Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Girl in the Mask - Marie-Louise Jensen

I've been a fan of Marie-Louise Jensen for a while now since I bought her previous historical fiction novel, The Lady in the Tower (review), on a whim to gain a 3 for 2 at Waterstones. I read it a few years ago and loved it!
I re-read it earlier in the year which just reminded me of how much I love her writing - I loved the romance, the mystery and just she writes very good historical fiction.
So when I heard about this being released at the beginning of the year, I was definite about getting this once it was published. Which I did. And then left it for months until I read it.
I read this a few weeks ago so I'm writing this review from memory therefore some details may be wrong (let me know!) or a bit vague. Sorry!

Synopsis: Sophia is used to living in her large house along with her cousin while her father, part of the gentry, travels in the West Indies. However, on his return, he becomes determined to get Sophia married off as soon as possible. The family, with Sophia's recently widowed aunt, travel to Bath for the summer season to make a new life. By day Sophia is trapped in the patriarchal society where young ladies must behave in a certain way at the various social masquerades, balls and afternoons. However, after befriending a girl of lower class to Sophia, she swaps ball gowns for breeches and turns to highway robbery in order to gain money for a sense of freedom. When one gentleman begins to take a rather keen interest in Sophia's life, Sophia realises she needs to be careful in order to protect her secret life and herself.

Review: The way the synopsis was written made me assumed this book was a little like Sovay by Celia Rees of a young lady in 1700's society who was the epitome of a young lady by day and then pretending to be a man at night and robbing coaches in an act of rebellion. As a warning, I found that this was kind of wrong for this novel, I think it was better the way it was done but the blurb does give another impression in my opinion.

At the start of this novel, I was a little unsure of what I would think by the end. I'm not sure why, the beginning definitely puts you in the middle of Sophia's life and right at the beginning of the main storyline. I liked the book overall, it's very readable if you wanted a dose of historical fiction in your life or something dramatic and with lots of mystery - that part was done really well. Some of the characters are, well, not who they say they are and when it 'all comes out' at the end, there are so many surprises which definitely is something to read until the end for.
The ending itself didn't seem satisfying. I liked the big ending and then the kind of after-story but I didn't feel any closure at the end which I would have liked, but I'm glad it all worked out in the end for Sophia.

Sophia herself I wasn't too fond of at the beginning. I found her rather whiny, which did come back at times throughout. However, it was great to see a strong, semi-independent female character in a historical fiction novel which does happen always. Sophia has a lot of things going on and a lot of horrible people trying to manipulate around her which made me feel rather sorry for her. Her relationship with both Jenny and Mr Charleton (ah him!) were very different but do give her some freedom and I think without this other side to Sophia, I would really not have liked her.
On the subject of characters, there are a huge array here - some that are real, others fictitious but all were very unique and brought something entertaining and interesting to the story. One of my favourites was Mr Charleton for his humour mostly which had me a few times laughing out loud - he's just so gentlemanly and witty. Jenny also brought some humour to the novel with her difference to Sophia in class. The creep of the book goes to Sophia's father who I wanted to slap. Hard. So creepy, so annoying and urgh, some of his actions were so unnecessary. No wonder Sophia is scared of him!

Although I do wish, being a lover of historical romance, that the ending and the romance itself in this book had more to it, I did Jensen's writing in this novel again. The romance could have been more enhanced but then the focus of this novel is not the romance and I'm not sure it would have fit. The ending is very ambiguous in some ways but I liked the idea that everyone has their own idea what happens after the pages are closed. There is more to this book than meets the eye and from reading the first chapter. Yes, there is all the issues of society and her family for Sophia. However, this is essentially a novel of mystery, suspense, rebellions and spies. Marie-Louise Jensen covers a period of history that I doubt has been covered in fiction before of the Jacobite risings in England when the Stuart (the family after the Tudors) heir after Charles I died was deposed and claimed by his daughter, Mary to rule equally with her Dutch husband, William. Which a lot of English didn't like hence the references to rebellions throughout the novel. I've never studied this period of history but after finishing this novel, I have to admit I was quite intrigued to find out more.

Overall, this novel is very good for those that enjoy historical fiction. For me, it was nothing like The Lady in the Tower, one of my favourite books, but I still enjoyed this book nonetheless for the mystery, drama and the writing. I totally felt like I could imagine Bath as it is described (quite unfavourably interestingly) and I liked reading about Sophia's double life. This is a good novel despite some of the mediocre reviews and was a lovely, enjoyable read while I was  little ill.

I give it a 4 out of 5

Author's Website:
Pages: 311
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Challenges: BBC, Historical Fiction


  1. Great review! This book sounds so unusual so I'm really intrigued! I both love and hate open endings because you'll always be wondering what the author really intended! And I usually always want to slap someone in every book I read - but there's always just that one really infuriating character! Unfortunately, I've never really been much of a historical fiction fan but I really want to get into them - maybe I always go for the wrong era! :3

    Thanks so much for sharing! I'll be looking out for this book now! :D

  2. Great review! I'm glad you enjoyed it!
    I'm the opposite to you and actually preferred this one to The Lady in the Tower! I might pull out my copy to re-read again some time in 2013!


Comments can, most of the time, make my day. Write anything, be it your comment on my post, if you agree or disagree or if you want to ask something - I check them most days. So go ahead, write something! :)

*I have removed the option of anonymous commenters because I was having trouble with spam. Sorry for the inconvenience.*