The Black Moth was Heyer’s first novel, and it does show, but it’s still pretty fun. She hasn’t figured out what to do with her heroines yet, and that’s very obvious: Diana Beauleigh is rather colourless and lacking in the kind of witty repartee that really makes some of Heyer’s other heroines. Indeed, she’s more just a love interest and much less a heroine. Despite Diana and Jack seeming like the main pair, the one the plot was working toward, I was more interested in the spoilt Lavinia and her husband Richard. Of course, Lavinia is an annoying character, whiny and, well, as I said, spoilt. But the way she and Richard come to realise how fond they are of each other, and the way their relationship (and Lavinia herself) grows is a delight — especially since it doesn’t involve Lavinia changing, as such. She’s still spoilt, it’s just that she knows it, and she and Richard are fond of each other anyway.
The whole bit about Richard cheating at cards and Jack taking the disgrace is a bit bizarre to a modern reader — especially with Tracy Belmanoir’s exploits, including trying to abduct a woman, being just dismissed as foibles. I don’t know enough about the period to know if Heyer leaned a bit too hard on that plot aspect: it feels like it, but of course, times have changed.
Jack himself is fun: loyal, self-deprecating, quite capable of being kind or cutting. Adaptable. He’s a bit spoilt himself: you gotta love the part where he complains about the humiliation of having had to earn his own living! But again, things were different then.
For a first novel, The Black Moth is definitely not too bad. It has its weaknesses, and the dialogue was a particular weak point at times (it felt like Heyer tried too hard to reproduce natural ways of speaking, in some scenes, which was tough reading), but it’s fun and no wonder Heyer got off to a flying start.