Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review: THE BLACK MOTH by Georgette Heyer

book cover Original Publication Date: 1921

Genre: Historical, adventure

Topics: Love, honor, betrayal, #eighteenthcenturyaristocratproblems

Review by heidenkind:

Several years ago, Jack Carstares took the blame when his brother, Richard, cheated at cards. Now Richard manages the family estates and Jack, exiled in shame from society, roams the roads of England as the most bespoke and gentlemanly highwayman in the land. What earthly force could possibly make Jack leave behind his life of adventure, admit his brother was the actual cheater, and return to the fold? Love of course!

The Black Moth was Georgette Heyer's first novel, and is the only one of her books in the public domain. It's also the first Heyer novel I've managed to read (I tried one or two, but I have to admit my heart wasn't in it and I returned them to the library unfinished), and I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. I was expecting it to be a rather dull romance novel, but it's not—it's an adventure that is SUPER DRAMATIC.

Heyer wrote The Black Moth to entertain her brother during a long illness, and if his taste in books was anything like mine is, she definitely succeeded. The Black Moth has EVERYTHING: kidnapping, highwaymen, cheating, a villain you love to hate because he's the only character with a sense of humor, secret earls, a shrieking harpy of a wife, heiresses, star-crossed lovers, duels, sword fights, fashion, a put-upon manservant/sidekick, love affairs... I could go on. Is it crazy over-the-top? YES. Does it go too far at times? YES. Do I think it's Heyer's best work? I certainly hope not. BUT—did I enjoy the hell out of it? YUP.

My favorite character by far was Tracy Belmanoir, the eponymous "black moth" and brother-in-law to Richard Carstares. It was Tracy who discovered Richard cheating at cards, and he's been using that knowledge to coerce Richard into all sorts of things ever since. It's also Tracy who drives the action through much of the book. He's a boss! He gets all the best lines and mopey Richard hates him so much it's hard not to be fond of the guy.

The way women are presented in The Black Moth is also pretty refreshing. You've got Lavinia, Richard's wife, who's a nitwit and constantly talks in exclamation marks. It's! Very! Annoying! But you also have several women characters who are powerful and smart and get things done, like Lady O'Hara, who's very sexually aggressive and awesome. Diana Beauleigh is the damsel in distress, but she's also willing to press the issue of Jack's affections. Her aunt, Elizabeth, is a super-smart older lady who could give Miss Marple a run for her money.

Is The Black Moth a perfect book? Hells no. But if you can enjoy it for what it is—a fun, silly historical romp—you'll get a kick out of it.

Download The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|University of Pennsylvania Library