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"The Black Moth" is my first Georgette Heyer. Coincidentally, it seems, from reading other reviews, that this was the first book she wrote. When I first opened it, I was actually surprised - and a little disappointed. From reading reviews on-line, I had expected paragraphs upon paragraphs of elegant prose, complex characterizations, unusual characters - what I actually saw was pages upon pages of dialogue. Disappointed, I put this at the bottom of my TBR pile. Then, by chance, I read these reviews, and discovered that Georgette Heyer had written this book at only 17. (Was it 17?) Well, seventeen! That's a different story! With that in mind, I decided to try again. And quickly amended my original assessment of a flat and boring book. For a 17 year old girl, this was a work of pure genius.
I have not read any other Heyer books, as yet. But I truly loved "The Black Moth". I loved the characters. I loved the dialogue. I even loved the plot - yes, it is so predictable, yet almost magical in the way that this is the real romance plot, no surprises, no hidden twists, and yet the reader is kept entranced by the sheer enjoyment of the reading experience.
(To be fair to the author, the plot was probably a little more original when she initially penned it.)
But, with hindsight being 20/20, I can see that a teen-ager - albeit a very gifted teen-ager - wrote this book. There is just a bit too much of the fantastic - too many coincidences, too much drama just for the sake of drama (what earthly reason does John/Jack have for acting as a highwayman? The storyline gives an explanation, but it is a lame excuse in my opinion. For an intelligent man to flirt with such extreme danger to himself - either from passengers unexpectedly armed, or the hangman's noose - not good enough. But good enough if you are 17.)
Some reviewers have mentioned that the characters are somewhat one - or two - dimensional as compared to her later books. Not having read any other books, I cannot judge, but to compare to other, more contemporary books - they are really not too bad. Maybe not very complex, but realistic they are. How I loved Lady Lavinia! A carricature of the English high-born lady, not of the time this novel was set, as a previous reviewer pointed out, but of the times in which Ms. Heyer herself lived. Besides, isn't there a little of Lady Lavinia in all of us? And the other characters - Jack, Dick, Jim - there is certainly nothing one-dimensional about them. Besides being very entertaining. For a 17 year old girl, in fact, it is sheer brilliance. And last, but not least, the Duke! Here we have someone quite complex, and to be honest, more realistic a portrayal of the true "rake" than some more modern novels have us believe a rake to be. And the friendship of the Duke with "Frank" of the opening letter I find simply astonishing. It's hard to imagine a conversation such as they had taking place in modern times - all the more reason to believe that this story took place a very, very long time ago. "The past is a different country, they do things differently there."
If perhaps her characters were not quite fully complex, and the plot a bit too fantastic, her style of writing is superb. Again, I haven't read any of her later books, but I cannot believe that in style of writing she changed too dramatically. There is something very finished about the writing in "The Black Moth".
I had been hesitant to try Georgette Heyer, pushing it off for a long time. Many previous reviewers wrote that she is a brilliant writer, with an extremely careful eye for period detail. I have nothing against "great" writers, but I have found that they are not generally light reading, so I pushed off Heyer until I would have "time". How surprised I was to find that this book is actually not "heavy" reading at all! Ms Heyer had a rare gift for words - an elegance of prose that is both terse and clear, with a story-line that flows smoothly and entertainingly - it is very easy to "get-into" her work. And the dialogue! It is worth reading a Heyer just for the dialogue alone. This simplicity of style is, in my opinion, the hallmark of a great writer. Some writers get the reputation of being "great" writers - rightly or wrongly deserved - by using many long words and putting them all together in sentence after sentence. Some of these, are indeed, good writers, (such as Mary Balogh, Mary Jo Putney), but some of them, in my opinion, are simply great wordsmiths - not necessarily great writers - there IS a difference. It is indeed a talent to be able to use many long words and put them together sentence after sentence, but it is, in my opinion, a greater talent to use simple words, simple sentence structure, and be able to express oneself beautifully and clearly. To express oneself in a way that is both easily understood, and compelling, to write your story concisely yet at length, this is how Georgette Heyer wrote. It is easy to see how she became a classic!