Dangerous Masquerade (April Kihlstrom)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
I’m going to admit that I first read this book years ago, reread it, and liked for reasons that were half enjoyment and half nostalgia. This is a good, “old-fashioned”/not terribly sensual/overly dramatic-at-times regency romance: the believably terrible villain, the quiet yet strong hero, the quick-on-her-feet and easy to relate to heroine… if you delve too deeply into any one character or plot point, things might start to fall apart, and it takes itself very, very seriously (no flashes of humor that are so common in more recent historical romances)… and yet, it’s a good read, well done within its self-imposed constraints and enjoyable even now, years later.

Greater Detail:
OK, ready for the overly-complicated setup upon which the rest is built?

Rebecca has been living in America and travels to London in an attempt to reconnect with family. She travels with her stepbrother, who’s in it for the fun and adventure. When he approaches the London branch of Rebecca’s family, they are offended and disbelieving, and they turn him away. He fritters through the rest of Rebecca’s funds, becomes dangerously in debt from reckless gambling, and is persuaded by his “friend” Lord Templeton to sell his stepsister in lieu of debts owed (really, sell, to an evil sect that basically rapes women and then sells them into prostitution).

So, she decides to escape. She knows no one and has no references, and so she disguises herself as a mute maid (mute so that no one will hear her American accent and guess who she is), and literally bumps into the attractive and eligible Oliver Ransford.

Though Oliver is attracted and intrigued, he does the “right” thing and gives the girl employment in his house, and later his mother’s house.

Now, the setup is… wow… dripping with unlikely drama that is carried through the rest of the book.

But, once you accept that (the way you might accept the idea of living on Mars while reading a sci-fi novel) this is, if you can believe it, really engaging. Oliver is a great, great hero — tempted but also trying to do the honorable thing, he’s quiet, and not overly tall or masculine, he’s used to people underestimating him despite his quiet strength, and Rebecca, despite the fact that she’s literally playing at being a mute maid for a good portion of the book, is actually interesting, in a way that you can really understand why Oliver would be attracted.

It was a fun read years ago, and I enjoyed it just as much when I reread it more recently. It’s on the serious side of regency romance, is low on sensuality, but otherwise it’s a good read that allows you to immerse yourself in a different world, one where bad guys get what’s coming, there aren’t a whole lot of murky moral gray areas, and everything, but everything, will be resolved happily by the end.

Comparisons to Other Authors/Books:
I’ve only read a couple of books by April Kihlstrom (though I know she’s a big supporter of the book-in-a-week (just first draft) idea) and what I have read all fall in this category of non-sensual, serious, and full-of-drama (read: unlikely setups) regency romances. Which doesn’t bother me at all; sometimes, that’s what I’m in the mood for, and she’s someone who’s really good within her chosen wheelhouse. The heroes and heroines are likeable, the drama isn’t usually overly complicated, and everything gets resolved by the end (without a whole lot of wasted space on happy endings… just, you know, resolution).

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