Faro’s Daughter, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest review by Joanna aka RegencyRomantic

Published in 1941, Faro’s Daughter was written during a trying time in Georgette Heyer’s life when she was at odds with her agents and publishers, and war was wreaking havoc on the publishing industry.  She was forced to put this work aside in favor of another, but reading the seamless story now belies all that turmoil.  This is a rollicking romp of a romance story that features one of Heyer’s most endearing couple truly well matched in wit, wiles, and words.

‘I may be one of faro’s daughters, but I’ll not entrap any unfortunate young man into marrying me, even if my refusal means a debtors’ prison!’ (Chapter 4)

That is the pickle that Deborah Grantham finds herself in.  Orphaned 10 years prior, Deborah and her younger brother Kit were raised by their kind-hearted, but addle-brained aunt, Lady Bellingham, who was in turn left badly dipped by her husband.  To make ends meet, Lady Bellingham decided to parlay her knack for hosting famous card parties into running a ‘proper’ gambling house in the respectable area of St. James’s Square and Deborah has been presiding over her gaming tables ever since leaving the schoolroom.  Her refreshing beauty, quick wit, and charming ways are an instant hit with the ‘ton’ customers, but her reputation has been continually called into question by working in such a place.  To make matters worse, Lady Bellingham has absolutely no head for business and soon sinks them into debt.  Thus, the clever Deborah is forced to balance the advances of two patrons of consequence to keep themselves afloat.  On one hand is the odious and maquillaged Lord Ormskirk: a widower twice over who’s twice Deborah’s age, he has acquired the debts and mortgage of Lady Bellingham and only has dishonorable designs of making Miss Grantham his mistress.  On the other hand is the handsome and impetuous Lord Adrian Mablethorpe: an heir to a great fortune and title who’s five years Deborah’s junior, he vows to save Miss Grantham from her wretched situation and only has the honorable intention of making her his wife… that is, when he comes of age in two months.  Giving in to Ormskirk is unpalatable while robbing the cradle with Adrian is unconscionable, so what is a girl to do?

Enter Max Ravenscar, the older cousin and trustee of Lord Adrian Mablethorpe.  He has been tasked by his aunt to employ whatever means to save Adrian from a disastrous alliance.  In their first encounter, Ravenscar engages Deborah in an impromptu game of picquet to size her up.  As the stakes get higher and higher, neither one is willing to back down until push comes to shove and one has to bow out gracefully and this cleverly sets the tenor of their relationship.  Miscalculating Deborah as a grasping schemer, Ravenscar offers her an outrageous sum of money to relinquish her hold on his love-struck cousin.  Shocked and angered by such an insult, Deborah throws the bribe back at the insufferable Mr. Ravenscar.  She silently vows to punish him in the most vindictive way and devilishly resolves to live up to his low opinion of her.  From such inauspicious beginnings of wrong impressions and injured pride, the sparks and barbs continue to fly between the two as they race in a game of one-upmanship that involves an outrageous scene at the Vauxhall Gardens, three abductions that all have unexpected results, and a nail-biting curricle race.  With several aces up in each of their sleeves, the ante keeps rising…  The one who blinks first will have to fold… and the one who finally holds all the aces will win in this game of love.

The first thing that struck me was Heyer’s bold choice of a heroine who works out of a gaming house.  How was it that she is not more of a social outcast than she is?  Heyer, in her inimitable style of a throw-away line comparing Lady Bellingham’s establishment to ‘one of the Archer-Buckingham kidney’, hints that the story is set in the 1790’s, alluding to the notorious Ladies Archer and Buckinghamshire who were pilloried in the newspapers for fleecing young men at the game of Faro, and nicknamed ‘Faro’s Daughters.’  But as Jane Aiken Hodge explains in her biography of Heyer, this was pre-Regency period and ‘the social code was much less rigid… the age when the plebian Miss Gunnings could become duchess.’

Heyer truly shines in this one with sparkling dialogue, pitch-perfect chapter construction, and unrelenting dramatic pace.  But what I enjoyed most is its echo of two other favorite literary couples of mine.  With Max Ravenscar’s concession that Deborah is ‘tolerably handsome’ and Miss Grantham’s emphatic ‘Marry you? I would rather die in the worst agony you can conceive!’, one can’t help but draw a parallel to Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet; while their unending witty war of words throughout the novel is surely a send up to Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedict.

So, members of the Austenolatry and Bardolatry clubs, place your bets on this one!

Faro’s Daughter, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2008)
Trade paperback (286) pages
ISBN: 978-1402213526

Joanna, aka RegencyRomantic, is an opera singer and radio talk show host by vocation, and a tv/film/bibliophile by avocation.  She credits Mozart, Shakespeare, and, of course, Jane Austen for saving her sanity during trying times, most recently while walking the Death March under the rain after an exhilarating performance at the World Expo in Shanghai.  Tape loop in the head: Mozart’s Figaro overture while convincing oneself that music is the food of sanity, march on… and I will laugh at this in my turn, tomorrow! Follow Joanna on Twitter as PucciniRomantic.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 07 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of Faro’s Daughter, by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2008) by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about the plot or characters, or if you have read it, which is your favorite character or scene by midnight Pacific time, Monday, September 6th, 2010. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010. Shipment to continental US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Upcoming event posts

Day 08    Aug 13 – Review: The Reluctant Widow
Day 08    Aug 13 – Review: The Foundling
Day 09    Aug 15 – Review: Arabella
Day 09    Aug 15 – Review: The Grand Sophy

Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010

83 thoughts on “Faro’s Daughter, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

  1. Fantastic review! I agree, it is a very brave choice to have a heroine who works in a gaming house. But somehow Heyer is able to make this believable (and your mention of its pre-Regency setting definitely helps too).

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    • I agree with wisewoman, this was a great review, Joanna. I didn’t understand until NOW, thanks to you, the “throw-away line ” which explained GH’s setting. Thank you for including that in your review; I had wondered!

      I know that she did those “throw-away lines” with most, if not all her novels, instead of telling her readers actual dates, and I’m glad there now is the Internet, with GH websites, where one can find out these things. Thanks also to Vic for including “Additional online resources” in your introductory post for this Heyer event; they have been, and will continue to be invaluable!

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      • Thank you, Cathy Allen! It really puzzled me why Heyer would choose this type of a heroine, so I had to find out. Heyer never writes or mentions anything at random, being the meticulous and extensive researcher that she is. Yet somehow, her throw away details never obtrude on the flow of the story… that’s an art in itself!

        Yes, because generous fellow Heyer-ites have pointed me to the wealth of resources online, my readings of Heyer’s novels have been greatly enriched. =)

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    • Thank you, wisewoman! Yes, Heyer delights in putting her ‘heyeroines’ in such improbable situations, but endowing them with the wit to extricate themselves. Not cookie-cutter ‘damsels in distress’. I think that’s why I find her heyeroines quite modern.

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    • Thanks Becky! I read this in one sitting, although I had meant to pace myself for a group read. I just couldn’t stop.

      Do let us know what you think when you get the chance to read this. =)

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  2. This is the first Heyer I read, at the age of 13, and I vividly remember laughing out loud throughout most of the book. Faro’s Daughter made me a romance reader. My favorite scene has to be the one between Deborah and Max in the cellar – not only is it very funny, but it is here that Max begins to realize he may have been wrong about Deborah.

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    • LizM, I laughed heartily throughout this one, too. So much so that it piqued my sister’s interest. So now, I’ve turned her on to Heyer’s works. =)

      Max and Deb in the cellar – one of Heyer’s most well crafted scenes. Their banter here is just like a thrilling tennis match – service, backhand, smash, volley, lob, until one of Deb’s gets caught in the net and Max gets the ‘point’. Brilliant!

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  3. This is not one of my favorite Heyers, but what a clever review you have written! Fantastic! Thanks for the note on when it was set–the lack of social opprobrium for Deb has always bothered me and that clarified it.

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  4. I think it sounds fascinating. Makes you wonder who she ends up with and why. As well as the sparkling, witty dialogue. It does remind one of Darcy and Elizabeth and I think that’s a huge part of what makes them attractive as well. I haven’t had the opportunity to read this book…yet.

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    • Hope you get a chance to read this, sue S.

      In addition to the witty war of words, Heyer also created some of her memorable minor characters for this one. Lucius Kennet, one of Heyer’s rare forays into the Irish cant, is one delightful mischief maker.

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  5. Nice review Joanna. I had picked up on the Darcy/Elizabeth connection before, but wasn’t aware of the pre-regency setting, which helped clear up some questions. Thank you. My favourite scene is also the one in the cellar, I’ve never been very fond of rats myself.

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    • LOL! =D You and me both, Carol.

      My other favorite scene is the Vauxhall Gardens. Deb was so outrageous it had me rolling on the floor! =D

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  6. Excellent review. I remember being hesitant about reading this one at first, being put off by a heroine who spends time in a gaming house, but was, like everyone, delighted when I put my prejudices aside and read it. I’m always amazed that Heyer can throw her characters into such outrageous situations over and over again and yet the reader barely blinks, just holds on and enjoys the ride!

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    • Thank you, Claire. Yes, this one is indeed a roller coaster ride until the very end. Heyer’s ability to suspend her readers’ disbelief is peerless. =)

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  7. I agree that the characters reflect Beatrice & Benedict as well as Darcy and Elizabeth. Their initial banter makes them easy to love, but Heyer’s beautiful and unique quirks that she adds to the characters is what makes them memorable.

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    • Most certainly, Tina. They may be echoes of other favorite literary couples of mine, but Deb and Max are wholly original characters in Heyer’s inimitable hand. Most diverting and as you say, unforgettable! =)

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    • Their mis-impressions of each other and the wounded pride rearing it’s ugly head at the beginning will not fail to bring Darcy and Lizzie to mind. As above posters have said, I was not the only one to catch that. But Heyer offers something quite different as the story goes on… and then some! ;-)

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  8. My favorite scene is also the basement scene- especially the part when Deborah’s brother wanted to set Max free, but Max refused! I was pretty much lukewarm about his character until that scene!

    And I hadn’t realized that this book was pre-Regency until this review- now I want to go back to check out that line!

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    • That was an unexpected and infuriating response by Max, indeed. =) I think he had a pretty bad case of the Stockholm syndrome by then… ;-P

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  9. The characters are like Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, you say? Count me in! This one is going straight to the top of my Georgette Heyer TBR list!

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    • Yes, Max and Deb really reminded me of them, that’s why I couldn’t put this one down. I hope I have not falsely set up expectations by the comparison, but Heyer does pepper the work with her trademark twists and turns, making this couple quite original.

      Do come back to let us know what you think of this one after reading, Chelsea B. =)

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    • Thanks for stopping by, Fatima. Come back to post your thoughts on this after reading. Would love to know what you thought of it. =)

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  10. In this book, I liked the way the curricle race goes forward regardless of circumstances; also the way in which Deborah “disposes of” her young suitor! On the other hand, I find Max’s misunderstanding and her fury near the end a little over the top for my taste – I start to lose my belief in them.

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    • Yes, a little bit of Ben Hur thrown in for good measure. ;-)

      That’s what I find endearing in Deb. Even in the midst of all her troubles, she manages to successfully orchestrate other people in need around her. A thoroughly modern multi-tasker, I say!

      As to the ending, I think when a confirmed bachelor like Ravenscar finally gambles with his heart, and not his head, he feels very vulnerable and falls prey to his worst fears being confirmed by the odious Ormskirk. So, I like that added final gambit by Heyer. But I do see where you’re coming from, AprilFools. =)

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  11. Thanks for another lovely review :0) What an enjoyable and informative romp this Heyer month is! Lady Bellingham is a hoot! I love the cellar scene too, and always heave a happy sigh after reading the final scene of FD.

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    • Thanks Liz! =) Not even halfway through the Heyer event, and I’ve learned so much already. And I also have you to thank, Liz, for being very generous with your knowledge of everything Heyer! =D

      Lady Bel is indeed a hoot with her constant fear of their precarious financial situation and being a step away debtor’s prison. Her dialogues with Deb are just a gem. She reminds me a bit of poor Miss Bates. =)

      I also had a silly grin on my face after I turned the last page of FD.

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  12. This is one I have not yet read. To have the heroine working in a gambling establishment sounds quite different, and undoubtedly entertaining. Thanks for the great review. I also read through the comments, and now I’m especially anxious to read the ‘basement scene’.

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    • LOL! Hope we haven’t made this sound gothic and sinister with descriptions of the ‘basement’ scene. =D

      Thanks Bridget and hope you get the chance to read this. =)

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    • Thanks Meredith! It’s really a light and fun read. Come back and post your thoughts after reading. Would love to know.

      Ack! You just reminded me… I’ve been writing an analysis on Berlioz’s Beatrice et Benedict so intensely that I’ve gotten used to the French spelling of his name rather than the English! =P

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  13. I discovered Georgette Heyer a few months ago and am thoroughly enjoying her novels. I haven’t read this one yet – thanks to this review it has moved to the top of my “must read” list.

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    • Sounds like you’re in for a wonderful journey of discovering Heyer’s world, Ruth. Enjoy the ride…or the ‘read’! ;-)

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    • Thanks Terchil! Hope you get a chance to pick up this one. Lots of really funny banter and escapades gone awry! =)

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  14. Wonderful review of an excellent book. I’m a huge Heyer fan and Faro’s is one of my favorites. Thanks for celebrating Heyer this month!

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    • Thanks Wendy! I’m loving this Heyer celebration as well.

      And we still have half a month of all things Heyer to go! Huzzah! Three cheers for Laurel Ann! =)

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  15. This sounds like such a fun book–I agree, a gaming house is a very different environment for a Heyer heroine, and Ravenscar is a perfect name for a Heyer hero.

    Wonderful review–I really appreciated hearing about the context in which the book was written.

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  16. An enjoyable book. I knew from the very beginning how it would end but was not disappointed in the story. The heroine, Deborah Grandham doesn’t use her beauty mischievously and does her best to discourage a young man from falling in love with her. Meahwhile, the young man’s cousin,Max Ravenscar who is older is also determined to nix his young cousin’s romance with Deborah falls in love with her himself. This would have been a great movie with Tyron Power as Max Ravenscar and Merle oberon as the heroine.

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    • That is so true, MJ. We usually know how Heyer’s novels will turn out, but somehow, she is able to turn out something fresh (and funny!) for each novel. I would have loved to sit down and just talk with her… she must have the liveliest imagination!

      Spot on suggestion with Tyrone Power! He’s my mom’s favorite actor! =)

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  17. I has a little bit of trouble with this book, as some of Miss Grantham’s antics made me feel a bit embarrassed, but the chemistry was great. I actually enjoyed even more on the second reading than on the first.

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    • I know what you mean, Alexa. Deb is just too outrageous. I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a green and white vive bergere dress with coquelicot ribbons! =P

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      • That is precisely the scene that makes me groan! Seriously – how can she bear to behave so horribly!?! My discomfort is more than made up for in the basement, however, which is a phenomenal scene.

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        • Apparently, at that point, Deb’s wicked sense of humor has prevailed over any sense of propriety. That’s moxy! =) Sometimes, I envy women like that… who can put it out there and not take themselves too seriously. ;-)

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  18. One of the most fascinating things about reading Heyer (and most historical novelists, for that matter) is seeing how she balances historical accuracy with contemporary values (especially the wish for a “spirited heroine”). Sounds like this would be particularly interesting from that standpoint, given the heroine’s situation.

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    • That is a very interesting point, ncgraham! Perhaps why I view Miss Grantham as being very ‘modern’… =)

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  20. I knew it! I knew it! This one was to be one of the top posts in the event, since it is inevitable to mention that one of the novel’s highlights is the verbal sparring between the protagonists and which reminds a lot of such couples as Beatrice and Benedick and Lizzy and Darcy.

    Another novel which I highly recommend for beginners.

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    • Right you are, Cinthia. This is a great introduction to Heyer’s works since it bears the hallmarks of her great writing – well drawn protagonists and minor characters, witty banter, Regency details, fast paced action, surprising turns, and a most satisfying ending! =)

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  22. Great review!! I am also intrigued by a heroine that works in a gaming house. This sounds completely different than any other regency romance novel by Heyer (or another) that I have ever read. I love reading these reviews, it is really adding to my list of Heyer novels that I need to read!

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    • Thanks Laura! Yes, Deb is unique among Heyer’s heroines in that despite being an independent and headstrong woman, she is able to admit to her faults in the end. Likewise with Ravenscar. The journey that these to take is what captivated me until the end. =)

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  23. Very nice review indeed! But I expected nothing less. You almost make me want to have second thought about Deborah Grantham…. Almost :-)

    She’s certainly not my favorite Heyer heroines but I totally enjoyed Max Ravenscar (the perfect name, I think). I love Heyers characterization of Sir James Filey and Lord Ormskirk…as far as villains go, there could not be any better to honor the term.

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    • Aww… Thanks Lyne! =) Almost changed your mind? Ok, I’ll take that! ;-P

      Oh yes, Sir James Filey and Lord Ormskirk made my skin crawl! Ugh! More than Lethbridge from The Convenient Marriage.

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  24. Great review! I was hoping that these reviews would help me narrow down which Heyer novel to read next. But now, after catching up on the last few posts, I’m at a loss again because each one sounds so good. Deborah sounds like such an interesting character.

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    • Thanks Marybeth! I know what you mean… my TBR pile is growing by the week as well! You’re in good company! =)

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  25. I’ve got to admit, my favorite part about Faro’s Daughter are the names. Max Ravenscar? Lord Ormskirk? Mablethorpe? So much fun to say. Great review!

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    • Thanks Sandra J! Yes, Heyer comes up with the most distinct names, doesn’t she? And it’s because of the names that I remember the plot lines for her novels. =)

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  26. Lady Bellingham is a hoot. What she goes through about the mortgages because of Deb’s temper makes me laugh every time I read FD.

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    • I know! Her constant state of agitation and need for hartshorn is laughable indeed. Poor Lady Bel… she just couldn’t follow Deb’s headstrong and vindictive logic most of the time… =)

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        • LOL! Really? But half of that is my reply to the comments…

          And they are your readers, Laurel Ann, and apparently, a lot of Heyer fans online. That’s been a delight to discover! I’m just joining in for this wonderful celebration that you arranged… =)

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  27. “…one of Heyer’s most endearing couple truly well matched in wit, wiles, and words.” This sentence absolutely thrills me to no end. This is the thing that I’ve really enjoyed about the Heyer novels that I have read and this one sounds just as good in this aspect!

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    • You won’t be disappointed in this respect, Al. Come back to let us know what you think. Would love to hear your thoughts. =)

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  28. I’m a little late coming to this Georgette Heyer party but I am enjoying all the reviews and my list of books to read is growing fast. I loved the review for Faro’s Daughter, you captured me and I must read!

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    • It’s never too late to ring in, Merry!

      Hope you enjoy Faro’s Daughter. Be sure to come back and post your thoughts. Would love to hear your impressions of it. =)

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  29. It seems I always see Faro’s Daughter listed in reader’s top five favorite Heyer novels. I like the idea that the character comes from another position in society, and is not a member of the Ton as the heroine usually is.

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    • Yes, Deb is an unusual Heyeroine in that sense. I think that’s why I can empathize with her… she reads like a strong modern woman… although zany with her schemes! =)

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