The Paper Masque takes place in a world very like the early 20th century in England, except that the structure of the monarchy is very different, and history has been slightly altered. In this world, Elsie Wembley is a privileged, spoiled, but compassionate princess. Her days consist of social appearances and public relations responsibilities, while her nights are filled with glamorous and decadent parties, and a number of bed partners.
As a character, I did not find her at all compelling or sympathetic. Most of the first part of the story is actually taken up with descriptions of her nightly escapades, which felt meaningless – in the sense that they meant nothing to her, and in the sense that they had little to no affect on the plot. They just seemed to take away from the plot. The experiences don’t change her in any way, none of her partners seemed to be fully characterized or have a strong role to play, and the “suitable” one who proposes seems to be nothing more than a foil for unsuitable Laurence.
When it comes to the romantic plot of the story – when she finally meets a guy who isn’t an entitled, rich playboy, obviously she is attracted to him, and pursues him. While this is an interesting flip of the typical romance trope of rake vs. ingenue/bookworm, it still didn’t interest me very much. I couldn’t get behind Elsie or Laurence, her new lust interest. Further, as with the conventional trope, we all know how it ends. I’m struggling with the idea that maybe I didn’t like it simply because it did turn the trope on its head, but in the books with the conventional trope that I can recall, the rake’s pre-falling-in-love romantic liaisons were not given such attention as Elsie’s are in this story.
The final negative aspect that brought me to put the book down and not pick it back up again, was the beginning of the political plot. There’s some political conspiracy afoot, and of course Elsie and Laurence are on opposite sides. Laurence is badgered by his co-conspirators into spying on and manipulating Elsie. I quit the book before I figured out much more about what is going to happen, in part because it was so unconvincing. It did not connect to the early part of the story. The political tension and brewing rebellion sort of come as a surprise.
Did not finish at page 109.
*Advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley
If you like historical mystery settings with intrepid young royal female leads, you may enjoy Her Royal Spyness. It’s a fun romp around London with broke Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, 34th in line to the throne, as she tries to clear her family name in a murder case.
Also set in the 1920s, is the creepier, more sinister mystery-romance about the ghost of Maddy Clare. The action starts when Sarah Piper agrees to assist a ghost hunter. Simone St. James is one of Jaclyn’s favorites, so she comes highly recommended!
For fans of wartime romances, Somewhere in France is set in a similar time period, but is not an alternate history. Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford is our heroine in this story about World War I and the women who participated in it.