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Simon the Coldheart by Georgette Heyer

Simon the Coldheart (1925)

by Georgette Heyer

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Published in 1925, Simon the Coldheart is one of a handful of early novels that Georgette Heyer sought to suppress during her lifetime, and one of her few medieval romances. It concerns the founding of the house of Beauvallet, also featured in the author's subsequent Elizabethan adventure of the same name, published in 1929.

It is the story of the indomitable Simon, bastard son of my Lord of Malvallet, who sets out to win his own place in the world, eventually gaining lands, title, and acclaim as a soldier. But it is only when he crosses swords with the warlike French countess, Lady Margaret of Belremy, that his cold heart is finally melted...

I vacillated between enjoyment and exasperation while reading this novel, which I would most likely never have picked up at all, were I not attempting to read Heyer's entire oeuvre. To be fair, I am no great fan of the genre, for although fascinated by medieval European history (the novel opens in the year 1400), I generally find works of historical fiction set during the period to be hopelessly anachronistic. That said, I did enjoy the first portion of Heyer's book, which concerns Simon's youth and coming of age, and the adventures which eventually made him my Lord of Beauvallet.

But when the narrative turned to romance, I soon perceived that tired old theme of "the strong woman who needs to be tamed," which irritates me no end. The middle section, in which Simon lays siege to Belremy, was full of lots of this "masterless wench needs to learn her place" kind of talk, and I was very close to surrendering the novel, unfinished. But I pushed through, and found the ending somewhat improved.

All in all, I am glad this was reprinted, and that I read it. If nothing else, it was a timely reminder that there is something in a strong woman and leader that makes men (and sometimes women) want to tear her down...

And of course, the completist in me would have been displeased if I had given up! :) ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Jun 25, 2013 |
This is unusual territory for Georgette Heyer, set in the times of Henry IV, first published in 1925, and it seems she herself wasn't entriely satisfied with it. The dialogue reads artificially ancient, but the character of Simon is well-drawn and his wooing of Marguérite Belrémy delightful. ( )
  MissWatson | Feb 17, 2013 |
This was just lovely. Set at the turn of the 15th century, it tells the story of Simon of Beauvallet and how he goes from a simple squire to a fearsome lord and general, all the time maintaining his cold-hearted demeanour. That is until he lays seige to the town of Belremy in Normandy and the indomitable Lady Margaret. The story rattles along at a fair pace and all the characters are well-rounded and thought out. I enjoyed all Heyer's novels as a teenager and it looks like I'm set to get through them all again! ( )
  cathymoore | Nov 8, 2010 |
Georgette Heyer, best known for her sparkling Regency romances, also wrote a fair number of historical novels that cover earlier periods of England's history. Simon the Coldheart, first published in 1925, is one of these. The story opens in 1400 with 14-year-old Simon, illegitimate son of Sir Geoffrey of Malvallet, demanding that another nobleman, Fulk of Montlice, take him on as a page. Fulk, a blustering lion of a man, is impressed with Simon's determination and over the next three years comes to love Simon as his son. His real son, Alan, also loves Simon, though Alan is more of a poet than a warrior, and all of Simon's interests are warlike. The first half of the book chronicles Simon's rise to power and favor with the king; the second part describes Simon's assault on Belrémy in Normandy, held by the Lady Margaret (who is known as "the Amazon"). Simon wins the town in battle and the castle by subterfuge, but Lady Margaret refuses to make her submission to Henry IV. How will Simon — a soldier and not a courtier — force the lady's hand?

Battles, sieges, romance, spies, intrigue, tavern brawls, disguises, humor, lordly heroes, lovely ladies, odious villains — this story has it all! Heyer's grasp of the historical setting and dialogue is perfect. She doesn't hesitate to have Fulk beat Simon and yet still love him; corporal punishment of one kind or another was just the norm back then. Simon is stern with his underlings, but that doesn't mean he is a harsh master. This is part of what makes Heyer's characters so believable. They behave in ways defined by their historical period, but are somehow still accessible and likable to readers today.

Simon is a fascinating character. He earns his nickname of "the Coldheart" because of his calculating shrewdness and strict sense of implacable justice. He is a hard man, but a fair one, and even as a young boy his stubbornness, strength, and pragmatism are the defining points of his nature. But though he is chary with his love, he is not entirely heartless. He has an excessive number of page boys and though he pretends not to care about them, the truth is that he enjoys having them around him like an entourage of puppies. Because of this, Simon's friends (including no less a personage than the prince, Henry V) believe that someday a likely maid will melt the ice around Simon's heart.

I've heard that Heyer did not like Simon the Coldheart and tried to prevent it from being republished in later years. I have several theories as to why. First, there is a lot of talk of Simon "conquering" the proud Margaret and her need to be "mastered," which may make some modern readers squirm a little. (Or a lot.) Second, perhaps Heyer worried the implications of Simon falling in love with Margaret when he sees her in her page boy's garb, looking more childlike than he had ever seen her before. Of course, these are just the speculations of a reader who *did* enjoy the book quite a bit. The notion of Margaret needing a master is certainly historically accurate thinking for the fifteenth century, and there is no textual support for any kind of perverse motivation in Simon's affection for children.

I think it's a pity that Heyer did not care for this novel, because I enjoyed it. There is a scene that contains one of the sweetest love-talks I've ever read. (This conversation doesn't take place between Margaret and Simon, by the way — as Alan says, those two conduct their courting with daggers!) I can't do it justice, so here's a bit of it:

"This lady, sweet, is little and lovely. So little that I might hide her in my pocket and forget that she was there."
"This is English gallantry," sighed Jeanne. "Poor lady!"
"Not 'poor,' Jeanne, for she hath all a man's heart."
"Which is so little," quoth she, "that she slipped it into her bag and forgot it was there. Hey-day!"
"But even though she forgot, being cruel, it still remained, braving her coldness and her tauntings and waiting very humbly till she should grow kind."
"Now I know why she is cold," he said. "Her heart was gone already, so that she had none to give this Englishman. So he left her—with his heart."
"Never. You see, sir, it was a cold, cruel heart, and it repulsed all its suitors. And—and it was a shy heart, but true. So—so one day—it left the lady—very secretly, so that she did not know that it had gone, and—and slipped into a man's pocket. And—and when the lady—tried to recall it—it would not come, but nestled down in its hiding place. But—but it was such a timid little heart, that the man—he was a great, stupid Englishman—never knew that it was in his pocket, but besought the lady to give it to him."

I listened to this on audiobook narrated by Ben Elliott, whose reading is very good for the most part. He does have a slight habit of speaking the dialogue tags in the same voice as the dialogue immediately preceding it, and it must be an older production because there is an annoying distortion when he raises his voice. But it's an engaging story and I think the audiobook format makes it even more fun. In fact, I found it quite hard to stop listening each night at the end of my commute! Simon the Coldheart is a thoroughly enjoyable medieval romance by a talented author. Recommended! ( )
6 vote wisewoman | Aug 25, 2010 |
Another detailed Heyer tale of love and British history ( )
  Martin444 | Dec 10, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099490943, Paperback)

Simon Beauvallet has always known his own mind, and friend and foe alike know never to cross the flaxen-haired mountain of a man whose exploits in battle have earned him knighthood, lands and gilded armour. After Agincourt, he has no equal save the king in generalship – until his legendary prowess is balked by a woman. In Normandy, the icy rage of Simon the Coldheart must melt – or quench Lady Margaret, spitfire of Belrémy.

From the Paperback edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:41 -0400)

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Even as a boy, Simon Beauvallet knew his own mind. Later, friend and foe alike would know better than to cross the flaxen-haired mountain of a man whose exploits in battle earned him a knighthood, lands and gilded armour.

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