'The Black Moth' was the first book that the young Georgette Heyer wrote, initially just to entertain her sick brother. It's a historical romance set around Regency times.
*** Storyline ***
Jack Carstares discovers he has succeeded to the title of Earl, while living the life of a gentleman highwayman. He took to this life of (mild, the way he does it) crime having been disgraced as a cheat at cards and being ousted from high society. But is it as simple as that? And can he ever return to claim his inheritance and live a normal life?
The personable Jack adopts several poses and characters as he lives his fugitive's lifestyle. As Sir Antony Ferndale, he's a frivolous fop; as a highwayman, he's a beery-voiced oaf; as John Carr, he's a romantic hero. Can the three be resolved into one Jack Carstares?
Meanwhile, narcissistic libertine Tracy Belmanoir, Duke of Andover, known affectionately (and not) as Devil, has taken a fancy to the beautiful Diana. He is a malevolent figure, pale and habitually garbed in black, an almost a vampiric look. His attentions become distasteful to the lady, but rather than accept his rejection, he plots to abduct her.
The two threads of the story meet, as they must, when highwayman stumbles across the attempted kidnapping and intervenes. Loveable Jack wins this time - but will Devil be foiled forever?
*** My View ***
I always like Heyer's historical romances, and this is no exception.
There are sword fights and word play, loveable rogues, doughty servants and loyal friends. Miles O'Hara's marriage is charmingly drawn, (although his Irish brogue is a little overdone). The characters are for the most part endearing in their various faults and eccentricities. Diana is a rather passive heroine, sadly lacking in opportunities with a heavy poker - however, her emotions when she is kidnapped are movingly drawn and her budding romance with Carstares sweet and believable.
The villain is sinister yet engaging, and is clearly the template for Justin Alastair, ('Satanas', Duke of Avon) from the novel 'These Old Shades' published five years after 'The Black Moth', in 1926. Although here, Heyer's theme of redemption through love is hastily sketched and less credible, more told than shown.
In some respects 'The Black Moth' is a little weaker than later historical romances from Heyer, as one might expect from a youthful first novel. For me, it's hard to accept some of the resolutions of the storylines. Also, that Carstares could think Tracy 'not such a bad fellow' (apart from where it concerns women), after all that goes on in the book is fairly staggering. I don't think the redemptions of the novel work entirely and it's not as funny a book as many of her others.
Aside from these reservations, 'though, I would say 'The Black Moth' is a lot of fun, with plenty of swash and buckle: a pleasurable read.
Currently 'The Black Moth' is available from Amazon new at £5.59 in paperback and £5.31 for Kindle. It can of course be found cheaper secondhand.