When Loel Woodbine, Duke of Marche, receives news that his great aunt has engaged him to a young lady he has never met, he’s a little nonplussed. His lifestyle doesn’t exactly lead itself to entertaining the fair sex; in fact, he prefers to devote his attentions to men rather than women. However, Marche owes his livelihood to his wealthy aunt—indeed, he loves the old dragon – and he knows that he must fulfill his duty and marry Miss Valeria Randwick.
Marche never expects to be completely bowled over by his young bride when he meets her at their wedding ceremony, but she is the most beautiful, untouched creature he has ever seen. Given his preference for men, he is extremely surprised by his intense reaction to her. That is, until he finds out that his new wife is actually Valentine Randwick, Earl of Blythestone, who is disguised as his sister in order to distract attention from her elopement with a commoner.
Having been raised among monks, Valentine is innocent in the ways of the world. He knows that his reaction to the man he calls husband is unnatural, but he can’t deny the intense responses of his heart and his body to the man. Valentine doesn’t exactly enjoy the dresses and the corsets, but if Marche wants to continue the charade, he is willing. Before the two men can settle down into their own version of wedded bliss, however, Marche’s aunt is murdered, and blame is pointed at none other than Marche’s lovely new bride.
Review by Leslie H. Nicoll
I have a feeling that Madcap Masquerade is book that people will either love or hate. For me, my opinion doesn’t go all the way to love, but I enjoyed it and found myself re-reading big chunks of it prior to writing this review, which is always a personal subconscious sign that I liked a book quite a bit.
Now, let’s get some details out of the way. This is a Dreamspinner “Timeless Dreams” title that comes with the disclaimer that, “…these stories celebrate M/M love in a manner that may address, minimize, or ignore historical stigma.” So, historical fiction purists be warned: this book may not be your cup of tea. But if you can get past that issue or don’t really care, you might enjoy this book as much as I did.
I will admit, I started reading this as a “straight” (well, gay) historical. At about the one-third point I thought things were getting a little preposterous and I was feeling annoyed, but I kept going. Then, I looked at the cover: Madcap Masquerade. Aha, I thought—maybe the author’s intention was to have this be a madcap romantic comedy. So I adjusted my thinking and kept on reading. As a “madcap” story it worked better, but this is probably the biggest weakness of the book. I think it is tough to be really funny with themes of murder, embezzlement, and betrayal. Certainly the author kept a light touch but it makes it hard for the story to be completely “over-the-top” which is what it needed to be to truly succeed as a comedy. On the other hand, if you read it as a mostly light-hearted romp and don’t dwell on the serious stuff, it mostly works.
What I liked the best was the interaction between Valentine and Loel and fortunately, they get a lot of page time which went a long way to keeping me interested in the story. They meet for the first time at their wedding, where Valentine is disguised as his sister Valeria. When Loel kisses his bride at the ceremony, she swoons. He takes her into the vestry, locks the door, loosens her corset and realizes that she is really a he. He’s a little surprised at this turn of events but not totally unhappy as he likes what he sees in Valentine, with his long dark hair, coltish frame, and violet eyes.
Valentine, for his part, is totally surprised at his reaction to Loel’s kiss (he had an erection) and Loel’s frank admission that he prefers men over women. But he’s no dummy and he realizes he needs to continue the charade for at least a little while until Valeria is safely married to the man she really loves. Once that happens, Valentine can sort out what he will do with his life and next steps.
Loel decides he wants to get Valentine into his bed but then surprises himself by starting to fall for the young man before the seduction occurs. Valentine also realizes he is developing very strong feelings, very quickly, for the man he is married to. Instead of ignoring each other or their emotions (and having some sort of blasted miscommunication; none of that here, thank God), they talk; Loel tells Valentine he’ll teach him about physical intimacy and “the ways of the flesh” while Valentine, in turn, will teach his husband and ultimate lover what it truly means to love someone. This was the strongest theme of the book and one that I felt was carried through very consistently and made the book work for me. Val and Loel are a good pair and as they get to know each other better and fall deeper in love they ratchet up the banter and witty dialog as well as the heat of their sexual encounters. Like I said, when they were on the page, I devoured every word; when they were absent, I tended to read a little faster.
The writing is colorful. Some may say too colorful to the point of being purple, but it didn’t bother me. I enjoyed the elaborate descriptions of clothing, food, and interior decorations. Granted, during some of the sex scenes there were velvet sheaths and throbbing rods which I know are an instant turn-off for many readers but for me, it worked as part of the overall florid narrative.
All in all, I liked this book and would recommend it with the caveat that it is probably not for everyone. I would suggest reading an excerpt—there is a lengthy one at the Dreamspinner site to give you a feel for the author’s writing style. It appears that this is Persephone Roth’s first book and as a debut, I think it succeeds although as noted above, it’s not perfect. Even so, I look forward to more stories from her in the future. And as a final note, I love the beautiful Anne Cain cover, even though in my mind, I pictured Loel (he’s the blond) as a slightly larger and perhaps more mature man. But that’s a really minor quibble!
Disclaimer: Erastes sent me this book as a PDF for review but I ended up buying the Kindle version for myself (nicer formatting) since I enjoyed it so much and wanted to have a permanent copy in my archive.