I'd never read a Georgette Heyer book but I kept hearing about them. Mostly about how great and well-researched they are but out of print, and how fans hoard them like treasure and reread them over and over again. I also kept hearing a comparison to Jane Austen since Heyer writes in the regency period - in fact she is considered the person who began the regency romance genre. I agree with the Jane Austen comparison because Black Sheep was really about characters and society. There is a lot of emphasis on manners and what is considered acceptable to say and do, and the story progresses from one social outing to another, peppered with histronic relatives, town gossips, and "loose fish". In Black Sheep, the basic premise is that the main character, Abigail (Abby) Wendover, "on the shelf" at 28, is concerned for her niece Fanny. She's heard that Fanny, who is only seventeen, has attracted the attentions of a young man, Stacy Calverleigh, who is likely after Fanny's inheritance, nothing more. Abby meets Stacy's uncle Miles, the black sheep of the Calverleigh family, and tries to get him to help her, but while she finds someone she gets along with very well, in Miles she also meets someone completely unaffected by societal rules. If something doesn't make sense to him, he won't do it. For me, this was a book I had to read slowly because I wasn't used to the language - there were several points where I just didn't understand what a character just said because they used some regency phrase that isn't in use today. So I had to read carefully to absorb it and it took me a lot longer to read 20 pages in this book than in other books. In the end the read was worth it - I felt pretty satisfied with the ending. Even though there is an open ended aspect to it, there was enough for me to feel like there was one, both to what was going on with Abby and Miles but also with Fanny and Stacy and other secondary characters. And now here is someone else to read if you have already read all of Jane Austen.
Abby, supposedly on the shelf at 28, is certainly no stereotypical maiden aunt, despite the fact that she has a niece and is unmarried. Having been brought up in a strict family, she finds that propriety irks her; and yet, ironically, she is faced with having to instil a sense of propriety in her impulsive 17-year-old niece.
For Fanny, the niece, has fallen in love with a man everyone - except Fanny and Abby's older sister Selina - can see is no more than a fortune-hunter. But Fanny simply won't listen to reason, and Abby begins to fear that she'll elope with Mr Stacey Calverleigh. But then, a stranger appears on the scene: Mr *Miles* Calverleigh, Stacey's uncle.
Miles Calverleigh is, apparently, the black sheep of the title; having been guilty of too many indiscretions when young - including that of an abortive elopement with the woman who became Fanny's mother! - was sent to the Indies. There, he worked hard and made his fortune, but on his arrival in Bath he does not appear to have lost any of his disregard for convention. He is utterly careless of propriety, and insists that he feels no sense of obligation to family - therefore he refuses to help Abby in any way by warning off his nephew.
Despite his unhelpfulness, and his habit of teasing her outrageously, Abby finds herself drawn to Miles...