A Noble Masquerade
Hawthorne House #1
by Kristi Ann Hunter
My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance
Lady Miranda Hawthorne has never appreciated the “lady lessons” her mother has forced upon her since childhood. She copes with these frustrations by journaling in the guise of letters written to her elder brother’s school chum, a man whose antics, as told by her brother, make her think he’d be of a similar mind to her. She never mails the letters, keeping them locked up in a trunk. But when her brother’s new valet accidentally mails one and Miranda receives a reply from the Duke of Marshington, it sets off an unlikely, if tenuous, friendship. There’s just one problem–no one has seen the duke in 9 years…but on the other hand, maybe he’s actually right there at Hawthorne House.
So for the first half of this book, things were good. Maybe not 5-star good, but still good. Though Ryland (the duke) is a little manipulative, it really did start out innocent, and I think his motivations were sincere, if a bit flawed. But then around the halfway point, things went downhill for me. Miranda goes a bit batty, scenes are really confusing and plodding, and the whole angle of the duke as a spy is sort of shoved in the background, while also sort of being a big part of what’s happening.
Miranda, who is described in the synopsis as acting “every inch the lady” is never really shown to be acting like a lady. She’s always bucking against that role, barely able to keep her mother from chastising her, or doing whatever she wants when her mother isn’t there. But in the second half of the book, she throws all pretenses of being a lady out the window, threatening or attacking men in anger, sneaking out of the house to visit an unmarried man, and a host of bad decisions that only seem to be okay because they’re helping her to go against her mother’s lessons. I didn’t have an issue with her internal struggle with the slot she’s being forced into, but it did get a little ridiculous in that second half.
There is a purportedly tense game of whist played at one point that was just a long, confusing, pointless scene for me, because apparently a lot of unspoken communication hinges on the way the game is played, and…well, how many of us modern people know anything about the game of whist? Then Miranda’s family rehashes the game on the ride home and boy is Miranda’s brother shocked…but I have no idea why, nor what the implications are. Less time should have been spent on that and other less plot-driving endeavors, and more time on showing us both of the MCs’ anxieties about their places in life. Because they each had realizations near the end about how their life is better than they think it is or something, but both of these anxieties were not particularly founded in the earlier parts of the book.
The romance was clearly the driving force of the plot, which is certainly allowed in a romance story, but I prefer those where the rest of the plot, even without the culmination of the romance, stands on its own as a good story. This isn’t one of those. In fact, in the end, I’m not even completely certain if the suggested head “bad guy” was actually a bad guy, because that whole storyline was left behind in the build up to the climax, which, no, wasn’t even from the main plot.
This is the 2nd Regency romance I’ve read in less than a month where the male MC is a duke who is also a spy for England. I really liked the angle of the letters that Miranda had never meant to send being the catalyst to a relationship. Again, I liked the first half or so, though the more I think about it, the more I wish Ryland had been more sensitive to Miranda’s trust issues instead of using them against her. But back to the letters, I did love the culmination of that plot thread in the epilogue, though I won’t explain more due to spoilers. I just wish the rest of the book had held up to the good parts. It’s definitely not high on my list of favorite Regency romances, and I likely won’t read it again. I did like the novella that starts off this series, and the male MC in the next book intrigued me in this one, so I plan to go on to book #2 and see how that one goes.
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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!