It had been a while since I read a short historical romance, so I decided to look through the large stack of books my mother gave me. I picked one at random and was pleasantly surprised by the premise. Even if I had not read the summary on the back cover, I would have guessed parts of the book based on the Twelfth Night quotes that separated “Part I” from “Part II.”
There are two main characters, Valentine Ardsley, granddaughter of an earl, and Lord Richard Diccon Leyburn, an earl from Yorkshire. Valentine has recently lost her father in a military battle, and in an effort to remain independent, she disguises herself as a young stable boy. You can just imagine some of the mischievous adventures she has. The best part about her disguise is the ability to connect with the working class in the earl's household and the unexpected friendship between her and Diccon. Plus, who doesn't enjoy a cross-dressing heroine in a romance novel?
Although I like both Valentine and Diccon, I was disappointed by the lack of character development. The story is told through the first person perspective of Valentine, which limited my understanding of Diccon. “Part I” is too short, and Valentine doesn’t have enough antics while disguised as a boy. Additionally, the characters stay the same throughout the entire book because, as it turns out, they are perfectly suited for each other. The trials and tribulations that separate them are rather tame compared to most of the romances I read. Even though their character development is nonexistent, I still enjoyed the novel. There's something sweet about having such likable characters that remain the same.
Other supporting characters are rather superficial. There are various workers at Diccon's homestead, like Georgie and Mrs. Scone. Family relations include the earl's cousin, Ned, and Valentine's grandparents, who you meet in “Part II.” Finally, there are various suitors for Valentine's affections, many of who fall flat and are even less developed than Diccon. The only one I connected with was Lord Henry Sandcroft purely because he resembles Valentine's father. In the end, the story is about Valentine's and Diccon's relationship. Everyone else becomes part of the setting.
The setting was perfect for this type of a story. There are plenty of descriptions about the beauties of the countryside which contrast nicely with the stark city life. Valentine quickly learns that London is a place for change and fashion, emphasized with the Season, while the countryside is almost its own kingdom. Notable author Shakespeare is referenced a few times, mainly his misrepresentation of Richard III. Since England's Regency period is one of my favorites next to Medieval, I appreciated the setting.
There are no special themes or motifs in the book other than your usual "love conquers all" sentiment. "To thine own self be true," no matter how unpopular that makes you, is another sentiment expressed in the novel. Other interesting subplots include the discussions about change, especially with workers and factories in the city. One character, radically-minded Martin Wakefield, Valentine’s cousin, discusses England's government. I am rusty on the history of the Whigs and the Tories, so I glossed over these details. I wasn't compelled to research them either, which is a sign that the book is lacking. These ideas might have been explored in more depth, but then Fool's Masquerade would be too serious. In the end, it is typical escapist literature: light, fluffy, and delicious to read. It's a "feel-good" book and was what I needed after losing the diamond from my engagement/wedding ring.
This is the only book I've read by author Joan Wolf, but I was suitably impressed that I won't hesitate to read another novel by her. There are only two flaws 1) The lack of depth to characters and issues 2) The first person perspective. Of the two, the perspective is the most harmful. In terms of a romance novel, it’s uncommon to read from this point of view. In terms of Fool's Masquerade, it limits and isolates the reader even making the writing technique appear clumsy.
Despite this major flaw, the book was a refreshing break from more serious reads. I also appreciated the "teen" quality. There are no sex or explicit situations between the hero and heroine (extremely PG), which more mature readers might consider another fatal flaw to the first person point of view. I consider the characters' innocence, love, and affection for each other a refreshing change of pace. Plus, it's always sweet to have a genuine gentleman in a romance novel.
This book is a perfect read for those who enjoy historical romances and want a quick read. It's also suitable for a younger audience, like middle school or teenage readers.