Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-058787-3
Historical Romance, 2004
Anne Mallory’s Masquerading the Marquess is her debut Regency-era historical romance. Unfortunately, not only does it read like a debut novel, it also comes off like the work of a reader who has tried so hard to study the formula in order to get published, that she sometimes forget to check whether the clichés she is happily putting into her story should really be there in the first place.
The heroine, Calliope Minton, for example, is a heroine that is supposed to be One of Those Who Matters – someone with determination to change the stifling ways of the Ton, or so the author tells me, and someone who is good at art and uses her talent to become a caricaturist that makes important statements about society. But the author also wants Callie to be cute and precious, stamping her foot and mouthing off to people only to regret later when she realizes that it’s her foot that is making her gag, to the point that I find myself wondering where Callie’s maturity or even passion for art is. Callie is one of those magical heroines who can somehow claim intelligence, passion, and the ability to be different from the other insipid ladies of the Ton while at the same time acting like a silly little girl. She is a companion to a lady (which makes her ability to mouth off at sundry even more perplexing – where is her discretion, anyway?) while at the same time being an orphan that was raised by a family of motley stage folks (her sole, flimsy reason to hold on to the la vie boheme membership card, I guess).
James Trenton, Marquess of Angelford, is also a spy who thinks that most ladies of the Ton are frivolous and silly. I’m sure I’ve come across heroes like him somewhere before. He finds himself attracted to the silly Callie who acts like a sassy twit in his company. I suspect that the “frivolous” ladies of the Ton must have stumped him with the quality of their erudite conversation, which explains his attraction to someone who is more equal to him, intellect-wise. Because Callie is a caricaturist (or maybe because Ms Mallory has read too many Amanda Quick books and wants to be Ms Quick when she grows up), she spends a lot of time running about in disguises that are designed to bring her the most trouble (courtesans, mistresses, the usual), James finds himself working overtime to protect her. At the same time, he wants to ferret out this annoying caricaturist that pokes fun at him (Callie, the mature sociologist, isn’t above making things personal in her line of work). When Callie’s pretend-protector goes missing, James and she will have to do some sleuthing to find poor Stephen. To my bemusement, it turns out that Stephen didn’t run away from his silly binty Callie to some more pleasant company like I suspected.
I don’t know if the editor or the author is to be fingered out for this, but the quality of the writing in this book is such that the book feels like an unpolished work of an inexperienced writer. Transitions from scene to scene are disjointed and abrupt. The book is also filled with clichéd moments from our clichéd characters, right down to the villain takes pages after pages to explain the nefarious plot to the main characters in the final showdown. The suspense is uninteresting because it is handled clumsily by the author with little build-up and abrupt denouement. The end result is a book that tries very hard but very clumsily to imitate better Regency-era historical romances out there. I do like one thing about this book though – the author manages to get her characters to fall in love in a credible manner by handling the clichéd “too good for me/not worthy of you” conflicts in a rather intelligent manner. The characters talk about their issues when the time comes and hence their romance feels credible. James’s grand gesture of love to Callie is simple but very nicely done and that scene is just romantic.
A clichéd book with clichéd debut author problems, this book appropriately is best described using a cliché: this is not the greatest book I’ve read but the author shows promise.