Monday, January 28, 2008

Who Was That Masked Man?

I recently finished a romance novel with a plot based on a hot anonymous encounter between two old friends. The heroine was masked, and despite the fact that the hero had known her forever, and kept encountering her as her “real” self, he never made the connection. To this, I say, “Faugh!” I’ve been to a few costume parties in my time, and never once was I ever confused as to anyone’s identity. I believe I’d be highly insulted if someone failed to recognize my full, pouty lips and breathy voice just because I wore a feathered mask. But I realize this improbable masquerade scenario can be found in countless romances.

We generally suspend belief when we read fiction, but I fear the masked ball pushes me into severe rationality. As much as I would like to misbehave without getting caught, I’d be the one in the corner saying, “Oh, that’s George---see his weak chin? Look, it’s Lady Glum. She’s still laughing like a hyena.” So this plotline is not one that automatically makes me plunk down my hard-earned cash.

Read or written any good masquerades lately? What plots bore you to bits or strain your credulity?

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. ~Oscar Wilde


BernardL said...

I’m with you on a simple mask being able to disguise a character’s identity from someone who knows the character well. The plot where the main character is forced to kill a vicious villain, and then spends the rest of the book in a fit of despair over taking a life, really frosts me. It’s almost as annoying as the scene where a heroine gets the villain on the floor with a weapon in her hand, and she drops the weapon and runs. Give me a break. :)

nearhere said...

I just skimmed through the beginning of Sandra Brown's Led Astray, in which the heroine mistakenly sleeps with her boyfriend's older brother (the hero). Aside from the fact that SB spent many pages describing the lack of physical similarities between the two brothers, I found it hard to believe that the heroine would have thought her devoutly Christian BF who was about to embark on some sort of missionary trip would have jumped out of his character and decided to sleep with her.

I don't know what happened next because I lost the plot shortly after the heroine did.

I imagine these plots would work if people were drugged or drunk or something like that (very romantic) but in general the "masked man" scenario makes me want to throw the book at the wall.

RevMelinda said...

I love the masquerade/ hidden identity theme--it's my favorite plot device of all time and gets me humming like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge--but I must admit that the "masked ball" is my least favorite variant. As you said, Maggie, it strains my ability to suspend disbelief.

Can I just say that what is starting to bore me witless these days is the multitude of books written by authors who think physical perfection is necessary for Hot Love?

I think if I read one more "Too Beautiful to Live" heroine with "supple curves" or "lush breasts" or one more hero with the "tightly leashed power" of "Mr Olympus" pecs and abs I will start to spit.

Where, oh where, is Carla Kelly when you need her?

MsHellion said...

I think my favorite masked man scenerio was The Raider by Jude Deveraux. A bit like the Scarlet Pimpernel, it was hysterical when the hero took the heroine on a picnic above the town to make his confession he was the Raider, but as he did so "The Raider" rode through town with the British hot on his heels.

Almost anything can strain my just means I don't believe in the character enough. I swear if you write a character so real he climbs out of the page, he could have arrived from Mars, set up a burger stand, and give free tarot card readings--and I'd read it with fervor. Characters matter.

TiffinaC said...

I love masquerades. I have one in ITN, but don't really make people unrecognizable.

It's one of my favourite plots though. Gotta love the mysterious h/h relationship.

They were smokin' something real good to not recognize each other. lol

and I don't like physically beautiful characters all the time either. heroine number one, is curvy--I never say plump...okay I DO say lush plump breasts, but she's a bit bigger, and very feminine. Heroine number two is severely under weight because she is uh...sick.

TiffinaC said...

I was referring the the two femmes I have in my historicals... sheesh.

Keira Soleore said...

Brava Maggie on that superb and superbly matching quote. The masked peccadiloes certainly strain credibility, though there are some that are done superbly. Take Candice Hern's opening scene in JOOTF.

Keira Soleore said...

RevM: Hope you're not humming in synchronity with the Tacoma Narrows bridge. :)

Janga said...

I am with RevMelinda. I love the masquerade theme. Many of my favorite books by favorite authors use the theme of a “covered” identity. I adore Georgette Heyer’s Masqueraders and False Colours. I am willing to suspend disbelief in the case of the Merriots’ gender switch, and I find Kit assuming Evelyn’s identity quite credible since I have known identical twins who have played more limited versions of covering for one another. MJP does a twin switch in The Wild Child too, another fave.

Adele Ashworth (My Darling Caroline), Jo Beverley (Something Wicked), Connie Brockway (The Bridal Season), Robyn Carr in her pre-women’s fiction days (The Bellerose Bargain), Christina Dodd (A Well Pleasured Lady), Judith Ivory (Beast), Lisa Kleypas (Worth Any Price), and Amanda Quick (Mistress) have all written great (and believable) stories that feature characters masquerading as someone else. And both Eloisa James (Potent Pleasures) and Julia Quinn (An Offer from a Gentleman) used an actual masquerade without making me want to toss the book. I think what works in both these stories is that preconceptions and seeing what the character expects to see render the confusion believable. Mary Balogh uses the theme in several books with mixed results. I thought it worked moderately well in her first book, A Masked Deception, I found it completely incredible in Daring Masquerade, and I was totally caught up in Geraint’s masquerade as “Rebecca” in Truly.

Often it just depends on the skill of the writer. If someone told me about a book in which a woman who has spent five years in prison masquerades as the wife of a gubernatorial candidate, I’d laugh. But Maggie Osborne makes me a believer in A Stranger’s Wife.

RevMelinda said...

Got started thinking about Georgette and realized that so many of her novels have that masquerade theme. . .The Masqueraders (my fave), These Old Shades, Devil's Cub (Mary pretends to be her sister), False Colours, The Corinthian (Pen masquerades as a boy), the Foundling (Mr Dash of nowhere in particular), the Convenient Marriage (Horry and the lock of hair). . .do you think that somewhere, someone has written a dissertation about this?

I loved Jo Beverley's Secrets of the Night and Shana Abe's The Smoke Thief. Oh, and another Absolute Favorite is Stephanie Laurens' A Secret Love (another Tacoma Narrows Bridge Novel for me, LOL).

Maggie Robinson said...

RevM, I remember a while back you said masquerades were your fave. I love them too (secret identities are such fun)---I guess I just don't like the obliviousness of certain heroes not recognizing people they should know! But after watching all the Austen adaptations, I have been reminded maybe it was just too damn dark to see anybody in the ballroom, so trickery may have been easier! The electric lights are always blazing in my head when I read Regency scenes, LOL.

Janga, once again you stupefy me with your knowledge. I believe anything Heyer writes, and the other books you cite are equally good.

Bernard, yeah, what's up with the guilt trip? It's almost as bad as the stupidity trip, where the heroine goes downstairs in the dark to see what the noise is. Or she decides after she's warned someone's out to kill her, it's really okay to go out for some fresh air after all.

Nearhere, the whole "I was really asleep and didn't know what was happening" defense is so tempting but so wrong.

Hellion, I too am putty in the right author's hands. And I think YOU should write that plot---I'd love to read it!

Thanks, Keira! I cruise around Quote Garden. They've got everything.

Tiff, I'm finding authors are going in the complete opposite direction now, making characters significantly unattractive, particularly the heroes. I'd like a happy medium. Heyer was agenius in creating characters that were not physically perfect but were compelling people.

terrio said...

I'm with you, Maggie, on characters not recognizing each other. Though your point about the light makes sense. I'm thinking if the mask conceals enough, I could believe it.

I do love the idea of the Masq but I like the sexyness and the touch of freedom it seems to bring to the characters. It's great when they instantly recognize each other and then play off the "let's pretend we're other people" sort of thing.

I love the movie Princess Bride but how could Buttercup not have recognized Wesley? Come on. LOL!

irisheyes said...

I've never really had a problem with the masquerade/hidden identity story. As stated earlier, though, that is probably because all the ones I've read have been from very capable authors. The fact that Alex didn't figure out Charlotte's identity in Potent Pleasures is a wallbanger for me, but I excuse all the mistakes in that book because it was EJ's first and she has more than proved herself since. LOL

The only thing that has really stood out for me recently as an irritant is an author trying to make the heroine independent and spunky, but they turn out bitter, nasty and mean.

Maggie Robinson said...

Irish, I think writers try too hard to pander to a modern woman's sensibility, making their characters almost too strong sometimes. And then I just want to smack them!

Maggie Robinson said...

Terri, I like the "naughty" factor too, and don't mind when couples get playful---but to completely blank on a person you've known forever, nope!

Santa said...

Eloisa James' 'Taming of the Duke' where the masquerade was played over a courtship. The heroine was lead to believe she was being courted by one brother when, in fact, it was the man she was destined to be with. Okay, so the last part is my take on it but still I thought it was great fun.