Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > The Black Moth

The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer
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Apr 29, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-romance, 2010, re-read, cover-love
Read in April, 2010

At the beginning of the year, I set myself the goal of re-reading all my Heyer books. I have all her books except for her eight detective novels, and I've read all but, I think, two - two of the more serious historical ones: My Lord John and, ah, forget the other. Oh maybe it was just the one then? Well, it's nearly May and so far my progress has been pathetic, to say the least. I read Heyer's books so many times during uni but it's been eight or nine years and I found I couldn't remember the stories anymore - a good time to re-read them! Worked, too.

I re-read Beauvallet , the first Heyer book I ever read, a year or so ago - it's a good one to start with if you've never read any. Most of her books are set in Regency London (during the time of the Prince Regent, George, whose father was mad), but some are set in an earlier period - like The Black Moth. Set sometime mid-1700s, this is also an unusual Heyer novel for the broad cast of characters and lack of a central pair.

The "Black Moth", as described by the heroine, Helen, is the Duke of Andover, Tracy Belmanoir - commonly called the Devil. A pale man always dressed in black, he's unashamedly selfish, sneers at others and has only one real friend. He is a central character, an unlikeable one, who connects everyone else.

Helen is the only child of a country gentleman who, while in Bath with her aunt, meets the Devil in one of his other guises, as Mr Everard. He repulses her, but he doesn't care about that: if he wants her, he'll have her. Kidnapping seems the way to go.

Enter Jack, Lord John Carstares, newly made Earl of Wyncham now that his father is dead - and social outcast, ever since taking the blame when his younger brother Richard cheats at cards. Now back in England, he keeps himself in funds and entertainment by being a highwayman. Masked, he holds up coaches - though, being a man of honour, he doesn't steal from women or old people and gives much of it away to the poor. Encountering a carriage stopped on the road, with three men trying to wrestle a girl from its interior, he doesn't waste time engaging the orchestrator in a duel. He recognises Tracy, a skilled swordsman, but keeps his own incognito and defeats him to boot, suffering an injury in exchange. Helen and her aunt are only too happy for him to recover at their home, and it is during his convalescence that he and Helen fall in love.

Meanwhile, his poor brother Richard is reaping the punishments of letting his brother take the rap for his bad choice six years ago. The lovely Lady Lavinia, the Devil's only sister, is almost as selfish, just as extravagant, and prone to fits of temper and moodiness. Richard still loves her, and it's for her sake that he has kept quiet all these years about who really cheated at cards: he can't bring her down with him. But his guilty conscience is ageing him, and it's only a matter of time before he can't tolerate it at all. His marriage is going downhill just as badly, and it seems like everything's coming to an end.

Ironically, it is the Black Moth that brings these characters together, pulls them apart, then brings them together again - all without intending it, for the most part. It's a much different structure from her usual Regency Romances, and its originality makes it stand out. The characters are still fairly stock - Heyer only has a few character versions that she recycles, as do most genre authors, and it's never really bothered me. Lord John - Jack - is the delightful, amused, finnicky dresser, the real hero of the story - but flawed all the same. Richard suffers, yes he pays for letting his brother be repudiated and scorned by society, and he's sympathetic for not taking advantage of it (except to marry Lavinia, and he pays for that too - literally and figuratively). There's Jack's best friend Sir Miles and his wife, Lady O'Hara, who are adorable, and Helen of course, who's quick tongue and strong spirit make her a strong heroine even though they attract the Devil's attentions. He, in his own way, is a sympathetic figure. He's despicable, and not at all appealing, but you can't help feeling sorry for him. Still wouldn't want to try to befriend him though. It's a nice change, actually, to encounter an anti-hero as distinctive as Tracy in Heyer's work.

A Note on this Edition: There were contemporary editions of Heyer's books available when I started collecting them, but they were hard to find and online ordering was not common "in those days" (yes I know, we're talking 1996-2002, the period in which I collected them all, but it's amazing how recent our dependence on the internet really is). Very few were available in bookshops, and I was a poor student anyway. I found most of them at op-shops, secondhand bookshops, and at Salamanca Market. I don't mind having old, yellowed copies with, often, very ugly covers. Amongst them are gems like this one - an Australian second edition with the original dust jacket (some of my Heyer books don't have dust jackets, which is a shame). So, this is a scan of my cover, tattered corners and all. And just look at it! Isn't it beautiful? It's falling apart, sadly, so I have to remove it when reading the book - ironic, since a dust jacket's purpose is to protect the book!
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