The Masqueraders is one of Georgette Heyer’s early works, originally published in 1928 and now available in audio format for the first time. It’s a thoroughly engaging Georgian romp, set shortly after the unsuccessful Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. It rattles along at a good pace and is full of fun, sparkling dialogue and Ms Heyer’s trademark wit and carefully studied social observation.
At the beginning of the story we meet the two principal protagonists – a brother and sister called Kate and Peter Merriot who, within minutes, are coming to the aid of a damsel in distress and disposing of her unwanted suitor. At the end of that scene, we also meet Sir Anthony Fanshawe, who is destined to be the heroine’s love-interest, a very large man with a seemingly indolent manner, who is actually one of Ms Heyer’s typically nonchalant but very shrewd heroes; a man who sees a lot more than he lets on, whom the siblings affectionately nickname “The Mountain”.
So far, so straightforward, until the third chapter when we learn that Kate is not, in fact, Kate, but Robin, and Peter is not, in fact, Peter, but Prudence, and the pair (who really ARE brother and sister) are travelling in disguise because of Robin’s participation on the wrong side in the failed rebellion.
Thus the narrator is presented with rather a difficult task. Not only does she have to find suitable voices for and be able to differentiate between a fairly large cast of characters, but she has to find a way to portray Robin/Kate and Prudence/Peter as both themselves and their respective alter-egos while enabling the listener to keep track of who is who and who’s wearing the trousers! It’s a quirk of the story which is probably that bit harder to convey successfully in audio, but on the whole Ms Sillers manages well. She pitches ‘Kate’ higher than either Robin or Prue, and gives ‘her’ a rather exaggerated feminine drawl; and keeps Prue’s ‘Peter’ voice fairly close to Prue’s in pitch, just adding a lighter edge which works well to help the listener keep track. Even though I knew what to expect in the story, I had to rewind a few times at the beginning of that chapter in order to keep things straight in my head, but once I’d done that, it was easy to work out who was speaking and in which persona.
The pair are adventurers who have lived most of their lives pretending to be other people, alongside their father, to whom they refer as “The Old Gentleman”. Following Robin’s escape from the authorities, they have donned these disguises in order to keep him safely hidden while they await their father’s arrival in town, but had not expected to have to wait as long as they do.
When The Old Gentleman finally arrives, he proves to be one of Ms Heyer’s most outrageous creations – cunning, manipulative and completely and utterly sure of his own superiority of mind and character. In fact, it’s a wonder Robin and Prue aren’t seriously screwed up, having him for a father! He likes to plot and scheme and is outraged that anyone could DARE to doubt the outcome of his machinations, which never fail. He’s in love with the sound of his own voice, and his pronouncements are frequently hilarious, such as the scene in which he basically confounds a blackmailer by being nice:
‘I’ve no animosity towards you; I wish you no harm. But you’ll pay well for the letter.’
My lord rose, and made a fine gesture. ‘I perceive that you would be a friend indeed. I embrace you! We understand one another.’
‘As to that … I am neither your friend nor your foe. But I hold you in the hollow of my hand.’
‘You do … you do! And if I were given the choice of a hand to be held in, I should choose yours. My word for it, sir, my solemn oath!’
‘I might have taken this paper to Rensley … I thought of it; I weighed it well. I decided it was more vital to you to get the paper than Rensley. And I came as you see.’
‘A master-mind!’ said my lord. ‘I drink to it.’ He did so, with considerable flourish. ‘You must accept my homage … I descry in you a shrewd brain. I venerate it; we were made for each other.’
The Old Gentleman is in London to prove his claim to the Viscountcy of Barham, a claim that is disputed by his slimy cousin, Rensley. If the former’s claim is true, Robin and Prue will be able to banish the Merriots and assume their true identities and position in society; and Robin will finally be safe.
There are two romances in the book, as both Prue and Robin get their HEAs, with the love story between Prue and Sir Anthony being the more mature and well-developed of the two. There’s a real sense of affection and understanding between them, and because the declaration comes fairly early on in the story, we get to see them interacting and furthering their relationship through the remainder of the book. It’s a clever move on Ms Heyer’s part to have Prue remain in character as Peter, as it allows Sir Anthony to spend time alone with her without attracting the slightest attention or incurring any disapprobation.
Ruth Sillers is not a narrator I have heard before, and I enjoyed her performance very much. She has a light, pleasantly musical voice and her narration is well-paced, clearly enunciated and very expressive. There is quite a large cast of secondary characters in the book, and all are clearly differentiated; Lady Lowestoft’s French accent is well maintained, and the various young bucks and gentlemen are swiftly delineated using a wide range of tone and accent. Ms Sillers portrays the men by use of a slight drop in pitch and an added resonance, especially in the case of The Old Gentleman, whose booming tones perfectly suit his grandiose style of declamation. Sir Anthony’s speech is measured, as befits his character, but his underlying sense of the ridiculous is appropriately captured by Ms Siller’s gently mocking intonation.
The Masqueraders is a ‘caper’ story of the very best sort. It’s stylish, witty and evokes the period brilliantly. Ruth Sillers performs with great gusto, making the most of over-the-top characters like The Old Gentleman, and bringing subtle nuances to the sensible and meditative Prudence and her “mountainous” hero. Naxos has, so far, not put a foot wrong in the choice of narrators for their growing catalogue of Heyer audios, and I’m eagerly anticipating whatever is coming next.
Book Content: B+
Steam Factor: You can listen out loud
Violence: A bout of fencing
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Naxos Audiobook
The Masqueraders was provided to AudioGals for review by Naxos Audiobooks.