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"The Black Moth" by Georgette Heyer

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The Black MothWhat qualities identify a hero? What qualities identify a villain? Since you read a lot (as your interest in Girlebooks indicates), you feel fairly confident that you can spot one or the other, even when one may be traveling somewhat incognito.

If so, Ms.Heyer's approach to heroism and villainy may surprise you. The first novel in a four-part series including These Old Shades, Devil's Cub, and An Infamous Army, The Black Moth comes disguised as an amusing but uncomplicated romance. The story appears so straightforward that you may be inclined to read it with half a mind. As I learned the hard way, that would be a mistake. I read all the way to the end of this fairly lengthy novel and got dropped into a denouement that was anything but uncomplicated. As a result, I reread the whole novel, this time with rapt attention.

When (notice I didn't say "if") you read this novel, it is very important that you make note (written, if possible) of the names, appearances and motivations of the various male characters. Since two of the main characters have aliases, it is easy to pigeonhole each character into a "hero / villain" category that may or may not suit his true nature. One of the strengths of The Black Moth is that the characters are multifaceted, making it hard to totally like or dislike any of them.

The Black Moth himself has three aliases, and only once does the novel hint at who The Black Moth really is. Interestingly, it is easy to miss this, because this he appears as somewhat of a peripheral character. Consider the character of The Black Moth to be a puzzle that must be put together. And a puzzle he is. His motivations defy rationalization. At times he is a guardian angel, other times he lives up to his nickname, which is anything but angelic. From descriptions of his countenance, I pictured someone very much like the actor Alan Rickman--not exactly a romantic hero, but an attractive and compelling character who usually manages to upstage the romantic hero and other characters as well.

Hints for more pleasurable reading of The Black Moth: bone up on your fencing terms. The story is pleasurable without knowing the terminology, but with two very interesting fencing matches, it would have been nice to know exactly what was taking place. Also, read the prologue with care. It may seem irrelevant when you start reading the text of the first chapters, but it contains some skillful foreshadowing.

Cover art by Janice Tarver, for sale at Etsy.

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