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As a lifelong fan of Georgette Heyer, I have a complete set of her historical novels which I dip into from time to time. Many of her books are "comfort reads" for me and The Masqueraders is one that I read often because it's such an enjoyable story. It isn't great literature but it weaves a convoluted tale of danger and Jacobites and high adventure in Georgian England and to top it all, it's a bit of a gender bender too!
Georgette Heyer was a published writer from the age of nineteen until her death in 1974 and in the thirty five years since her death, her popularity has never waned, which is surely a testament to the quality of her writing. This particular book was first published in 1928 but the story and writing is as fresh and entertaining now as it was then.
All their lives, Robin and Prudence Merriot have been masqueraders in one guise or another, and always dancing to their father's tune. These are troubled times, politically, and Robin and Prudence suspect their father may be a Jacobite sympathiser, a very dangerous thing to be.
Now the pair are in England, at their father's behest, and are once again in disguise when they come across Miss Letitia Grayson, a damsel in distress. After rescuing the maiden and making the acquaintance of a Grayson family friend, Robin and Prudence resume their journey to London where an even bigger surprise, involving their father, awaits them. But, as always, things are not quite what they seem!
Price and availability:
A paperback edition of this book, from the latest Arrow series featuring beautiful cover illustrations, is available new from Amazon for £4.99. However, there are several used copies of earlier editions available from 1p.
If asked, I'd be hard pressed to choose one favourite book by Georgette Heyer but this one would certainly be a contender. It has everything a good historical romance should have: an excellent plot, great characters, a great sense of time and place and, of course, a satisfying love story.
This book is set in the Georgian era around the time of the second Jacobite Rebellion, a time of great political intrigue and also a time when the men wore clothes every bit as glamorous as the women. This is a time of silks and lace and damask, all worn with elegance and panache.
The story begins on an adventurous note. Kate and Peter Merriot are travelling to London and whilst staying at a coaching inn, they come across Letty Grayson. Letty had been on her way to Gretna Green but has changed her mind when she discovers that the man with whom she's eloping is only after her money. Once rescued, Letty, Kate and Peter are soon joined by Sir Anthony Fanshawe, a family friend whom Letty had mistakenly thought she was going to be forced to marry.
It isn't until the third chapter that the first secret of this story is revealed. Peter and Kate Merriot are in fact Prudence and Robin but Prudence is masquerading as Peter and Robin, very convincingly, as Kate!
Once in London the pair continue their masquerade and Peter/Prudence, as a young man new in town, is taken under the wing of Sir Anthony, who is unaware that he is taking a woman of breeding to places from where females are usually completely excluded.
Kate/Robin, in the meantime, has renewed his acquaintance with Letty and in order to further this acquaintance with her in a more masculine role, has taken on another disguise, that of l'Inconnu, the unknown, in a black domino (cloak) and mask. L'Inconnu always seems to be there whenever Letty is in trouble, a frequent occurrence as her spurned suitor, with whom she'd originally eloped is determined to ruin her. Of course, once each meeting with her unknown rescuer is over, she confides in her dear friend, Miss Merriot, so Robin is well aware of how his romance is progressing!
As you can see, if you've followed that rather garbled explanation, the plot of this story is fairly convoluted, and gets even more so once Prudence and Peter's father appears on the scene. They find, to their astonishment, that he is claiming to be the rightful heir to the title of Lord Barham. After a lifetime of wandering throughout Europe, it seems they may be able to put down roots at last in England, but only if their father can substantiate his claim.
Now for the romances because in this book there are two. Robin has fallen for Letty and is pursuing her in disguise. This is a sweet love story but is definitely secondary to Prudence's relationship with Sir Anthony Fanshawe.
Despite still maintaining her role as the young man about town, Prudence finds herself falling for Sir Anthony, a man whose deceptively sleepy and calm attitude hides a razor sharp mind and before long he penetrates her disguise.
Prudence has spent her entire life following the whims of her father and yearns for security and a place to put down roots and Tony offers all that and more besides, but she is fiercely loyal to her parent and her brother and though she wants with all her heart to trust her secrets to Tony, she can't.
Tony is described as a very tall man with sleepy eyes and a bored demeanour and many people mistakenly think he's not paying attention when, in fact, there's a very alert mind behind the calm exterior. He's the rock to which Prudence so desperately wants to cling.
Both these characters are very well drawn and likeable, especially Prudence who, as a woman masquerading in men's clothing, is very vulnerable. Indeed, at one stage she's set upon late at night in the street and has to defend herself with her sword.
Georgette Heyer has written the characters so well that none of the events which befall them seem beyond belief. Even the fact that Robin is dressed like a woman is believable. He's described as of slight build and fair haired, and although I have my doubts that a red blooded male would willingly dress up as a woman either then or now, the reasons given are very plausible.
Although the dialogue in this particular book lacks some of the quick wit seen in other Heyer historical romances, this is more than made up for by the swashbuckling action. That, coupled with the double romance, the 'Is he or isn't he?' dilemma over Lord Barham's claim to the title and the sense of an England full of danger and mistrust, makes for a thoroughly entertaining read.
I must have read this book at least five or six times now and I daresay when next I have a reading lull, I'll be pulling this one off the shelf yet again.