7 Oct 2015

New for 2015- A Noble Masquerade- Kristi-Ann Hunter

 8th September 2015, Bethany House 
365 Pages

Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Entering her fourth Season and approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother's old school friend, a duke--with no intention of ever sending these private thoughts to a man she's heard stories about but never met.
Meanwhile, she also finds herself intrigued by Marcus, her brother's new valet, and although she may wish to break free of the strictures that bind her, falling in love with a servant is more of a rebellion than she planned.

When Marcus accidentally discovers and mails one of the letters to her unwitting confidant, Miranda is beyond mortified. And even more shocked when the duke returns her note with one of his own that initiates a courtship-by-mail. Insecurity about her lack of suitors shifts into confusion at her growing feelings for two men--one she's never met but whose words deeply resonate with her heart, and one she has come to depend on but whose behavior is more and more suspicious. When it becomes apparent state secrets are at risk and Marcus is right in the thick of the conflict, one thing is certain: Miranda's heart is far from all that's at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love.

 I described the prequel novella to this book, A Lady of Esteem as a good, light-hearted, fun read, and it was. As its big sister, A Noble Masquerade had many of the same admirable traits – a socially awkward and often unconventional heroine, with a big heart and a sense of adventure. Some- colourful family members as a supporting cast, and plenty of mishaps, and social customs of the ton that (admit it) most of us have come to love in Regency tales, as well as a sprinkling of romance, and intrigue with the espionage sub-plot.

So on the plus-side it was an enjoyable, well-written novel. Light yet immersive, fun and (generally) clean. Yet- I didn’t enjoy it as much as the accompanying novella, and had a couple of major issues. I suppose the first of these could be described as something of an identity crisis in the plot, style and execution. The book, I think was meant to be light and fun (almost the point of regency spoof, I felt at times) but at the same time had some serious content with the espionage, scheming relatives, and possible seditious plot in the background.

To me, these just did not always seem to mix very well, that it was hard to take one seriously alongside the other. I mean, Ryland was meant to be an experienced spy of many years- he’s not really meant to have been getting his head turned by pretty girls, or walking into traps. So I suppose I would say that some incidents and details seemed to be lacking in plausibility or credibility, and were perhaps resolved too quickly? Perhaps this situation was exacerbated by my finding things a bit hard to follow at times (I mean what did the relatives have to do with someone possibly feeding secrets to Napoleon- or were these two different situations altogether). Am I just being dense? Or perhaps this is a consequence of fast reading over several days.

Putting this aside though- the language really was an annoyance. The odd Americanism in Regencies like this can be overlooked- but in this the characters speech and thoughts were literally crammed full of Americanisms and modern terms and phrases- as if no attempt had really been made to make this authentic for the period at all. Call me nit-picking, but British Aristocrats people in 1812 were not going to be using the word ‘Okay’ which originated as slang in New York/Boston nearly 30 years later. To me, such things damage the credibility of the setting, making it resemble some Regency Drama made by PBS with an exclusively American cast, trying, but not always succeeding, to sound ‘British’.

Elsewhere, whilst It was great to see Miranda, eclipsed by her prettier younger sister getting some happiness, and coming into her own in the course of the book, and sometimes her unconventionality was quite endearing- at the end, some of her conduct could only be described as- really inappropriate. Okay, so kissing happens, it’s a Romance after all- and I have no issue with that.
Nor could she help the situation she was in- but for a Lady of refined manners and breeding, to be sitting on a man’s lap- whilst they ate. And the man in question was a Gentleman- also raised to refinement and good manners. Readers can call me a prude all they want- but by the standards of the time, such behaviour could only be called lewd, totally unnecessary- and perhaps quite out of character.

Altogether, A Noble Masquerade was worth reading, and I would certainly consider more by this author- but I think I still prefer other Regency writers. Perhaps this story was just a little too ambitious, with too many separate elements thrown it that were not always women together seamlessly.

I received an electronic version of this book free from Bethany House via Netgalley for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own

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