The Black Moth, published in 1921, was Georgette Heyer’s first novel, written while she was still a teenager. I came to it having already read lots of Heyer’s other novels because I was advised that this was probably not a good place to start and that I would appreciate it more if I was already familiar with her later work. Now that I’ve read it, I think I would agree with that; I did enjoy it (although it hasn’t become a favourite) but I thought it had a slightly different feel from her later books and didn’t seem as polished.
The story is set not in the Regency period with which Heyer is normally associated, but the earlier Georgian period. Jack Carstares, eldest son and heir of the Earl of Wyncham, is a highwayman – though not entirely out of choice. He was accused of cheating at cards six years earlier and forced to leave the country in disgrace, but now he is back in England and trying to make a living in any way he can.
At the beginning of the novel, Jack discovers that his father is dead and that he is now the rightful Earl. He is reluctant to accept his inheritance, however, preferring to leave the estate to his younger brother, Richard. Jack, you see, was never actually guilty at all; he was covering up for Richard, who was the real cheat and who said nothing, allowing his brother to take the blame. Richard is not completely without a conscience, though, and after learning of Jack’s return, he feels increasingly guilty about what he has done – to the disgust of his wife, the beautiful but selfish and petulant Lavinia.
Lavinia is the sister of the Duke of Andover, who is known as ‘Devil’ by friends and foes alike, and who reminds Richard of a black moth. When Andover and Jack Carstares both find themselves drawn to the same woman, the fates of all of these characters become closely entwined once more and a chain of events is set into motion which could change each of their lives forever.
I’ve said that The Black Moth isn’t a favourite, but I did find it fun to read. Unlike some of the later Heyers I’ve been reading recently, such as Black Sheep and Charity Girl, which are more character and dialogue driven, this one is more action-packed and swashbuckling with a plot involving highway robbery, disguises, kidnappings and duels. It’s not as romantic a story as some since the focus is on the relationship between the two brothers, Jack and Richard, although that could be because Heyer was apparently writing this novel to entertain her own younger brother. Jack’s love interest, Diana, is maybe not one of Heyer’s stronger female characters, but I did like her – and was relieved that it wasn’t Lavinia who turned out to be the heroine!
Now that I’ve read The Black Moth, I’m looking forward to reading These Old Shades, which was published several years later and uses updated versions of some of the same characters. It’s one of many Heyer novels I’m hoping to read in 2017!
I’m taking a break for a few days, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of my blog readers a Merry Christmas! I’ll be back next week with my books of the year and December summary.