Madcap Masquerade by Persephone Roth
The Randwick family is as noble as any but lives in greatly reduced circumstances. When Loel Woodbine, Duke of Marche and heir to three fortunes, makes an offer for Miss Valeria Randwick’s hand, it seems like a godsend, but the young lady has already promised her heart to another—and a commoner, at that.
Desperate to avoid the marriage, Valeria concocts a wild scheme that depends upon the good graces of her monastery-raised brother, Valentine. When the prospective groom sees through the ruse, he surprises Valentine by agreeing to cooperate. But can Marche and Valentine fool London society while dealing with an accusation of murder and the distracting fascination between them?
A Timeless Dreams title: While reaction to same-sex relationships throughout time and across cultures has not always been positive, these stories celebrate M/M love in a manner that may address, minimize, or ignore historical stigma.
I admit I chose this book due to the cover and thought it’d be a sweet historical. Well it is a sweet historical story with no real truth to the timeframe except the utterly dry writing and bland, boring plot. I struggled to get through the first 100 pages and almost gave up several times before committing myself and getting through the book. The prose is wordy, awkward, and uninteresting while the characters are very classic stereotypes with only outside influences to create artificial tension. The book struggles significantly on how to keep the characters interesting while London society has no issues with homosexuals. Although the warning has said these stories specifically don’t deal with realistic historical repercussions, I found the obvious and overt support for their lifestyle to be over the top, even with the warning.
Loel Woodbine is a classic rake who is happy to spend his stipend lazily while whoring his way through the male population. His wealthy, dying aunt decides that Loel must get married to the daughter of an old family friend. Loel agrees easily and without qualm because he knows his aunt controls the money and this will ensure his inheritance while he can continue his sexual escapades on the side. Unfortunately the intended bride loves another and decides to send her identical twin brother, dressed as a woman, in her place. Well given Loel’s persuasion, he’s only too happy to keep the pretty, innocent young man around yet all around the two murder, chaos, and thievery abounds.
Here the characters start as very classic and familiar stereotypes. Loel is the rake who’s never been in love and can’t wait to ravish the innocent, virginal Valentine. Valentine has been raised by monks in the countryside and is completely gulliable and simplistic. Loel predictably falls in love immediately, proclaiming his love within a few chapters as the two immediately set upon deflowering Valentine’s virgin status. Everyone accepts the ruse of Valentine as a woman except one man who is determined to ruin both Loel and Valentine. The characters are staid and predictable from their declarations of love to their overly wordy dialogue. About halfway through the story, the characters take an abrupt change when Valentine starts to have a rapier wit, sharp tongue and clever intelligence that has been completely lacking up to that point. The sheltered young man who can barely speak without blushing is then exchanging bawdy comments, figuring out complicated schemes, and engaging in vigorous and frequent sex. The complete change in character is ridiculous and nothing is offered as the catalyst except sex. A few months of good sex erases 20 years of teaching.
Furthermore the story uses the antics of one villain, known early on in the story, to set up problem after problem for the happy couple. Each problem is presented causing the two to run off here or there with a great deal of sex and action. Then the problem is either ignored or forgotten until the very end with a somewhat ridiculous court scene. This final resolution wraps up all the problems with a predictable bow even as the antics of all involved are over the top. Here again all the consequences of homosexuality at that time are ignored, but that’s expected in the warning. However, I didn’t expect the story to go further and actually have almost everyone support and promote the lifestyle. There is not any question of hiding the relationship or a single disapproving person. Everyone encountered is either a closeted homosexual or understands how deeply the two men are in love and think it’s wonderful they are together. I would have preferred the story to stick to more historical lines and instead of adding a specific consequence, it could have at least kept the relationship somewhat quiet.
Unfortunately for me the biggest problem for the story, not counting poor characterization and a predictable plot, is the actual writing. The dialogue is awkward and overblown, trying very hard to be in a perceived historical style but ultimately delivers a dry, boring narration. The story is punctuated by never ending dialogue tags, which could be forgiven if the actual words were so awkward and unwieldly. The point of view changes arbitrarily from person to person and the prose choices jump from modern to antiquated. Often the sex scenes would be one long paragraph with no breaks until a sentence or two of dialogue and then back to one long paragraph. Here’s an example of a scene with typical purple prose and stilted dialogue:
The passionate syllable spurred Marche to instant action. Holding Valentine open with two fingers, he gripped the base of his arousal and seated it. Valentine kissed Marche and then leaned back, spreading his arms. Anchored by his legs around his lover’s waist, he floated upon the surface looking up at the cloudless sky. The heat of Marche’s cock against his opening was like a brand, and he savored the sensation as it forged ahead. Marche took hold of Valentine’s hips and leaned in, entering in increments, watching intently for cues. Valentine met Marche’s eyes, silently urging him on until he was sheathed.
“Upon my honor,” Marche breathed, “I have never felt the like.”
“Say it again, my love.”
“Would you hear that you are the finest I have ever joined with? I admit it freely.”
“It is only that—” Valentine’s words ended in a gasp as Marche shifted footing. “You have so much more experience than I. I am sure that Tobias Fleet is ever so much better at—”
“I am not in love with Tobias, and that is all the difference in the world, my own.”
Valentine’s eyes sparkled with sudden moisture. “You truly do not mind that I am so… inept?”
Marche smiled. “Quite the contrary. You cannot imagine what it means to me to be the one who instructs you.”
“Are you ready to continue my lessons, or are you content to lecture?”
“If you continue to give me cheek, you will suffer the consequences.”
“And what might those be?” Valentine asked as the strain in his lower half eased.
“Such sauce! When did you grow so bold?”
“When I grew so hard.”
Marche’s smile broadened and he took hold of Valentine’s arousal. “Do you speak of this? I think it will grow harder yet.”
“Impossible.” Valentine gasped again as Marche stroked him.
“That is most marvelous. I can scarcely credit how stimulating it is to be doing this in the chill of the river.”
“Nor I. The sensation of your warmth around my cock is like to make me spurt untimely.”
“Do I truly rouse you so much?”
“You are greedy for compliments today.” Marche paused. “Nay, do not frown or turn your face away. I was jesting, and I am heartily sorry that I do not compliment you often enough.”
“It is not that I wish for praise…. That is a lie. I do crave it, but only from your lips.”
“I have caught you in a lie! I did not know you were capable of it.
This day will live in my memories forever.”
“Foolish man.” Valentine smiled. “And once again you have soothed my baseless fears and brought me gently back to a good humor.”
Marche squeezed Valentine’s hard length and began shuttling his hand up and down. “And this? What does this do for your humor?”
“I feel as light as a cloud. My heart is buoyant as chaff borne on a mill race.”
“Naught more?” Marche shifted balance again, easing his shaft in and out.
Since the villain is told early, the story is really about the two men as they have sex and navigate the problems the villain sets for them. There is no tension about their relationship or what will happen, merely how they will find the time to chase said villain between bouts of sex. The character of Valentine is more entertaining once he’s started talking back and trading quips with Loel, but too often the story then throws yet another ridiculous, easily solved problem to give them something else to do. Valentine’s maturation and growth from a cloistered innocent man to a worldly, sophisticated man would have been much more interesting and compelling, even with such a common theme. The instant love between the men took away any potential conflict between them and thus relied on the one evil person to orchestrate the action in the book. Considering the villain is very flat without much to add complexity to the character, this ultimately ruined the story.
Although I didn’t find much redeeming about this offering if you found the above scene to be interesting and delightful, this book could be to your liking. The characters are familiar and the action common for a regency-type romance so perhaps those who are like easy, breezy historical romances may find this book more fun than I did. Unfortunately I wouldn’t recommend this book, even with its beautiful cover.
For those that may want to get it anyway, get it HERE!