Friday, October 22, 2010
Masquerade is the new historical fiction release from Christy Award winning author Nancy Moser.
It is 1886 and Charlotte Gleason has it all, has had it all for the first 19 years of her life in Wiltshire, England. But when her birthday party comes and she stands waiting and waiting in her finest for her friends and acquaintances, as well her potential fiance Ralph, and no one arrives except one rather haughty "friend" that leaves promptly - her life changes. She realizes that her aloofness has caught up with her, and the reality is that her family's standing in the community is in jeopardy. The laying off of half the Dornby Manor's staff had barely reached her notice, but now she sees it as stark evidence that the Gleason finances are in disarray.
Her parents send her off to America with a mission: marry the besotted, extremely wealthy heir that she only ever, with disdain, corresponded with through letters and has never met. But this does not meet Charlotte's standards of fairy-tale, novel romance that she has always embraced and longed for... she wants adventure, not a stuffy fiance. So, she begins to formulate a plan.
Dora has been a maid at Dornby Manor since she was thirteen years old and has, over the years, become as close of a friend to Charlotte as a servant can be. When circumstances arise that call for Dora to be Charlotte's companion on the trip to America, she leaves behind the life she thought she would have... though she's not so sure she minds. When Charlotte proposes that Dora take her place as Miss Gleason when they arrive in New York, Dora doesn't know what to think. How can she keep up a charade like that? Will she not be found out and humiliated? But the thought of being a lady, attending balls, and wearing beautiful gowns is too tempting to turn down.
But neither of them is fully aware where this masquerade will take them - because every masquerade must come to an end, and eventually everyone must remove their masks...
The premise really grabbed my attention - an interesting mix of The Prince and the Pauper, Titanic, and other fun influences (the author admitted as much). And almost immediately I was transported to 1886 England and felt a true sense of who Lottie (Charlotte) and Dora were. The ability to introduce me to these characters so quickly was incredible.
Masquerade lays out a plot rife with troubles, deceit, and rich, luxurious historical atmosphere that left me completely enamored by the end of the first chapter. The period feel is extremely lush and fun - I soaked it up happily.
Nancy Moser doesn't shy away from Lottie's lesser characteristics, such as childishness and jealousy. This only helps to make the characters more real and relatable. I tended to like Dora a tad more than Lottie most of the time, but both of them were written very well.
There's is something undeniably page-turning about switching identities, balls, gowns, fancy dining rooms, polite conversations, and taking a walk about the deck of a ship. Yet what is most surprising is that Nancy Moser manages to make this all feel realistic - as if it all could truly happen. And, hey, why couldn't it? It's 1886!
Masquerade takes a twist from the buttery glimpse of privilege to that of the degradation of poverty, and allows the plot to turn into turmoil and nail-biting suspense. The contrast of situations is fascinating and makes for great reading. Plus, I honestly felt like I, too, was keeping their secret, which was nerve-wracking.
Neither class represented is glorified, nor demonized - but examined through the eyes of these two characters that see it through the eyes of the other half's lifestyle. Moser's excellent skill is displayed as the pages keep flying and I found myself drenched in sumptuous, gorgeous detail without using paragraphs of adjectives. She aptly portrays the suffocation of an unhappy life - though later on I felt there was a bit more social commentary than necessary.
To sum it up, Masquerade is a wholly entertaining, if sometimes a bit dour in my opinion, satisfying read that is a must for any Christian reader, easily accessible to any YA reader that enjoys historical fiction, and pretty much any bibliophile that loves to read great books and give different genres a shot!
*I received a copy of Masquerade from the Bethany House Book Reviewers program, which you can check out here. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.