by Kylie Fornasier
Published by Penguin
Genres: Historical, Romance, Young Adult
It's the Carnevale of 1750 and Venice's ballrooms, theatres, palazzos and squares are filled with delicious gossip, devilish fun and dangerous games. In this glittering masked world, everyone has a secret... Set in an age of decadence made famous by Casanova, Masquerade uncovers the secrets of seven teens, from the highest aristocrat to the lowest servant – their dreams, desires, loves, loyalties ... and betrayals. All the world's a stage. Let the show begin.
Orelia is a newly-orphaned mountain girl arriving in Venice for the first time. She is taken in by her long-lost uncle – but only on the condition that she masquerades as his god-daughter from Rome. What is the secret of her mother’s past?
As Orelia navigates her new urban environment, Orelia starts to learn that everyone else has a secret too. Her cousin, Veronica, paints her horrid suitors’ secrets as blackmail to have them withdraw their suits. Her other cousin, Angelique, is determined to land Bastian, who is destined to be Doge – and will go to illegal lengths to do so. Orelia’s lady’s maid, Anna, who sings when no-one is listening, is hiding her bedridden sister upstairs – along with a mysterious bundle of old letters. Wealthy Claudia is secretly in love with a gondolier, while her mother pushes her towards Bastian, the Doge’s son. Bastian is courting Orelia (first on a bet, then in earnest), while getting up to hijinks with his friend Marco. And others scheme behind the scenes…
Masquerade is a romp through masked balls, the opera, the canals, machinations, subterfuge, and schemes gone wrong. Through the middle there is quite the feel of a Shakespearean comedy, which is a lot of fun. Fornasier has clearly researched the period, though I’m not historian enough to evaluate the accuracy. From time to time a paragraph feels a little like “my research; let me show you it!’, but on the whole it’s not too obtrusive, and the little details add a lot of flavour to the story.
There’s a “but” coming. And that’s the “but” I so often raise in books with romantic storylines: heroes who are arseholes. With a little SPOILER note, here is a quote:
Bastian stepped forward and pressed his palms against the wall on either side of her shoulders. ‘You know what, bella? I think you’re afraid of your feelings for me.’
‘I certainly am not. You just cannot accept that I have no feelings for you.’ Her voice wavered, but she squared her shoulders and tried to hold his gaze.
‘Prove it. Kiss me.’
‘You’re crazy.’ Orelia tried to wriggle out from between his arms, but there was no escape, or maybe she just didn’t try hard enough.
‘If afterwards you have no feelings for me, I’ll promise never to bother you again.’
This is a douche move. Don’t do this, dudes! And if you do, don’t expect the woman to ever want be alone with you again. If you don’t respect women’s boundaries, if you use physical force to violate those boundaries, you are an assault perp and a potential rapist, not a swoony hero. Bastian pulls some other stuff that he apologises for, but he never apologises for physically restraining Orelia to force her into a kiss. Ugh ugh ugh. Can we leave the bodice-ripping in the past, please?
I also have a touch of side-eye at the disability storyline with Anna’s sister, as I’m not sure what it was trying to say or achieve, and it seemed near the end to be veering a bit into saying that all you need in order to snap out of severe mental or fatiguing illness is a bit of hard work. I feel as though this poorly-fleshed-out storyline could have been cut out of the book without losing anything.
Apart from that? I really liked Masquerade. It’s definitely an ambitious book, with its multiple characters and interlocking plots, and I think that it largely achieves its goals.