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Masquerade

by Nancy Moser
400 pages, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Jeanne

Good research, but with nongraphic sexual content, some iffy morals, and other difficult content.

Plot

Note: This is a review of a free book provided by Bethany House Publishers to Squeaky Clean Reviews.

Charlotte "Lottie" Gleason, a spoiled English heiress, has everything she wants in life - but the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and she wants more. She wants things like "purpose" and "love." But when her family is ruined by a financial gamble of her father's, Lottie is destined to sail across the ocean and marry the only son of a very illustrious American family.

Together, she and her maid, Dora, set sail from England; Lottie dreads her arranged marriage, but Dora is enthralled by her new position as companion instead of maid. When the two switch places and go their separate ways in America, very different circumstances await them from God's hand.

Morality

There is somewhat mixed morality in this book. Both girls lie about their identities, causing a great deal of trouble, and they struggle throughout the novel with whether or not to reveal who they are. Lottie is a spoiled girl up until a few pages from the end of the book, with flickers of better behavior in between; her attitude is not condoned. Though the two girls say they are friends, Lottie is usually overbearing in Dora's society and Dora can be resentful. There is also jealousy between them.

Other characters in the story show more wisdom and better morals. Sven, a major character later in the book, dedicates himself to bringing attention to the destitution amid the slums of New York. An Italian family takes pity on Lottie in America, and other characters are equally kind.

The romances in the novel (for most of it is romance) are not very above-board. Dora is in love with two men and accepts both their attentions without explaining the situation to either. Similar to Lynn Austin's Fire by Night, one character falls in love with a man whom she assumes is married, and does little to conquer her feelings; this predicament is resolved as if the woman's feelings were understandable and allowable. Merely because everything turns out all right, however, does not mean that the character was right in allowing herself to flirt with the man, and the book never addresses this.

Spiritual Content

A main theme of the story is how the young women come to realize that God orders their lives according to His sovereign wisdom, no matter how bad things seem to finite mortals. There was no real salvation, however, for either Dora or Lottie in terms of repentance, etc.; despite the fact that their behavior prior to coming to America (and, indeed, through most of the book) was proud and self-centered, there was no redemption. Lottie and Dora merely come to recognize that their deceptive actions are wrong and realize God's sovereignty. There are no references to Jesus Christ or sin in reference to the main characters. While a Christian book does not need to be "preachy" in order to be effective, I do feel that it should uphold the entire truth of what it claims to stand for and maintain a Biblical worldview in the development of characters and plot.

Lottie meets a pastor and his wife, who quote encouraging Scriptures extensively; another character also quotes Bible passages. She later attends a Catholic mass with an Italian family and thinks that perhaps no one needed to understand what the priest was saying in Latin, because the sounds were peaceful. She sees a crucifix at this point. Dora goes to church with the Tremaines and hears a very brief sermon about the widow's mite.

Violence

One character kicks a man. Lottie sees a person covered in sores, sitting on the side of the road, and she also sees babies left to starve in New York City. Her father breaks his leg in falling from his horse, and her mother has consumption (tuberculosis) and is seen coughing blood.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Some of the men smoke, including Lottie's father - which is accurate to the times, when tobacco was very popular.

Sexual Content

It is stated early on that Lottie's married father has a mistress (who is also married) and often visits her, even going so far as to appear in public in London with her. Mrs. Gleason is also aware, but endures it because she apparently has no choice. This fact makes Lottie's parents' arguments in favor of marriage appear extremely hypocritical.

Lottie, as a highborn English woman, flirts instinctively throughout the story and her attitude in regard to it never really changes. She also teaches Dora how to flirt, and Dora executes these instructions very well while on the boat heading to America. There are three or four mentions of men looking at the two women in an inappropriate manner. Lottie says that she wants to be in love with a man who makes her "swoon." She remembers kissing one young man when they were "almost engaged." There is also a brief reference to Lottie's physical maturing that wasn't really necessary. Descriptions of clothing styles and their feel were very in depth, and, again, not entirely necessary; there are references to corsets and petticoats.

There is a ball while they are on the ship and Dora is thrilled to be dancing with Dr. Greenfield, and thrilled when he puts his arm around her. One character is nearly assaulted by her overseer, but is saved before anything happens. Lottie runs into a woman whom she takes to be a prostitute; one character takes a baby from the street where it was left to die, and someone thinks that the character is its mother. See also the last paragraph of the Morality box.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Lottie steps in horse manure while walking the streets of New York. One boy angrily exclaims something in Italian to someone else. Dora also gets seasick on the crossing from England and, naturally, she throws up. The nastiness of outhouses in the slums of New York is quite accurately described. See Sexual Content.

Conclusion

Though historically accurate, clearly well-researched, and containing many details about life in the 1880s, I found myself unable to really enjoy 'Masquerade' as either a romance or a Christian novel. There were too many men in the story vying for a place in Lottie's or Dora's heart, including Barney, the butcher boy who was going to marry Dora back in England, but whom she turned down to leave with Lottie; Conrad, the Tremaine heir; Sven, the photographer; and Dr. Greenfield, with whom Dora falls in love on the boat. Obviously not all of these men could get the girl they loved, and so it resulted in two of them getting unfairly jilted after either Dora or Lottie led them to believe engagement and marriage were in sight. It seemed as though more emphasis was put on finding true love than on doing what is right.

The label "Christian" did not seem to fit the story, either, as mentioned in the Spiritual Content. I would have preferred a more Biblical look at the changes in the girls' lives; while they certainly see the consequences of their lying and change their attitudes somewhat, they never seem to alter inside. The girls only ever pray when they need help, and that doesn't appear to change by the end of the story.

As for the writing itself, as I said above, Ms. Moser did her homework. I did have a little difficulty, however, in keeping track of Dora and Lottie when they switched places, which was not unsurprising, since Dora takes the name of Charlotte and is referred to as such for most of the book. Later on I was able to keep track of which was which. There were also some loose ends that did not seem to be tied off at the end, including what happens to Lottie's father after he breaks his leg; what happens to Dora's mother back home; and what happens to one of the men who does not marry either Lottie or Dora. Though for the two young women themselves everything is complete at the end, the number of things left untold made the ending abrupt and inconclusive.

Fun Score: 2.5
Values Score: 2
Written for Age: adult

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