Jack Carstares, the Earl of Wyncham, has been living in virtual exile ever since he took the fall for his brother, Richard, who cheated at a game of cards. Richard had been madly in love with the Lady Lavinia, and feared he would loose her if the truth came out, so Jack nobly allowed the blame to fall on his shoulders in order for Richard and Lavinia to find happiness together. The act has been eating Richard up for years, but even though he has since told Lavinia the truth, he still cannot admit it to anyone else for fear of ruining her position in society. Because of that, Jack continues to live in near anonymity, having taken up the daring life of a highwayman.
One day, Jack chances upon a carriage that is being held up, and inside is the lovely Diana Beauleigh with her aunt. Jack has never been able to countenance the idea of robbing from ladies, and when it appears that the lady herself is the treasure being taken, Jack decides to intervene. He immediately recognizes the lady's abductor as the Duke of Andover, a disreputable rake. Jack and the Duke fight a duel, and although Jack is victorious in the end, he is gravely wounded. In gratitude for his gallant rescue, the two ladies take him back to their home and nurse him back to health, and in the process of spending time there, Jack and Diana fall in love. Jack, however, cannot in good conscience marry any lady with the past hanging over his head. He painfully bids her good-bye, but it seems that the Duke is anything but finished with his beautiful obsession, and when his designs on her turn evil once again, Jack will have to defeat him for good in order to save his one true love.
Until picking up The Black Moth, I had never read a "classical" romance, and I have to say that it was a rather different sort of reading experience that was more challenging than the typical modern romance. It is written in what I would call a literary style with vernacular that is more authentic to the time period in which it is set. It was a little difficult to keep track of all the characters, because there were so many and each one went by several different names (first, last, nickname, alias, title). It was all somewhat confusing, but I think I managed to keep up fairly well. Also, the romance itself is very low-key with nothing beyond a few chaste kisses and embraces occurring. The palette of characters in The Black Moth was more of an ensemble cast with the supposed main hero and heroine only present in approximately fifty percent of the scenes and few of those were in each other's company. All of this made the book feel a bit more like historical fiction than historical romance to me, although I have to admit that the climax was pretty romantic with the hero swooping in to save the heroine from the dastardly villain so they can live happily-ever-after.:-)
Jack was a very noble hero, the heir to an earldom, who sacrificed himself for his brother in the name of love. Ever since he took the blame for cheating at a game of cards, he has been living in virtual exile, and has taken up the profession of highwayman, albeit in the style of Robin Hood. He always gives what he takes to the poor, and he refuses to rob ladies or the elderly. On the rare occasions that he makes that mistake, he apologizes profusely which was rather amusing. When he's not playing the roguish thief, he is a dandy who always tries to be at the height of fashion. Jack is the classic dashing, debonair hero, full of charm and lighthearted spirit in spite of his lot in life. When he saves the lovely Diana, they fall madly in love, although the development of their relationship is pretty much left to the imagination.
Diana was a sweet girl who had unfortunately caught the unwanted attentions of the Duke of Andover, a notorious libertine. When the villainous Duke kidnaps Diana in an attempt to force her to wed him, she is rescued by Jack. She falls for her savior while he is recovering from his wounds at her home, and is terribly distraught when he is unable to return her affections and leaves. Diana was in even less scenes than Jack, so I didn't really feel like I got to know her well, but I will say that I admired her spunk and determination, as well as her ability to verbally spar with the Duke when he attempted to take her a second time.
As I mentioned earlier, The Black Moth boasts a very large cast of characters, some of whom are equally as important as Jack and Diana. Jack's brother, Richard and his wife, Lavinia would be at the top of that list, experiencing their own romantic ups and downs. Richard had allowed Jack to take the blame for his actions, because he loved Lavinia so much he couldn't bear the thought of loosing her if the truth came out. He has lived with the guilt ever since, which has taken it's toll on him. At first his actions seemed selfish, leaving me unsure as to whether I liked him or not. He also had a tendency to be a doormat for his wife which wasn't particularly endearing either, but I was pleased to see him grow and change throughout the story. Lavinia was a difficult character to like, because she always seemed so spoiled and shrewish. In fact, she and all of her brothers were pretty much portrayed as hedonists with little or no self-control. Although I don't think I'll ever truly understand why all the men in her life were so taken with her, I did at least gain a small measure of respect for her by the end when she finally realized what a good life and husband she had. The other top-tier character would be Lavinia's brother, Tracy, the Duke of Andover, who became obsessed with Diana. In my opinion, he was a dangerous miscreant to have kidnapped and tried to force an innocent young woman who obviously didn't want him into marriage. I'm usually used to seeing the villain get a more sound comeuppance than Tracy did, so the way things ended with him were somewhat unsatisfying. However, I suppose that in a historical sense, sending a duke to jail is not something that would typically have happened. I also think the author was trying to show that he had perhaps learned from the experience and turned over a new leaf, although I'm not so sure I believe that. Although The Black Moth is not officially considered part of a series, it is my understanding that the Duke does return in These Old Shades.
The Black Moth was definitely a change of pace from my usual romance reading. Although the story contains large swaths of dialog, punctuated by shorter passages of prose, I felt that Ms. Heyer gave the reader a good feel of what it was like to live in the Georgian era by imparting many little details of fashion and society. In fact, I learned a few new and surprising things. I might point out here as well, that a number of individuals and a few websites have this book mislabeled as Regency romance, and although the exact year is never given in the text, the historical details clearly place it in the Georgian time frame. I felt that the pacing of the book was rather up and down with some parts moving pretty slowly, leaving my mind wandering, and others being engaging and fast-paced. It took me a while to get used to how different this book was than the romances I typically read, but it ended up being an agreeable experience. Based on the ratings I've seen on various book-related sites, I'd say that The Black Moth doesn't appear to be a fan favorite, but it was good enough to make me want to pick up another Georgette Heyer book in the future. If one takes into account that Ms. Heyer wrote the book when she was only seventeen to entertain her sick brother, I'd say she did quite well for one so young.
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