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

Austen Tattler: News and Gossip around the Blogosphere

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“All that she wants is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it.” Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31

Jane Austen around the blogosphere for the week of February 1st

Hot News of the week

Definitely the upcoming release of the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which was taken the Internet by deathly storm prompting the publisher Quirk Books to move up the release date. You can read my first thoughts about it at Jane Austen Today, this week on the reaction, and the controversy regarding the author’s attitude toward Janeites at AustenBlog.

Noteworthy

Jane Austen in the City of Bath, England is a lovely article with beautiful photos at Quillcards Blog

Get ready for Valentine’s Day with snarky Austen themed valentines at Elegant Extracts Blog.

Sense and Sensibility (2008) is being rebroadcast on Masterpiece Classic on Sundays Feb 1st & 8th. You can catch up on the first episode by reading the synopsis of episode one at the Masterpiece offical site and read reviews at Jane Austen’s World and here at Austenprose. Tune in to PBS this Sunday for the conclusion.

The Excessively Diverting Blog Award recognizes seven writers of note on the Internet presented by the Jane Austen Today blogging team.

Over at Risky Regencies indulge in a little escapsism with Highwayman of the High Seas: The Romance of the Smugler by Julia Justiss. Everyone loves a naughty pirate, yo ho!

Of Books and Bicycles is reading Claire Tomalin’s biography Jane Austen: A Life and has some interesting thoughts on her insights.

Arti at Ripple Effects asks which Austen Heroine was Jane herself most like?

Entertainment

The Black Moth is available from GirleBooks for free. Ms Place (Vic) at Jane Austen Today and Jane Austen’s World is an ardent Heyer fan and tells us that this is one of Heyer’s first novels, and now ready for you to download and read for free from GirleBooks.

The roundup of upcoming Austen inspired books for February is available for your persual here at Austenprose

The DVD of Lost in Austen will be available for purchase in North America on April 14th.

British actress Ruby Bentall is truly an up and commer. I have recieved more hits on her name in the past month than any other Austen actress. More than Gwenyth or Kiera or Kate. No lie! You can read about her at my post Ruby Bentall – A Most Memorable Mary Bennet at Jane Austen Today.

Book Reviews

Until next week, happy Jane sighting.

Laurel Ann