Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer

Dear Readers,

For my next Heyer book, I thought I read one new to me which means pretty much all the Regencies. Or all the mysteries. Or most of the … gosh, I have a lot of Heyer catching up to do. Anyway, what attracted me to “Black Sheep” was the information that the main characters are all commoners. Yep, nary an aristo among the main characters and the titled characters got their filthy lucre in *gasp* trade. Though the well connected among the Bath set don’t hold that against them.

black sheep Georgette HeyerWhen Miss Abby Wendover finally arrives in Bath after a protracted five week stay at the home of her enceinte sister, she quickly realizes that her worst fears have been realized. An older, man about town fortune hunter – Abby’s just sure he is one of those odious creatures – has been making up to her “will be wealthy after she comes into her inheritance in 8 years” 17 year old niece. And what’s more, Stacy Calverleigh has bamboozled Abby’s eldest sister Serina to his side. Fanny is determined that she and Stacy felt love at first sight and means to have him as her husband. With visions of Fanny acting out and eloping if pushed too hard, Abby knows she has to tread warily in her efforts to thwart Young Love’s Dream.

A few days later, while in a hotel to visit some newly arrived acquaintances, Abby chances to overhear the name of Calverleigh and jumps at the opportunity to warn off Stacy outside of any chance for Fanny to overhear. Only the man who answers her query is far from young or handsome. In fact, he’s much older than Abby’s 28 years and brown as a nut. He’s also one of the rudest men Abby’s ever encountered and appears to take great delight in being so. Only, as the bewildering – on Abby’s side – conversation continues, it seems that he’s not young Calverleigh but Stacy’s older Uncle who got packed off to India 20 years ago after a Great Scandal. And once Abby has filled him in on Stacy’s plans and begged Miles’s aid in nipping the romance in the bud, he calmly assures Abby that not only does he not care a fig about the situation, he could care less about his nephew.

Aghast at the lack of feeling displayed by Miles, Abby still can’t help but laugh at half of what he says since he says exactly what’s on his mind and damn the consequences. For a woman who’s had to deal with her eldest sister’s various – and deeply loved – ailments plus a headstrong young niece plus two pompous older brothers for most of her life, the idea that someone isn’t tied to family merely because they’re family and who does as he pleases and says what he wants calls to something deep inside Abby.

But can she give into the exact same impulses which she’s trying to get Fanny to avoid? And how can Abby contemplate love when she still has to keep Fanny from throwing herself away on a bounder like Stacy? And what will happen when her older brother James finds out what’s going on in Bath? Is there a happy ending in store for anyone? Or will it take a former cad to set all right in the end?

All the Heyer books I’ve read up til now, pitiful though that amount is, have had humor to some degree and this one is just bursting with it. Oozing, overflowing and packed full of it. Abby and Miles share a sharp sense of the absurd and what with Miles being willing to voice whatever pops into his head, their conversations make the book for me. In fact, I think Miles is right up at the top of my “favorite heroes I’ve read this year” list. Whenever I knew I was going to get a scene with the two of them in it, I sat back and anticipated the fun.

And Abby certainly deserves fun for all the fuss she has to put up with from her sister and niece. Serina is one of those older women of that day who made a career out of their nerves and illnesses. She also flutters a lot and is prone to hysterics. It’s no wonder their menfolk preferred to be out hunting or in their clubs all day. It certainly drives James off after he makes his blustering appearance once everything is actually already taken care of.

Fanny isn’t a nervous ninny but she JUST KNOWS she’s really, truly in love in that way that only 17 and 18 year olds can be sure of and this knowledge has her wound up and ready to Do Something Foolish should anyone speak ill of her truest love. It’s to Abby’s credit that she doesn’t lock Fanny up in a room for 6 years. Abby also realizes, somewhat sadly, that even though Fanny does love her and Serina, she’s of an age when she’s ready to form outside friendships and spread her wings. Something Abby more than once steps aside and lets Fanny continue. The relationship between aunt and niece is a sweet thing about the book though Heyer never lets it turn maudlin.

But for all the praises I’ve sung about it so far, the narrative falters a bit in the third quarter. Information is repeated, scenes drag somewhat and I found myself soldiering on at times. Though new little nuggets of knowledge are sprinkled through this section, I can’t help but feel that some judicious pruning would have tightened things up and moved them along without losing anything.

The last bit does, however, do a lot to redeem the slowpoke stuff. When a final character is introduced to the story, I knew she would somehow resolve the issue of Stacy and Fanny but the way in which this is done is allowed to play out and there is great fun to be had watching Stacy be served a bit of his own medicine. But even knowing what was happening, I still didn’t realize just how delicious his just desserts were until a scene reveals all. The asshole decidedly gets exactly what’s coming to him and it’s served up as neat as can be.

But wait, there’s an unresolved romance still at stake! Abby almost buckles under to family pressure about pledging herself to a man of whom they do not approve. Even as I’m groaning about this, the way it’s presented is diabolically clever on the part of the main instigator and designed to strike Abby where she would be most likely to feel familial duty. Luckily for her Miles feels no such duty and, as he informs her, she might be willing to sacrifice herself on the Altar of Family but he certainly won’t let her sacrifice him! And thus he takes matters in hand and decidedly sees to their future and happiness in a masterful way.

I ended the book adoring the “Black Sheep” hero and the practical and, usually, level headed heroine. The villain gets his comeuppance, Serina will still have someone with whom to compare nerves, Fanny might have a romance in her future and James will probably think twice about issuing ultimatums to Abby once she has Miles at her side. If not for the draggy bits, my grade would be higher but the good that far outweighs the bad still comes out to a B for me.

~Jayne

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

34 Comments

  1. Elaine
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 14:31:52

    I enjoyed your review of what is one of my five top favorite Heyers. The scene in which the fortune hunter gets his just desserts is second only to the scene at the end of The Unknown Ajax. (And if you haven’t read this, may I recommend you read it next.)

  2. Isobel Carr
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 14:37:08

    I’ve always had a soft spot for Miles Calverleigh. There’s just something lovely about a no-nonsense hero who’s not a raging alpha.

  3. Becca
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 14:53:04

    I love the “I’m so secure in myself I don’t need to be Alpha” heroes too. And Miles is wonderful.

  4. Sandra
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 14:56:41

    I’ve always thought there were a lot of similarities between this one and Lady of Quality. The Bath spinster, the headstrong ward, the take no prisoners hero, the interfering family. Of the two, I always preferred The Black Sheep. For that matter, I seem to recall another similar short story in Pistols for Two.

  5. Asable
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 15:16:07

    This is my favorite Heyer because I loved, loved, loved Miles. I still smile when I reread it!

  6. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 15:52:26

    I adore this book. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read it. Heavens, favorite bits” How about “my bright, particular star!” (he’s quoting a poem).

  7. Amy Kathryn
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 17:06:11

    I just bought this one in the sale and can’t wait to start it. I consulted my ladies at the bookstore this afternoon to make sure that I had picked up all the must reads during the sale. They approved my purchases and only suggested that I add False Colors. I have so blown my book budget this month but I am sure that if I average it out over a lifetime of enjoyment I have saved tons.

  8. Jayne
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 18:18:14

    @Elaine: Oooh this one is in your top 5? What, besides The Unknown Ajax, rounds out your list? This sale has reminded me that I have a lot of Heyer catching up to do.

  9. Jayne
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 18:24:35

    @Isobel Carr: @Becca: Yes to a quietly “he’s so secure in himself” hero. Miles is older and wiser and doesn’t need posturing or thunderous orations to make his point. He also refuses to entertain the thought of revenge for being packed off to India all those years before since, as he says, it was the making of him.

  10. Jayne
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 18:30:16

    @Sandra: I don’t hear that much about Heyer’s mysteries. A friend of mine has read several and enjoyed them – and took the opportunity of this sale to fill in those mysteries she hasn’t read yet – but does anyone have suggestions of where to start with them?

  11. Jayne
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 18:32:02

    @Lynne Connolly: What poem is he quoting from? I did notice he was quoting from something and love that it shows a bit of a romantic streak in him.

  12. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 18:35:13

    I’m a long-time member of the Heyer list. It’s now a yahoo group. We discuss a Heyer book every month, and we’re just coming to the end of a chronological read. We read every book, including the mysteries, and it’s been a fascinating exercise. I’m even more convinced that they’re less romances and more social comedies, or comedies of manners.

    I know I’m not Elaine, but my personal top five is Black Sheep, Frederica, Venetia, Cotillion and Sylvester.

  13. Jayne
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 18:37:21

    @Amy Kathryn: What other purchases did your ladies at the bookstore recommend? This is the second or third time someone’s mentioned “False Colors” this week. Perhaps I need to check into that one.

  14. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 18:48:02

    “Bright particular star” is from “As You Like It.”

    “That I should love a bright particular star
    And think to wed it, he is so above me:
    In his bright radiance and collateral light
    Must I be comforted, not in his sphere.”

    Be still, my beating heart!
    I just love that scene.

  15. Jayne
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 18:56:58

    @Lynne Connolly: Okay, now I’m getting even swoonier over Miles quoting this to Abby. Miles has got Hidden Depths!

  16. melann
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 19:33:04

    $.02 on mysteries and non-mysteries…

    Non-mysteries – Go for Cotillion if you haven’t already, or Frederica (not sure if either of these is in the sale, though). I’ll also 3rd, 4th, or whatever the next number is for False Colours.

    Mysteries – Try Behold, Here’s Poison (Randall’s a memorable character) and The Unfinished Clue (Lola De Silva is memorable for an entirely different reason).

    One thing about The Unfinished Clue – there’s a post on another site that mention’s Ms. Heyer’s portrayal of Jewish characters. The Unfinished Clue contains some of that as well, albeit not nearly as offensive (IMO), so Be Ye Warned.

    I’ll add that if you get a chance to listen to either of these in audio (they’re on Audible), go for it. Particularly Behold, Here’s Poison (Randall!).

  17. Sandra
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 19:56:31

    @Jayne:Pistols for Two is actually a book of Regency short stories.:)

    It’s been a while since I read any of the mysteries. But that’s going to change, since I just bought ebooks of the ones I was missing. Briefly, Penhallow is a much a Gothic as a mystery. I read it many years ago, didn’t care for it, and haven’t read it since.

    Wikipedia has a list of all the mysteries by publication date. The Sourcebooks editions available on B&N list the Inspector Hannasyde and Inspector Hemmingway books by series number, which is misleading. Hemmingway was Hannasyde’s sergeant in the Hannasyde books, and then got promoted. So sequentially, the Hemmingway’s follow the Hannasyde’s. (Man, I wish she’d differentiated the names more.) They’re all pretty much stand alone, with the exception that characters that first appeared in They Found Him Dead, show up again in Duplicate Death.

    Most are Golden Age country home/house party mysteries. And like the Cadfael books, even though they’re nominally mysteries, there’s a pair of lovers that end up with an HEA. And I second on Behold, Here’s Poison as a good place to start. But for those who squicked over cousins over on the SBTB thread, SPOILER>>>>> Randall and Stella are first cousins. (I squick for a different reason — Randal’s my brother’s name….)

    Now, if someone would only publish Mary Stewart in ebook….

  18. Laura Florand
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 20:23:03

    Add me to the list of people who love Miles. :)

  19. Amy Kathryn
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 20:49:32

    @Jayne Knowing my love for Venetia, they made sure I had Cotillion, Frederica, Quiet Gentleman, Arabella, and Black Sheep before telling me to get False Colors. Some of these were to fill in amongst paper copies I had already gotten of some of the other books. They really like Unknown Ajax and were disappointed it was not out yet for the sale.

    I asked about the mysteries but they weren’t too enthusiastic…they would steer me elsewhere for those.

  20. Jayne
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 06:56:25

    @melann: Thanks for your $0.02 on the mysteries and for the Warning.

    I think I have Cotillion and know I have False Colors so I’m set there.

  21. Jayne
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 07:00:00

    @Sandra: Re: character name differentiation – YES! It’s a Good Thing.

    Re: name squicking – recently I ran across someone who has the exact same name (complete with unusual spelling) of my sister. She and I got a good laugh over that.

    Re: Mary Stewart mysteries – I worship at their feet. I want their heroes.

  22. Jayne
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 07:00:57

    @Laura Florand: LOL, Miles is gettin’ some good luvin’ from this group.

  23. Jayne
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 07:02:35

    @Amy Kathryn: Okay, excellent. I’m in good shape since I know I have all the books they recommended. Thanks for your list.

  24. LauraJ
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 08:23:35

    I bought several Georgette Heyer books when Sourcebooks started publishing them, but I’ve only read Faro’s Daughter and Black Sheep. I wasn’t too impressed so I never read the other books I purchased.

    I still have Frederica, Arabella, False Colours, Cotillion and 2 mysteries: Death in the Stocks and Footsteps in the Dark.

    I’m wondering if I should give her another shot, or if my feelings about Black Sheep and Faro’s Daughter are a good indication that Heyer just isn’t for me.

  25. Isabel C.
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 08:28:55

    @Sandra: Heh, yeah. There’s a whole section of romance novels which sound great but which I can’t read because one of the main characters has the same name as a close family member, and–yikes. No.

    And my first hero ended up having the same name as a friend’s son. Total accident–he was born a year and a half after I finished the MS–but I don’t expect her or her husband to read that book any time soon. :)

    I love Miles, but I think I love Abby more. Her tolerance for Fanny, who is Being Seventeen with a vengeance* in a time where that sort of thing had major consequences, is nothing short of heroic. Add her tolerance for *Serina*, ye gods…yeah. The woman deserves a medal for not introducing arsenic into the meals.

    *There are several reasons why I will neither teach nor have children: the years from twelve to eighteen are pretty high on the list.

  26. SonomaLass
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 23:56:44

    @Beth: I am currently reading A Lady of Quality, and there are definitely similarities. I’ll be reading this soon.

    @LauraJ Faro’s Daughter was my first Heyer, and it was almost my last. DNF, but then I tried The Nonesuch and got hooked.

    I so appreciate these Heyer reviews. I’ve blown my book budget, but I sure got a lot of good material!

  27. Jayne
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 07:51:31

    @SonomaLass: I know there are definitely Heyers to start with and ones to wait to try. At the risk of getting the Cut Direct, I started Frederica and slogged through about 3 chapters of it and had to stop. I do mean to try it again some day but not all Heyers are made alike – so to speak.

  28. RowanS
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 10:32:27

    @Sandra: Now, if someone would only publish Mary Stewart in ebook….

    From your lips to the Publishing Gods’ ears!!

  29. Cheryl
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 11:03:50

    Black Sheep is next on my Heyer TBR pile as soon as I finish Venetia. Love her heroes and her secondary characters are so well written.

  30. J A
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 21:26:20

    I’ve been rereading Heyer regencies at intervals since I was in my teens, and some of the books just get better as I age. One part that vaguely shocked me as Unromantic when I was 14 but that I love now is that when Abby asks Miles to consider removing Stacy “for *me*?” Miles totally calls her on the idea that he would do her a service … and what, get her as a reward?

    Yup, I LOVE a non-Alpha.

  31. FD
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 21:49:33

    @melann: Darling serpent Randall and the insuperable grey hall!

    I think as a murder mystery I like Envious Casca better though – the villain is both believable and nasty and I felt a little for the murderer in Behold, Here’s Poison.

  32. Evie
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 23:03:46

    Thank you for writing this review. I have had trouble finding Georgette Heyer books that appealed to me, and pretty gave up reading her. However you made Black Sheep sound good enough to try. I did, and I liked it! I am currently attempting These Old Shades, and hoping it’s also good.

  33. Jayne
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 07:03:44

    @Evie: You’re very welcome! I had fun reading it and hope to continue reading and reviewing more Heyer books – maybe one a month or so.

  34. What Jayne is reading/watching in mid August
    Mar 25, 2012 @ 09:31:11

    [...] and Patch, Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer – see the reviews already [...]

%d bloggers like this: