Sunday, December 15, 2019

Review - Moonlight Masquerade

Original Title: Moonlight Masquerade
Series: London Encounters, #1
Author: Ruth Axtell
Published: March 1st, 2013

Publisher: Revell

This book, definitely, has one of the most attractive covers in Regency fiction I’ve ever seen (besides the fact that the dress’s hem reminds me of a carpet’s fringes). As for the story, well… It was going great. Really great. And then the last couple of chapters left me frowning, thinking “this was going so well, what happened?”, and “this could have been so much better”. Don’t get me wrong, though. It’s not a bad book, and, actually, it’s better than many other historical novels I’ve read. But I didn’t fully like it, and you’ll see why.

One of the first things I noticed is how well done the balance between showing and telling is. After so many books in which everything is told and there’s no real, deep connection to the characters, in this story, we get to know Céline and Rees through their actions and thoughts, as the plot progresses. They are both fully human, with feelings, and reactions, and overall, particular traits, in contrast with other two-dimensional characters I’ve read, by other authors. Ruth Axtell really knows what she’s doing there. The writing is raw and intense. I especially liked how Céline didn’t forget to treat her servants as people, always addressing them by their first name, asking them how they were faring, and overall, showing them utter respect. And that’s something Rees notices, having expected to find the soulless traitor to England he was sent to investigate. It’s well done.

So, I liked both Rees and Céline, overall. But when the book starts, they have already met and he’s already working in her household as a butler. And I wish I had been there when they first met. I want that first encounter, that first impression of one another… It would have been great. And although he knows he’s there to spy on her and unmask her loyalty to the French, he feels attracted to her right from the start:

She smiled in reply—a devastating smile that always left Rees weak in the knees.

Really? Already? I mean, I get that the author tried to take this to the forbidden romance terrain, but this happens way too fast. From his first days working on Lady Wexham’s townhouse, he already feels attracted to her laughter, her smile… and he doesn’t even know the woman! And the same happens for Céline. She feels intrigued by him, and it says:

But this—what was this sudden longing she felt whenever her eyes met MacKinnon’s, to be caught up in his embrace? A butler, or a spy? She must be mad.

As I said, too soon, and out of nowhere.

But leaving that aside, Céline is a great character. She’s smart and resourceful, and can stand on her own, she’s no damsel in distress, and was able to pick up on Rees’s real intentions soon enough. I loved how she was able to outsmart him, and laid a trap for him to meet her contact, Roland, without being bothered. I like that she does this because there’s many people to think about, like Valentine, her maid, and Gaspard, her cook, who are both French and are in danger because of the war. She’s not selfish, and she’s ready to do what she has too. She’s brave, in despite of the horrible life she had, under her mother’s pressure, and then, married very young to the first man who would have her, because of her lack of fortune. Her past is told quite well, and right in the moment we need to know it. It didn’t feel forced at all, and it’s very well sewn together to the rest of the story.

As for Rees, I liked that he didn’t turn into a lovesick idiot, in despite of not wanting to get Lady Wexham harmed during his mission. He may have fallen into her traps to distract him, but that doesn’t make him a moron. He is able to tell when she’s lying to him, and when she tells him she will be leaving London, he immediately picks up on her. He doesn’t buy her stories and connects the dots, knowing right away she’s going to France. But it was really great when she left that supposed coded message on the cook’s room, and when he managed to crack it, it was an apology from her. A really great way to tell him “I know you are not who you say you are. And I’ve known all this time.”. Really well done.

Oh, my God, the masquerade scene! I have to talk about it. It is amazing, I loved it. It’s what I mean when I talk about showing instead of telling. I could see everything mixed up with the action, instead of having every costume explained to me, and I ended up so invested in the story, with a smile on my face, imagining everything they were going through, with the colours, and the music… Fascinating. Their first dance, wearing masks, both knowing who they were dancing with, but believing the other didn’t… And their first kiss! Oh, dear, that was one swoon worthy moment, it had everything I like in a first kiss. The whole thing was amazing, and really well written.

But after that, there were some a lot of moments like this:

When had his objective gone from uncovering her clandestine activities to protecting her from her enemies?

There were so many questions like this! All of them translated in “why should I care?”, to let us know that they are falling in love. It’s a little too obvious, although not as much as I’ve seen in other books. Also, there were many times of them yelling No! to themselves, every time they thought about each other, and that got a little repetitive. But aside from those aspects, it was good that this two people had time to get to know one another (especially during his recovery after being shot), and have meaningful conversations, that could justify their feelings.

But after that, things by the end of the book became close to a history lesson. After Céline leaves England, and later she and Rees are reunited in Paris, they kept talking about political decisions, the war, Napoleon, monarchy… Their romance had too much of that. Instead of talking about themselves (they had reasons to clarify things between them, after all), they kept talking and talking about the war, and the king, and Austria and Russia, and so many other things that just tired me so much! Their love is constantly tinged with political aspects, it’s never just feelings and sentiment. He even calls her “my dear, sweet republican” *eye-roll* Really? There’s no other thing to call her? How romantic of you, Rees.

Honestly, after such an intense and romantic first kiss, I was expecting more of them together at the end. The epilogue was so strange, because, although it was supposed to wrap up the ending, it didn’t. It was just the continuation of what the previous chapter left in suspense, that was Rees asking Céline to go with him abroad, and marry him. It wasn’t enough for me. And even more, after all that talk about her thinking she was barren, and was not willing to tie Rees in a marriage in which they wouldn’t have children, I thought the epilogue would show them with a family of their own. I was left wanting to read about their happiness together!

As for the rest of the characters, my favourite was Valentine, Lady Wexham’s maid. She’s outspoken and has a strong temper, but also, she’s Céline voice of reason. She’s direct and bold, and I liked her general attitude, and how she took care of her mistress with such deference. The only thing I wish the book had was some footnote translating her French expressions, but overall, it’s well done, it shows how they are not completely adapted to life in England.

Something I wanted to quote from the book is this:

He had spent hours sitting on the banks of the creek, walking or riding the fields and forest, his thoughts going around and around, praying for direction, and all he felt was he must wait. […] Wait and see things through, even when he saw nothing good ahead.

It was the most relatable quote in the book. I think most of us can think of a situation in which we have felt like this. The need to do or have something, not knowing where to go next… Yes, we’ve been there. And it’s frustrating, but it always has a purpose, in God’s plan.

And finally, a word on Céline’s activities, and the robbery scene. As soon as she burned the original papers belonging to de la Roche, she packed up to go back to London, and honestly, that had me rolling my eyes. If she didn’t want the move to be obvious, she shouldn’t have departed so soon, and so suddenly. She could have waited a day or two to avoid looking guilty. And then, during the robbery in which Rees gets shot, they all suspect that they were sent from Hartwell after de la Roche noticed his papers missing, but there’s never an actual clarification that it was what actually happened. As for de la Roche himself, the villain, it definitely could have been better written. I was left wanting some more intrigue and deception, more mystery and plot twists… More of everything.

So, in short, this book was good enough, but it lacked in many aspects. I will read the next one, that’s for sure, I just hope it’s good. This one wasn’t bad, but it could have been better.


Post a Comment