I don't really know what to say about this book. The writing is superb; really just near perfect. The dialog is crafted so well it just trips off the tongue, even though it's a speech pattern that's hardly common today.
And I genuinely liked Lord Sale and his cousin Gideon (him best of all, I think); I even didn't mind the pompous uncle and Tom was moderately amusing. I should give Heyer a fourth star just for that story about the two donkeys, a horse and a cow. But as for the rest...
Lord Sale's staff were insufferable. Heyer meant them to be, of course; that's a big point of the plot from the beginning, but she did her job so well it was tedious to endure the reading of it.
Liversedge was probably brilliant and towards the end even I thought the situation was hilarious, but the first half of the book his character was just smarmy.
But the character I save most of my ire for is Belinda. It was coincidence that I was reading this book the same time I was reading Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth, but it was also perhaps karma having a go at me: I claimed nobody could be as stupid as Margot in Grey Mask and so the fates brought Belinda into my reading life. Belinda makes Margot look like a genius; Belinda makes air look literate. Belinda, in short, should have been institutionalised. Nobody – nobody – could be that vacuous and still show signs of life.
If this book failed at all it was with Heyer's decision to make Belinda too stupid to be believed. I could not be sympathetic to her story at any point because she was not even believable as an automaton. And because she played such a huge part in the middle of the book, the story dragged dangerously midway through and at one point, I just didn't want to finish it. Fortunately, the POV shifted to Gideon, and the story picked up pace considerably. The last half of the book was great, in fact: even though Belinda got to let her stupid shine to the very end, there was a lot less of her and the story focused on the characters that were interesting - the sentient ones.
The moral of this story: stupid people can ruin even the best story.