The Unknown Ajax, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

From the desk of Brooke: 

The Unknown Ajax begins with Lord Darracott reaming out his daughter-in-law over dinner for her prattle.  Then the point of view switches briefly to the new servant Charles from whose perspective we learn that Lord Darracott is an extremely unpleasant man.  What makes him more unpleasant is that his oldest son Granville is dead.  Rather than his heir being Matthew Darracott, Lord Darracott must acknowledge Hugo who is Granville’s son with the daughter of a weaver.

Lord Darracott and the rest of the family expect Hugo to be a savage practically.  So Hugo decides to oblige the family.  The reader notices Hugo goes from speaking proper English to speaking some form of cockney.  As the story progresses we observe Hugo learning more and more about his new family.  Not all of it is pleasant.  Of course, there is the patriarch who is distinctly unpleasant.  Then there are Hugo’s cousins some of which are OK, others of which are ridiculous.  All of cousins have suffered from their grandfather’s treatment.  Then there is the house itself which has been allowed to fall apart around them.

This was the first Regency romance that I’ve ever read by Heyer.  I liked the last part of the book.  The first part of the book was a little bit slow.  The conversations were a little hard to follow because there were so many idioms used.  Certain of the cockney accents were impossible to understand.  I was only able to guess as what was being said based upon the reaction of Hugo.  I think if I heard someone speaking that way, I’d probably be able to understand it.

It was amazed by the snobbery the family exhibited.  Even during that day, it was known that some of the merchant class were just as wealthy if not more wealthy than those with land and titles.  Many of the merchant class were able to send their children to the high class schools.  There really was not any reason that they should have expected Hugo to be backwards, but that’s just me.

Anyway, this book was OK.  I would not mind trying another Heyer to see how the rest of them are.

4 out of 5 Stars


  • The Unknown Ajax, by Georgette Heyer
  • Sourcebooks Casablanca; Reprint edition (September 1, 2011)
  • Trade paperback & eBook (384) pages
  • ISBN: 978-1402238826
  • Genre: Regency Romance, Historical Romance


We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks Casablanca © 2011; text Brooke© 2010, Updated 15 March 2022.

26 thoughts on “The Unknown Ajax, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

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  1. For me the interest would be in the difference in the “classes” . I like that Hugho is having a bit of fun with them.


  2. I too am very fond of Hugo as a Hero. I just listened to this on audio an couple of weeks ago and was in stitches over the readers accent for the characters. Hugo’s Yorkshire accent (sorry Brooke, I hate to correct you, but it wasn’t cockney), was wonderful and he pulls the wool over everyone’s eyes. I love it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is one of my favourite Heyers, probably only second to Venetia, The Grand Sophy and Sylvester. I love Hugo, he always makes me laugh out loud and he and Althea are a very well matched pair.
    I think you may have misunderstood some of the naunces in the book. Weavers were usually desperately poor, working for less than subsistance wages so it’s understandable, given the sort of person he was, that Lord Darracott assumed that Hugo’s mother didn’t come from the middle or merchant classes but from one of the lowest stratas of the working classes. His reaction to his son marrying someone who, in his opinion, ranked lower than a domestic servant was not uncommon for a man of his era. And as for why he thought Hugo was slow, firstly Heyer points out that Hugo moves with the deliberation of a big man (lots of people assume slow movements = slow mind), it was assumed that since Hugo came from a dirt poor background he would only have gone to a Dame school or something like that and would have finished what education he had by the age of 10 or 12 and finally Hugo is deliberately teasing the Darracotts.
    Hugo isn’t putting on a cockney accents, that’s from London! He’s putting on a Yorkshire accent and don’t worry, lots of Heyer’s English readers wouldn’t have understood all the Yorkshire vernacular either.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points, Joanna. In addition, Brooke, just having money did not make one a member of the upper classes; in fact, THAT was disdained. What counted in Jane Austen’s day, was bloodlines. As Elizabeth Bennet said, “… he is a gentleman, I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.” GH knew and took advantage of this with her plot in this one.

      I, too, had trouble with the Yorkshire, accent, but was able, because of the clever writing, to understand the gist of the conversations, and greatly enjoyed this novel.
      After I finished it, I decided to do a search for the meaning of the mythological figure, AJAX. I wish I had done it BEFORE, as it made the plot come much more alive for me — I really recommend it to anyone who plans to read “The Unknown Ajax.”


  4. This was one of Heyer’s novels that sneaked up on me. I wasn’t expecting to like Hugo at all, but I did! The romance between Hugo and Anthea plays second fiddle to solving the mystery about the free trade, but as Hugo peels back the layers, who he really is by the end of the novel is a delightful surprise! =)


  5. This is one I haven’t read yet. But I do look forward to reading it at some point.

    I’m glad this one didn’t discourage you from wanting to try another Heyer. I think some are better introductions than others.


  6. This is one of my top 5 favorite Heyer books, mostly because of the use of language to confuse and define the characters. In this respect I disagree with the reviewer — the language is fun, interesting, and vital to the storyline.

    While I enjoy Heyer novels in which the romance is front and center (such as Devil’s Cub, Sylvester, and The Grand Sophy), I love The Unknown Ajax in spite of the romance between Hugo and Anthea. Hugo is such a surprisingly fun, funny, and smart character and the Darracott family is such a group of over-the-top characters that the romance between Hugo and Anthea is a secondary consideration.

    The last section of the book is a total romp and worth the price of admission (so to speak) even for those who find the language changes in the first part of the book annoying.

    Even though I adore The Unknown Ajax, I don’t think it is a good “first Heyer book”.


  7. This is one of my top-favorite Heyers! Like I said on an earlier post, I love the big, quiet types with a sense of humor, and Hugo definitely qualifies!

    Part of the fun of the story is gradually coming to the same realization that Anthea did about Hugo’s “gentility”, whether sooner or later, and I think that your telling your reader “up front” about it in your review may dilute that enjoyment, Brooke.

    And as Cathy and Joanna point out, the class distinctions were very clear in society at that time, and the book faithfully reflects that.

    For a bit more of Yorkshire dialect, check out The Secret Garden. Remember Mary’s delight in learning a few words?

    Nonetheless, this is a superb book. That climactic scene is unparalleled in pure delight as each character steps up to put in their share. ROTFL.


  8. I am all astonishment, Brooke. The Unknown Ajax is one of the top Heyer novels among Heyerites, it always receives high marks and it is certainly one of my personal favourites too. Furthermore, it was the penultimate Heyer I read when I finished my first round of her Regencies and Georgians because everybody said it was one of the best and I saved the best for last (The Grand Sophy was the last one) and it was never a dissappointment.

    I was already prepared for an unwanted heir in a family reunion when I had read The Quiet Gentleman, but in here the secondary characters join with the main protagonist to make a delightful comedy, and I love that we have characters from up and below stairs. The rivalry between the valets is entertaining and also how the manor staff has a different view of the Ajax than his own family in general.

    I would love to see an adaptation of this novel (of course of many of the novels) but what I would find remarkable in this one would be the final scenes, where it becomes a choral or an ensamble sequence. All of the Darracot cousins are supreme in how they manage to bamboozle Lt. Ottershaw in the act that Hugo has concocted, and of course Polyphant rises to the occasion, but I agree with Hugo that it is Lady Aurelia who steals the shine out of them, she is one of the greatest secondary characters.

    So, beginners to Heyer, please, notice how many of us have disagreed with the reviews conclusive assesment. Either you choose it for your first readings or save it for the last, it will not disappoint you. There is comedy and there is adventure in it. Five stars of five stars for this novel.


    1. I forget to add (although I live in Mexico I do have a postal address in US -my brother’s home-) so I hope my name can be considered in the draw for this copy, since I would like to have a paperback of this one as I only own an old hardback which I do not read often as I would be afraid to damage it.


  9. I love this book – another of my top-five (or so)! The final scene is, as others have said, ROTFL – Lady Aurelia (with eleven Earls at her back) truly makes the day and routs the enemy. She is exactly like several cold-hearted extremely pompous Lady Catherine types seen throughout Heyer – EXCEPT she is smarter than all the rest and she steps up almost as well as Lord Alverstoke (Frederica) with the Baluchistan Hound (and just as funny).

    But there are lots of other extremely funny scenes – such as when Hugo deals with an uninvited visitor, even earning his grandfather’s approval.

    Here’s a sample:

    “But as you are utterly brazen – ”


    “… and much in need of a set-down -”

    “I’m not in need of that, lass, for I’m getting one,” he interpolated, ruefully.



  10. This book was really fun. The Yorkshire accent didn’t throw me too much because I’m a fan of The Last of the Summer Wine where the show takes place in Yorkshire.

    I also tend to go for the strong and bold types so this was a different type of hero for me. But, I have also learned that the quieter types offer more than they appear to.

    Please don’t let this indifferent review keep you from reading the book or any other Heyer. I agree that this si not the best one to start with. Just go back to other posts on the blog and you’ll find one that’ll “float your boat”!


  11. I love Anthea, as she has just as much spirit & verbal sparring ability as Sophy, as when she says to Vincent,

    “You must never marry. Don’t, I do earnestly beg of you, allow yourself to be taken in by any lure thrown out to you! You cannot hope to find a lady who will like you better than you like yourself.”

    Hugo, of course, is one of my favorite Heyeros, and he is never at a loss. His sense of humor is unmatched.

    This is one that I read to my daughter and husband, and believe me, they were rolling! The language only adds to the humor, and you pick it up pretty quickly. Claud and Polyphant are awesome, too.

    This one wasn’t my favorite, but it’s still in my top 10, sometimes my top 5.


  12. The differing reviews between the blogger and the commenters has me intrigued. I would love to read this Yorkshire accent for myself.


  13. Interesting comments, I think this must go on my list, I’ve really enjoyed the books I’ve read so far by Georgette Heyer.


  14. I absolutely love this book, its funny and as already commented on, has a sterling cast of characters. Of course, Hugo is the fixed point they are all spinning around, and he is very lovable, amusing mischeivious, and very capable. As noted, the servants and Lady A recognize his quality long before the rest. It is in my top five favorites.


  15. Like so many other commentators, I have the enduring image of Lady A with her ancestors gathering at the back of such a worthy daughter.


  16. Sorry to be such a nitpicker, but this is probably my favourite Heyer.
    The accent’s not Cockney (That’s a London accent.) it’s Yorkshire – I admit that at first it gave me some trouble, too, but it’s part of what makes the book so interesting to me.
    Also, Hugo is not Granville’s son. That’s Oliver who drowned along with his father. Hugo’s father is Granville’s next younger brother Hugh, a soldier who was killed in battle.
    As for the snobbery, Lord Darracott informs his family that Hugh married into a weaver’s family, so they believe them to be craftsmen, not merchants.


  17. “The first part of the book was a little bit slow.”

    Really? The opening scene sounds terrific! I want to know more about this horrible (and knowing Heyer, probably horribly funny) family.

    But I know what you mean; even some of Heyer’s more engaging works can drag in some places, e.g. Friday’s Child. Try Cotillion – it was my first Heyer and I simply adored it.


  18. I really need to pick this one up again. I’ve only read it once and found it wasn’t to my taste that time. However, I’ve heard people say that this is the Heyer novel that grows on you the more times you read it.


  19. I want to read this again. Hugo has a great sense of humor. He plays very well off family members who can’t get beyond appearances and preconceptions.


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