as we know, job opportunities for gently bred young women in the Regency era were not numerous. Sarah, determined that Kate should have the “good” things in life, which Sarah believes Kate deserves, goes behind Kate’s back and contacts one of Kate’s only living relatives (her mother was disowned by her mother’s people when her mother married Kate’s father), Kate’s father’s half-sister. Much to everyone’s surprise, Aunt Minerva immediately dashes up to London and (figuratively) sweeps Kate into her arms and insists that Kate comes to live with her at Aunt Minerva’s country manor, Staplewood. Here, Aunt Minerva lives with her (much older) husband, Sir Timothy, and their son (a few years younger than Kate), Torquil, who is also invalidish – he has never really gone anywhere beyond the immediate environs of Staplewood, being too delicate to go away to school or to enjoy a Season in London.
At first, Kate enjoys the pleasure and rest of Staplewood, but, being an intelligent, sociable, industrious young woman, the inactivity and lack of companionship begins to wear on Kate. Also, the relationships between her three relatives seem… odd. When Sir Timothy’s nephew, Phillip, arrives for a visit, things become even more strained.
Overall, I really enjoyed Cousin Kate. Although in some ways the story was slow, it rarely felt as though it dragged. Heyer manages to slowly reveal several characters to be more sinister than they first appear, and Kate’s realization that all is not well is completely natural and oddly creepy. Throughout, there is a sense of unease, and uncertainty of whom one can actually trust to be the person they claim to be.
However, there are so rather lengthy monologues that aren’t terribly interesting, especially as several times one person would tell Kate what they thought about another (at length) and then a few pages later, Kate would have to listen to the previously-discussed person explain why they were, in fact, exactly as the other had thought they were … in other words, it was almost the same monologue twice in the same chapter, which was a bit monotonous at times.
The ending also felt rather abrupt. While not necessarily dissatisfying, it was sudden (can you have a sudden ending on page 318? Yes, yes you can), leaving me not 100% convinced of Kate’s future happiness (although I would say I was left 95% sure, which, on the whole, probably isn’t too bad).
Kate is a strong protagonist, someone I really liked and was definitely rooting for. She is kind, industrious, intelligent, funny, and brave. She tries to find the best in people and situations, but faces up to trouble when it meets her. Even though her life had thrown her plenty of difficulties, she was still determined to make her own way on her own terms.
Cousin Kate was an excellent read. While different from the more lighthearted Heyer novels I’ve enjoyed in the past, the more “gothic” aspect of the story was actually a fun change of pace. 4/5 – definitely recommended, especially for other Heyer fans.