The Black Moth, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest review by Aarti of Book Lust

The Black Moth was Georgette Heyer’s first novel, written while she was a teenager.  She uses updated versions of some of the characters in her more popular novel These Old Shades. Set in mid-1700’s England, an earl has passed away, and his eldest son must be found to impart the news.  The son, Jack Carstares, however, was disgraced six years ago when he accepted blame that should have been his younger brother’s for cheating at cards.  After years abroad, John is now “working” as a highwayman in Surrey.  His younger brother Richard has aged unnaturally since the cheating incident and is married to a temperamental beauty who is likely to bankrupt him and possibly leave him for another man.

And then there is the dangerous and enigmatic Duke of Andover (known as “the Devil”) who is pulling all the strings (particularly those attached to the purse).  He falls so deeply in love with the lovely young Diana Beauleigh that he attempts a kidnapping, only to be foiled by Jack Carstares.  This sets off a chain of events that changes everyone’s lives in dramatic (and thoroughly entertaining) ways until everyone is sorted out and settled to live happily ever after.

Though I have long been a Georgette Heyer fan, I never read The Black Moth because I don’t like These Old Shades.  Why read the precursor to a book I didn’t enjoy?  When Sourcebooks offered me this one to review, I accepted because I felt it was time I read Heyer’s first book.  I’m glad I did so for my own sake, but as I expected, The Black Moth is nowhere near my favorite Heyer novel.

Heyer writes very authentic to her period, littering her stories with slang and references to gentlemen’s clubs and gardens that most modern readers would not understand.  The Black Moth is no exception and the quirks of language (using “an” instead of “if,” for example) can make it difficult to establish a reading rhythm.  Also, there are very few characters in this novel with whom it is easy to sympathize.  Jack and Diana are intelligent and funny and beautiful, and some of the minor characters are fun, too, but most of them were hard to like.  And the plot is just so dramatic and swashbuckling that it was easy to believe Heyer wrote this book as a teen.

I appreciated this novel more for the insight it gave me into Heyer’s writing than for the story itself.  You can see glimpses of the style Heyer will evoke in all her novels here- the witty manservant, the bumbling inn keeper, the hero who appears to be a fashionable fop but is actually quite intelligent and sharp, the selfish and profligate beauty, the wicked but strangely attractive villain… it’s all here!

Another aspect of Heyer’s storytelling that I find fascinating is the psychological beliefs held at the time.  For example, the Duke of Andover’s whole family spends well beyond their means and has to beg, borrow and steal money from others to meet “debts of honor” (gambling debts).  But they never seem to make any effort to improve themselves, instead blaming it on flaws in the family character and cheerfully continuing to pile on debt after debt.  Heyer strongly believed that some people were born to be rich and some were born to be poor, or that some were born to be Gentlemen and some were born to be Commoners, and that never the two ‘ere meet.   It’s interesting to see that at play even in her earliest novel.

So while I recommend Georgette Heyer’s historicals and mysteries to anyone with a love for witty dialogue, light romance and an authentic setting, I would not recommend starting with The Black Moth.  Rather, read some of her other works first and then come back to this one later to see where she started and how she developed.  It’s more fun that way because while the story is entertaining, it’s not her best.

Aarti has been sharing her love affair with reading on her blog Book Lust since 2005. She enjoys many different types of books, but admits that she reads more in the fantasy and historical fiction genres than most others. She has a true passion for Georgian and Regency England, spending much of high school feeding on Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. In addition to hosting weekly guest posts on Book Lust she is one of four blog administrators for the Spotlight Series, a blog for small press publishers which brings attention to small publishers that lack a large marketing budget but still put out fabulous books. You can also follow her on Twitter as aartichapati.

The Black Moth, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2009)
Trade paperback (355) pages
ISBN: 978-1402219528

‘Celebrating Georgette Heyer’: Day 02 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of The Black Moth, by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2009) by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about reading Heyer’s first novel, or if you have read it, who your favorites characters are 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 02    Aug 02 – Review: Powder and Patch
Day 03    Aug 04 – Review: These Old Shades
Day 03    Aug 04 – Review: The Masqueraders
Day 04    Aug 06 – Review: Devils Cub

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

30 thoughts on “The Black Moth, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

  1. I love GH -= have read almost all her books – most of the books I have are rather old and tattered. They are my comfort reads most of the time. Somewhat similar to what Agatha Christie does for one.

    Sad these giveaways are US only though!!!

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  2. I skimmed this review because I haven’t yet read The Black Moth and don’t want to be too spoilered. Thanks for the advice in the last paragraph about new readers not starting with this one! The right book makes all the difference when starting a new author, especially one like Heyer. I started with Lady of Quality and almost gave up on Heyer until a fan told me the good titles to start with. I’m glad I tried Heyer again!

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  3. I’ve read several Georgette Heyer romances, thoroughly enjoyed them, and have several more titles on my wish list. Black Moth is not one of them because I figured her first novel would not be as good as later ones. However, one of my favorites is These Old Shades, so now I’m anxious to read Black Moth. Thanks for the giveaway.

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  4. After reading the review, I find that what intrigues me us the seeming focus on dynamic male characters like Jack. I look forward to reading this novel after a later Heyer novel, as advised. Thanks.

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  5. I agree that the immaturity of Heyer’s age shows through in this early book, but also like to see the roots of These Old Shades and themes. I disagree that the slang and cultural references are off-putting–in fact, as one becomes more and more familiar with Heyer’s work, that is part of what one enjoys most particularly.

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  6. What an insightful review, Aarti! =)

    Quick question: So, is it imperative to read The Black Moth before starting the Alistair trilogy (These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, and An Infamous Army) since the characters seem to be connected?

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  7. Thanks all for the comments!

    Chris, I know I push Heyer hard, so I’m glad you downloaded one of her books, though I still don’t think this is a good book to start with.

    Rhonda- I also like Heyer’s way of immersing you in the period and I never really said it was off-putting. But I do NOT like replacing “if” with “a.” That annoyed me to no end, regardless of the fact that it may be more authentic.

    RegencyRomantic- Absolutely not! The characters are a LITTLE connected in that These Old Shades is very loosely based on The Black Moth (that’s where the title comes from, actually- These Old Shades refers to the shadows of the characters from Black Moth that were somewhat morphed into the newer book, I believe). But Black Moth is not actually part of the Alistair series at all.

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    • Thanks Aarti! =) I have two of the Alastair trilogy. Still looking for An Infamous Army, but was also holding off since I didn’t have The Black Moth. But will take your advise and start the trilogy. =)

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    • Thanks for your great review Aarti. It is good to see how an author develops. I will wait to read this after I have a few more titles read. I look forward to it.

      Cheers, LA

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  8. This book sounds intriguing because I associate Georgette Heyer so strongly with the Regency, so it would be interesting to see how she does a slightly earlier period.

    It is interesting how some books are better introductions than others. I picked up Black Sheep first with no idea of which books were good introductions, but it turned out to be perfect.

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  9. I really enjoyed The Black Moth. I avoided reading this one for months thinking that it wouldn’t be as enjoyable as her later novels. But I found it to be funny, very charming! I enjoyed many of the characters. Even if I didn’t “like” the characters, there were a few that sure were fun to dislike! (Like Richard’s wife, Lavinia) While I wouldn’t consider The Black Moth to be one of my favorite, favorites (like Venetia, Frederica, Sylvester, or Devil’s Cub), I still really liked it!

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  10. I haven’t read this one yet, and will definitely be thinking of the fact that it was her first published novel as I do. There is probably a lot that she was trying to accomplish by trying to prove her worth with this read, and I hope it is one that keeps this Heyer-lover entertained. I would love to see if I can tell a difference between this and her later writing.

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  11. I have never read Georgette Heyer and never heard of her until last year. The reissue of her works last year resulted in many reviews and articles on her and her work.

    I always like to read an authors works starting at the beginning. It may not be their best work, but I can appreciate that. It is interesting to see how their style, technique, and quality of work develop. Some first works are exceptional. Others show promise of what the author will become. I realize that not every book an author will write may not be of equal quality, we all have off times. I never judge an author by one book.

    I have been meaning to read Heyer and this is as good a time as any to do it.

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  12. I enjoyed The Black Moth – from the part where the hero rescues Diana our heroine from the Duke. It might have been a bit dramatic compared to her later novels, but I love it nonetheless. It does show GH’s freshness as a nineteen year old, but what other ordinary teenager could write like this? I agree that it is not probably best to start GH novels with The Balck Moth first.

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  13. I read “These Old Shades” and “Devil’s Cub” earlier this year, both of which I loved. I’m looking forward to getting acquainted with the earlier version of Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, in “The Black Moth.” Avon is the classic “bad boy” of romance who has a flicker of goodness left in him. Heyer did such a wonderful job in “These Old Shades” of redeeming him through his love for Leonie.

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  14. The only way The Black Moth is really linked with These Old Shades is that Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, is what Tracy Belmanior, the Duke of Andover, could have been. Avon’s the hero, Belmanoir’s not. They’re both extremely selfish, have lots of pride, and aren’t nice. Actually, in TOS, Avon had at one point done something similar (abducted a woman he “loved”), but this is years later. Heyer just never wrote a sequel to TBM, so I guess you could say this was her version of that possiblity.

    I love this book, but not all the characters. That’s okay, because Heyer’s gift is that she could write about irritating people that you still enjoy reading about!

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  15. Aarti, I am intrigued, why do you not like These Old Shades? The answer perhaps would go better in that novel’s review, but still, I hope you can tell me, please :).

    As it is already mentioned, The Black Moth is Heyer’s first novel, but I would not recommend it for beginners, she was still trying to find her style.

    I agree, that one does NOT need to read this one before These Old Shades, in fact, I would believe, TBM is more enjoyable later, when one has already been acquainted with the Alastairs and then discover who became who under which different names. Then a second reading of These Old Shades unveils some hints and references to The Black Moth.

    Hint, the hero and heroine in this novel were transformed into very minor characters in These Old Shades.

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  16. I’m a big fan of reading an author’s books in the order they were written as I also love looking for development in authors as they mature, recurring themes, similar characters, etc.

    It sounds like Black Moth is a bridge from Heyer’s own Juvenilia to her commercial success, which would make it interesting in itself.

    Thanks for an interesting review–I will definitely check out your blog, Aarti, as it sounds like we like a lot of the same types of books.

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  17. Well maybe I have to try this one again. I gave up about 40 pages in – finding it too over the top. Enjoyed your review.

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  18. Pingback: ‘Celebrating Georgette Heyer’ at Austenprose – August 1st – 31st, 2010 « Austenprose

  19. I’ve not read any of Heyer’s early stuff yet – I’m intrigued to see where she started and how her style developed. I confess, though, that the most interesting part of this sounds to me to be the situation with brother Richard. I wonder how things turned out with him?

    Guess I’ll have to read to find out.

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  20. I think its very interesting that Georgette Heyer wrote this while she was so young. I can’t imagine writing a novel this well, let alone doing all the research for the time period! However, while I enjoyed this book when I first read it, it didn’t leave as much of an impression on me as some of her other books. I’d love to reread it again though to give it a second chance.

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  21. The Black Moth is definitely different that Heyer’s later work. However, that may have to do with the early influences on her writing and the reason why she wrote this particular book.

    As a young woman, Heyer had enjoyed the works of Baroness Emmuska Orczy, who wrote the tales of the dashing Scarlet Pimpernel and his League. These are true swashbucklers, with lots of action and a much less romance.

    Heyer actually did not initially write The Black Moth for publication. She wrote it to amuse her younger, teenage brother who had suffered an injury which confined him to bed for several months. Knowing her target audience was a young boy, she played up the action and the melodrama and downplayed the romance. That may be why The Black Moth is not as popular with some of Heyer’s readers.

    Personally, I do like The Black Moth, but I read it the first time as a teenager, so maybe my head was in the right space for it at that time. I have re-read it several times since, and I still enjoy it. However, on my first read I was quite repulsed by the Duke of Andover, now he is my favorite character in the book. But I also like These Old Shades, and I can see what Justin Alistair might have become, without Leonie, in the fate of Tracey Belmanoir.

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  22. My favourits scene in this is near the end where they duel to the death (almost) then all sit doen to dinner together!

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  23. This is the only Heyer book that I haven’t re-read. I’m not terribly fond of highway man-related stories.

    So even though I’ve been a Heyer fan for over 30 years, I’ve not treated it fairly. I even gave away my only copy lasst year.

    Joke’s on me because now I’ve been scrabbling around trying to find a copy. :)

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