Masks and Shadows

25893822.jpgThis book was provided by the publisher at no cost.

The important thing to know about this book before reading it is that it is influenced by opera – eighteenth century opera, no less. So if noble ladies with fair arms and negligees, dramatic love affairs, and sinister secret societies – with generous serves of lavish description – is not your cup of tea, then this novel is not for you. And that’s ok; just pass it by, or pass it on.

The novel is set on the real-life estate of the Esterhazys, which I had to look up to check its historical authenticity. The Prince really did employ Haydn to work there, as depicted in the story, so it’s intriguing to know that it’s based on, or at least using, some aspects of fact (and the ruler at the time was Marie Theresa – Marie Antoinette’s mother. Can’t get away from those revolutions.)

There’s lots of different narrators and a few different narrative threads that weave through this story. There’s the musico (indelicately, a castrato), the young widow, the cast-off husband, the singers, the alchemists… and ultimately everything comes together. I quite liked the young widow, who was really the focus overall; she was sympathetic and made sense. Some of the others were a bit more opera-character-ish: amusing but less believable. Also less believable was the central (although not completely overwhelming) love story; not that the two people involved were unlikely, just the way it played out.

Overall this is a well-paced, fairly light read with some charming, and some dastardly, characters. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and it all only happens over a week or so, so it doesn’t have a chance to get bogged down.

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