Rebecca Brandewyne is a household name in the bodice ripper genre. Her Aguilar's Fate series is more popular than this one, but since I'd managed to obtain books 1 & 2 of this duology, Chandlers of Highclyffe Hall seemed like a good starting point for this author.
Maggie Chandler is the daughter of Sir Hugh, the lord of Highclyffe Hall - an elegant, creepy castle built on the moors of Cornwall. Her father blames her for the death of her mother and abuses her at every turn. Matters only take a turn for the worse when he marries a fortune hunter, and she ends up getting two wicked step-somethings that waste no time in barging into every aspect of her life.
The opening of this book really reminded me of ELLA ENCHANTED - you know that part when Ella's father marries Dame Olga and she ends up getting Hattie & Olive as step-sisters? ELLA is one of my favorite books of all time so that similarity really stirred up all kinds of warm and fuzzy feelings. There's also elements of the WIDEACRE series in here, too, what with the feuding families and kissing cousins and matters of inheritance.
Speaking of inheritance, later on Sir Hugh finds out to his disgust that his estranged brother (who fell in love with a gypsy - gasp!) has a bastard son, Draco, who also ends up coming to Highclyffe Hall. Maggie isn't sure how to feel about him. He's quite a bit different from her other cousin, Esmond (who she's betrothed to), but she can't stop obsessing over him and how different he is. Just in case we forget that he's a gypsy, she keeps referring to him as My Gypsy Cousin. They end up forming a bond over the fate of Black Magic, a beautiful wild stallion that Sir Hugh brutally abuses. Be forewarned that if animal cruelty is a trigger for you, there are some pretty horrid passages of horse abuse in this book.
The second half of the book starts out with all kinds of soapy drama and, sadly, is where this book takes a turn for the worse. Sir Hugh ended up crippled for life by Black Magic, which has caused his personality to take a turn for the worse. He's even more of an asshole than before! Through mysterious means, Draco ends up becoming very rich. Julianne, seduces Maggie's betrothed away. Maggie ends up having jealousy-sex with Draco, which quickly turns into rape-sex when he realizes that he's not the man she's thinking of. Then Draco spirits her away to Gretna Green, where he drugs and rapes her some more prior to their marriage. Maggie gets blotted out from the family bible. She has a baby. Draco provides for them with his inexplicably gotten wealth.
Maggie is not a very subtle narrator and keeps making these foreshadowing segues like "I wish I had known that..." or "if only I had ____". It took a lot of mystery out of the writing, because it was like the author didn't trust me to deal with any bad events on my own and wanted to hold my hand the whole way. I also didn't like the way the rape was treated; Maggie is very dismissive of it, and convinces herself that it was something she actually wanted, calling herself a passionate and earthy person (which I guess is 19th century speak for "very interested in sex"). Since this is a gothic novel, there's a mystery tacked on at the end, and of course, the hero is implicated as being the perp. I didn't think that this was done particularly well, either, and the heroine's Nancy Drew skills made me roll my eyes.
UPON A MOON-DARK MOOR definitely contrives to write in that 70s gothic style, and even the title sounds like something you would see on one of those book covers with women in cumbersome gowns fleeing from sinister misty castles. The only difference is that those books tend to be very clean, and this actually had some sex in it. Honestly, if you're just getting into the gothic genre, I recommend starting out with Victoria Holt. Hopefully ACROSS A STARLIT SEA will be better...