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I am a bit of a Georgette Heyer fan, (well, of her historical romances - I never could get into her detective fiction) and when I came across this book, 'Black Sheep', at the charity shop I was really excited: it was one I haven't read before. I bought it for 60p.
*** The Novel ***
'Black Sheep' is a historical romance based in the Regency period. It is set in the city of Bath, with a quiet and regimented social scene for the upper class. The heroine of the novel is Abigail Wendover, a woman considered on the shelf at the age of 28, living with her elder sister, Selina, and raising her orphaned 17 year old niece, Fanny.
Fanny has yet to make her debut in high society, but as an heiress has come to the attention of the caddish Stacy Calverleigh, who sets out to win her heart. This is much to the displeasure of the Wendover family generally and when Abby returns from a trip away, she is soon worried too. Stacy is seriously pressed by his creditors and is trying to persuade Fanny to elope. While Abby is not unduly concerned about Fanny making an advantageous marriage, she doesn't want her to marry someone who only cares for her money.
But there's something else behind her older brother's opposition to the marriage as well, a scandalous secret between the Wendover family and the Calverleighs. When the Black Sheep of the Calverleigh family returns from exile in India in the person of Miles Calverleigh, Stacy's uncle, will this secret be revealed? And how can Abby dissuade Fanny from her love affair with Stacy, when she finds herself falling in love with the roguish Miles, an apparently equally inappropriate relationship?
*** My opinion ***
I really enjoyed this novel, as I always do with Heyer's historical romances.
I feel this one is more openly critical of the constraints on women in the society depicted than the others I have read of hers. Abby is resentful of her (now deceased) father and brother's determination the sisters should marry well, with little thought to their happiness. One of Abby's sisters, Jane, is married to a horrible man, for example, and both her & Selina's choice in men has been thwarted by family interference in the past. It's a difficult balance for Abby as her niece's chaperone, for she wishes her to have the freedoms that she was denied, but has to enforce many of the social mores in order for Fanny to not be excluded from 'polite' society. These things are discussed by the characters more than I have previously been aware of in Heyer's books, and it was fresh & interesting. Abby is a forward-thinking woman, unshocked by Miles' dubious past, while her contemporaries would be expected to swoon away.
'Black Sheep' was a fun, light read from Heyer, although I feel more serious in tone than her others. I don't feel it was as funny as some, although the banter between Miles and Abby is frequently witty and amusing. It is an engaging novel and the characters likeable, apart from the selfish Stacy. As ever it comes to a satisfying conclusion for all concerned and it held my interest throughout. I'm glad to have it on my shelf with the rest of my Heyer's, and know I will re-read it.
You can find it new online from Amazon for £5.99 in paperback, £5.22 for Kindle. Secondhand prices vary.