What a wonderful romance and a great debut! Anne Malloryís Masquerading the Marquess is a combination of comedy and intrigue, taking place in early 1800s England and centering on a woman who leads a double life. Calliope Minton is a caricaturist, creating drawings that poke fun of the ton, the wealthy well-to-do.
Calliope herself is unknown to the general public, and in the opening chapter she is introduced as the companion to Lady Simpson, disguised as the meek and slightly handicapped Miss Margaret Stafford. When Calliope runs out of material for her caricatures, she finds plenty of inspiration for her drawings while infiltrating the balls and parties of the ton. Those who follow the drawings know the artist of these witty and often harshly mocking caricatures as Thomas Landes, a man that no one has ever placed eyes on. Only Calliopeís mentor Robert Cruikshank knows the truth behind the drawings. Because of her pseudonym, Calliope is able to enjoy her notoriety in peace as she circulates among the ton as a very unassuming and boring woman.
While at a party held by Lady Kilroy, Calliope is busy watching the partygoers, hoping to find some good material for her next caricature. Lady Simpson and Lady Kilroy, who are walking ahead of Calliope, begin whispering among themselves, gossiping about the Marquess of Angelford, a highly eligible bachelor who had been a constant fixture of the social scene that season. The two are quite pleased to find him in attendance.
It is no secret to the reader that Calliope despises the ton, and her revenge against them are her caricatures. She attacks her latest victims using her drawings, and her latest focus has been James Trenton, the Marquess of Angelford. It hadnít been difficult to get good material that involved him, since he was often found at all the parties she had attended the past few years when she started her secret career as a caricaturist. Unfortunately, after an altercation with the Marquess this evening, she finds herself fired by Lady Simpson and in need of another disguise in order to gain access to the balls of the ton..
With help from Robert and his distant cousin Steven, Calliopeís new disguise is that of a courtesan. Steven agrees to pretend to be her lover, which allows Calliope again to enter high society without a blink of an eye. Her new name, to her dismay: Esmeralda. Steven canít wait for the games to begin!
Itís with great excitement that Calliope dresses the part of the courtesan Esmeralda. Unfortunately, she has no idea until it is too late that James Trenton and Steven are good friends, and that HE was the James who would be attending the opera house with them with his lady friend Stella that evening. James immediately recognizes Calliope but is now unsure as to what her true identity is. He has no idea of her real name but assumes it is Margaret Stafford. Calliope continues to play the game, now acting the part of the courtesan and doing a good job of it, too. The two find themselves attracted to each other, but Calliope is confused with how she feels because of her existing anger toward him. When Steven disappears one day without a word, James and Calliope are thrown together in order to find their missing friend. The comedy continues, but now the story is filled with danger and excitement as dead bodies are found and Calliope finds her life is threatened.
Masquerading the Marquess is such a fun book! Mallory does an excellent job with the constant humor, never missing a beat. It is this humorous tone that makes the book a winner. Mallory also writes great dialogue, which sounds authentic and fitting for the various characters regardless of their status in society. It is easy to see the difference between those of the ton and Calliope and her family. The speech patterns seem authentic enough, transporting the reader to 1820s England. An interesting side note is that some of these characters were indeed lifted from history, including the caricaturist Robert Cruikshank.
For those who love historical romances, particularly the popular Regencies, this is a book to be picked up and read in one or two sittings. This reviewer found herself chuckling as she read about the antics of Calliope Minton and how far she would go to get a story. The backdrop of life in the theater is an additional bonus, explaining the expertise that Calliope has with her creative costumes that fooled nearly everyone - except the Marquess. While the storyline of Calliopeís career appears at first to be the main plot, it is not. The reader soon finds that the real story is about Calliope and her origins, her connection to a wealthy member of the ton who the reader will learn is her father, and how her motherís death may not have been an accident after all. Combining romance and intrigue is a good idea, making Masquerading the Marquess a must-read. Readers of this genre will not be disappointed and should not be surprised to find themselves reading this book in one sitting.