A Noble Masquerade, by Kristi Ann Hunter
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.]
I don’t often read romance novels, but when I do I make sure they are witty and clever historical romances , like this Regency romance from Georgia author Kristi Ann Hunter. This novel has a lot of strong elements that make for a good Regency romance novel. There are sisters fighting over male attention, one of whom is approaching spinsterhood and hides her deeply passionate nature underneath a reserve of shyness and awkwardness but pours her heart out into letters that, when accidentally sent, cause extreme awkwardness, while the young sister is catty and flirtatious and enjoys using her beauty as a form of tormenting gentlemen. There is a secret romance between a widow and her brother-in-law, and a case where a woman, who is a sister to a Duke, thinks she is falling in love for her brother’s valet, which would be highly inappropriate, only to find out that he is a Duke but also a spy who has been working for the government in order to break a pro-French spy ring during the Napoleonic War. There is fighting, there are smelling salts, there are witty conversations over dances and in horse-drawn buggies, and there is a wink and a nod to Jane Austen’s work herself.
Those who like Regency romance novels will find much to enjoy here. There is romance, a compelling historical context with the Napoleonic Wars and the general morally dissolute nature of the aristocracy of the time, and the usual gender politics about what was ladylike and not ladylike to do, and the class divide between masters and servants, with all the proprieties and ironies that resulted from those social barriers. As this book is written by a contemporary lady, writing an openly avowed Christian romance no less, a great deal of work is spent in subverting certain proprieties while maintaining the overall decency of both the male and female romantic leads. There is a lot of fretting here about God’s plans, and about trying to resign oneself to solitude while being positively desperate for genuine love and affection. A lot of people, male and female, can relate to that. A contemporary author, seeking to create a spunky and worthy heroine, is often not willing to allow her to be subject to the immense restrictive protocols that existed for courtship, and yet if such an author seeks to present her character as virtuous and noble both in character as well as in class, this requires immensely convoluted plots, such as this excellent novel possesses, and which I will endeavor not to spoil for those who want to read it. This is true for the lead romantic male of this novel as well, who is appealing to his future partner first as the loyal but unknown friend of her beloved older brother, and then in his disguise, and finally under his own complex but decent face.
A novel like this should be enjoyed on its own terms. While Jane Austen wrote about her own environment, about the places she knew best and the sort of people that were in her family and in her painfully small social set, and wrote about them with considerable wit but also a great deal of sadness, given that she never married but wrote optimistic but realistic romances with heroines not unlike herself, an awfully sad fate for such a deserving lady, contemporary authors of Regency romances do not write with the same personal stakes. Rather, this novel is an example of historical fantasy, written with a great deal of our own contemporary worldview (particularly as it relates to women) coloring the way that the past is portrayed. One of the joys of reading a good novel like this one, though, especially given the context in which it is set, is the opportunity to read good letters, even if they cause great personal awkwardness. At least on a couple of occasions in life I have wanted to write a letter like this, not that it would do any good: “Your Grace, I am deeply ashamed at the letter you received. I cannot imagine what you must be thinking. Please know that it was never meant to be posted, and I hope that, should our paths ever cross in the future, you will be able to forget this ever happened. It is a silly childhood habit I have of spilling my thoughts to people I do not know. I find it much more cathartic than the mere keeping of a journal. It was a simple misunderstanding that caused this rambling to wind up in the post. My deepest apologies. Yrs, Lady Miranda.” Such characters in novels like this are not so different from us, after all.
 See, for example: