These Old Shades: Alastair Trilogy, #1, by Georgette Heyer
While I was reading this book, I told anyone and everyone I came into contact with (whether they wanted to hear it or not) just how bonkers it was... because IT WAS BONKERS AND I NEEDED TO TALK ABOUT IT. I told one patron that the first one hundred pages alone would have given the Days of Our Lives writers material for at least two years. While that fact didn't even remotely make him want to read the book, he did agree with me that, yes, the plot of These Old Shades must be bananas. Then he wandered off with his philosophy book*.
On page three, Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon—known as Satanas to his friends and enemies—buys a nineteen-year-old peasant boy called Léon who happens to bear a striking resemblance to one of the Duke's greatest enemies. Shortly thereafter, he makes Léon his page and begins flaunting him all over town.
I'm not going to tell you more—just know that there is baby-swapping and cross-dressing and kidnapping and some very interesting flirtation and then a full-on romance and, throughout it all, a journey towards redemption. While I was somewhat sketched out by the nature/nurture aspect of the story—that, regardless of upbringing, someone born a peasant will grow up to be a clod and someone of noble blood will grow up to be charming—it was easy for me to set it aside and enjoy the story.
Léon took the fine lace handkerchief which the Duke held out, wiped his eyes, blew his nose, and gave it back again. The Duke received it gingerly, and eyed the crumpled ball through his quizzing glass.
"Thank you," he said. "You are nothing if not through. I think you had better keep it now."
Léon pocketed it cheerfully.
I found Léon somewhat obnoxious (I lost count of how many times Heyer described him looking through his eyelashes) but still strangely likable, I loved pretty much all of the secondary characters** and I (of course) loved Justin. He was so BAD, he totally reveled in his badness and yet... well, regardless of how you end up feeling about him (and there are some people who dislike this book and Justin very, very much), he's an interesting character. Part of what made the book so enjoyable for me was that the majority of the characters were having FUN. Their adventures brought them joy, even with the grave danger, rather like Vicky Bliss and John Smythe running for their lives—and laughing.
*I love that patron.
**It's one that I think I'll re-read specifically FOR the secondary characters—Rupert is a complete doll, and I also loved Fanny, Edward and the Merivales.