Monday, December 10, 2018

Kat's Review: Unmasked by the Marquess

Remember, this is a Royal Pick for the month! Check back on December 27th when the monthly giveaway opens!

Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian
Publisher: Avon Impulse (April 17, 2018)
Series: The Regency Impostors, 1
Genre: Historical Romance -- Queer (M/enby)

The one you love…
Robert Selby is determined to see his sister make an advantageous match. But he has two problems: the Selbys have no connections or money and Robert is really a housemaid named Charity Church. She’s enjoyed every minute of her masquerade over the past six years, but she knows her pretense is nearing an end. Charity needs to see her beloved friend married well and then Robert Selby will disappear…forever.

May not be who you think…

Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, has spent years repairing the estate ruined by his wastrel father, and nothing is more important than protecting his fortune and name. He shouldn’t be so beguiled by the charming young man who shows up on his doorstep asking for favors. And he certainly shouldn’t be thinking of all the disreputable things he’d like to do to the impertinent scamp.

But is who you need…

When Charity’s true nature is revealed, Alistair knows he can’t marry a scandalous woman in breeches, and Charity isn’t about to lace herself into a corset and play a respectable miss. Can these stubborn souls learn to sacrifice what they’ve always wanted for a love that is more than they could have imagined?

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Kat's Review:

Note: I use “Robin” to refer to the MC who also uses the names Robert Selby and Charity Church for clarity, and based on Sebastian’s author’s note.

I’m pretty sure this is the first historical romance I’ve read with a non-binary MC.  Even for contemporary romance, I think some of the characters in E. Davies F-Word series (specifically River in Freak) come the closest. Well, regardless, this book sets a standard for handling the T part of the acronym in a historical setting.

Robin has been living as Robert Selby for several years by the time the story opens. She went to Cambridge in his stead and now thrives as the brother to Louisa. Her mission is to see Louisa married in an advantageous match, and she’ll do almost anything to accomplish that. To this end, she visits Alistair, the titular Marquess of Pembroke, to beg a favor. Alistair is pretty cold. He’s dug himself out of a hole left by his father who effectively drove the title and its estates into the ground. One of Alistair’s father’s more egregious sins was living with and supporting his mistress, Portia Allenby, and their children, to the exclusion of his “official” family. Alistair harbors no small amount of resentment against his father and has diligently worked to ensure that his manner and comportment are painstakingly correct. In short, he’s a priggish ass at the beginning of the story. But take heart - he has a wonderful arc!

So Robin and Alistair meet and then Alistair casts him off. Their second meeting is what really sets things off - Louisa (truly a beauty) is thrust into the proverbial spotlight, and suddenly Alistair feels an unexpected desire to help protect her from more questionable suitors. Thus begins a friendship between Robin and Alistair. And indeed, everyone seems to like Robin. He’s hard not to like. He’s effusive in his praise and seems to understand intricacies of social conduct in a way that eludes Alistair. 

Alistair finds himself falling into an attraction with Robin. And it so refreshing how not unsettled Alistair is by this realization. After all, he’s been attracted to men before. [My kingdom for more bisexual MCs for whom their sexuality doesn’t indicate a layover on the train to Gay Town. Not that Gay Town isn’t a happening place to be.]  And then Alistair discovers Robin’s initial deception - a false connection in order to curry favor with Alistair (who absolutely loathes that sort of thing). And the whole thing unravels. Robin discloses that Robert is, in fact, dead, and Alistair feels bitterly betrayed. There are plenty of other moving pieces in the plot, including a major wrinkle of Robert’s inheritance and the fact of an heir from whom Robin has been withholding the estate. 

I was not sure at all how the conflict would be resolved. I mean, I was sure that Robin and Alistair would somehow end up together (it’s a romance, after all). But I had no idea how it would happen.  Would Robin be forced to perform femininity? Would she have to wear dresses for the rest of her life? I won’t spoil it, but I will say that I thought the conclusion was very satisfactory.

Cat Sebastian does great work with gender and sexuality. I have appreciated how her queer historical characters do not angst over their sexual identities. Men who are attracted to men are self-aware and fine with that aspect of themselves. Similarly, Robin doesn’t feel much angst about the fact that she doesn’t want to perform femininity. She likes being masculine, she likes living as a man. But she also isn’t quite interested in “switching teams.”

In her author’s note at the end, Sebastian comments that Robin would be considered non-binary by today’s standards. This identity is actually a catch-all label for myriad different gender identities: demigender, agender, genderfluid, genderqueer, neutrois, bigender, pangender. That’s just a few; it’s certainly not all.  For a very long time, society (well, Western industrialized society) has tried to convince us all that there are only two sexes, two genders. Throughout history and across culture, though, this has never been true. There have always been folks living in between the major poles of gender.

Romance has been struggling with diversity issues for a while (well, forever, but more recently more explicitly). There are usually some pretty clear divides between m/f and m/m or f/f books and audiences. I like that Sebastian blurs that line here. Robin isn’t a woman, but this also isn’t a m/m.  I’d like to see more trans and enby MCs. (And can we also have more/any trans women MCs?)  There are already some wonderful stories written by queer authors like EE Ottoman and Anna Zabo, and I know there many more authors, whether or not they are publicly out as trans or enby (I see all of you and I appreciate you!). This is a way we can incorporate diversity in a different, but no less important way. But, as a final request, please with a cherry on top: get a sensitivity reader if you’re writing outside your gender lane.


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Source: Bought

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Thanks for the review, Kat! 


Until Next Time,

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