Saturday 9 December 2023

Book Review - Muskets and Masquerades by Lindsey Fera


Muskets and Masquerades
By Lindsey Fera

Publication Date: 18th April 2023
Publisher: Pompkin Press
Page Length: 490 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Jack and Annalisa are married only five months when, enroute to France, a shipwreck separates them. On different shores, each believes the other dead. But when Annalisa learns Jack is alive, she returns to America and discovers much has changed. After a betrayal, she flees town as her alter ego, Benjamin Cavendish, and joins the Continental Army.

Unbeknownst to Annalisa, Jack has also joined the Continentals, harboring shameful secrets from his days in mourning. Against the backdrop of war with Britain, façades mount between Jack and Annalisa, and the merry minuet of their adolescence dissolves into a masquerade of deceit, one which threatens to part them forever.

Despondent, he stared at the deckhead. The world around him swirled into a dizzying mass of gaol cell irons and soiled hay. Beyond the porthole, the sky darkened, and Jack threw an arm over his eyes. Where is Annalisa? 

Having fought for their love and been victorious, Jack and Annalisa can finally call themselves husband and wife. So, when Jack is called away, and sent to France, Annalisa cannot simply let him go, and stay behind, waiting for the day of his return. She insists she must join him, and travel alongside him. They had made their vows, and were not prepared to break any of them so soon – till death do us part. 

When a storm blows in, wrecking the ship Jack and Annalisa were aboard, their futures are unknown, tossed into the wind for fate to play with. Both awaken, but they are no longer together, and know not where the other is, or how they fare. Jack finds himself alone, in the holding cell of a British ship, facing torture at the hands of the Redcoats. When Annalisa awakens, she does not even know who she is, let alone where. An injury to her head has left her memory blank, her life and past as much a mystery as her future.

Soulmates, torn apart and doomed to live life apart, set against the murky backdrop of soldiers, fighting for their country’s liberty from the British’s iron grip – Muskets and Masquerades by Lindsey Fera is a novel of desperation, of hoping and praying against all odds for a positive outcome, no matter how unlikely or difficult the circumstances.

Once again, Ms Fera has encapsulated this historical period in impeccable detail, and with such a care towards her characters, they are truly real in the telling. Annalisa and Jack were an absolute joy to reunite with, and after getting to know them in the first book of the series, Muskets and Minuets, for them to be ripped apart from one another was devastating to read about. For each to believe the other dead, and all their family to believe both dead, made for some truly heartbreaking scenes, especially so when certain characters, inevitably, discover Jack and Annalisa still live. 

This is a novel full of deceit, of heartbreak leading to bad decisions, and rashly made choices creating less than ideal outcomes. With things to hide from one another, Jack and Annalisa seem to slowly push wedges between themselves. The all-consuming guilt that they have done something the other should know about, but finding themselves unable to come clean, slowly chips away at their trust in each other. They thought they loved each and every piece of the other, but cracks in the surface reveal trauma that can’t be pushed aside, anguish that lives inside, and ordeals that have changed each of them forever. 

Jack’s use of substances to attempt to numb the pain of losing Annalisa is particularly difficult to read. He is such a kind, generous, and honourable man, and to watch him change from a carefree boy, smiling and cracking jokes, to a broken man, depending on opium and alcohol to sleep at night, is certainly reason enough to keep a box of tissues to hand. Jack suffers terribly in this novel, the agony of pain he cannot forget or move on from writhes in his head, forcing him to leave his carefree self behind. He finds himself on edge, uneasy when leaving the areas he knows, always checking behind him to make sure he is not being followed. Paranoia and melancholia, on top of substance abuse, certainly made Jack the centre of my sympathy while reading. He is a character you cannot help but love, and to watch him suffer so is harrowing.

The additional perspective of George, Annalisa’s brother, in this novel is certainly enjoyable. He featured in Muskets and Minuets, and had a few chapters dedicated to him, but he truly came to life in this novel. He is on the front line, coming face to face with the British and fighting for what he believes in. Many of his friends and fellow comrades lose their lives to the revolution, and yet George holds steadfast. He certainly grows into his own character throughout this novel, revealing who he really is, and what he will and will not fight for. George ties the revolution into the story, for while many of the characters are affected by the ongoing war, George is the only one who is fighting from the start of the novel to the end, providing a running commentary on how the war was going, and who was winning. 

While it is incredibly easy to love many of the characters in this novel, there are also a few that are very easy to dislike. Hate is a strong word, but when it comes to certain characters, it is certainly a word that can be used. In Muskets and Minuets, Jack and Annalisa contested with their parents and society to fight for their love. In this novel, everyone has grown up, even though it has only been a few months. They are no longer seeking society’s approval, but instead are walking a path of hot coals to try and find the loopholes in the law regarding marriages and divorces. In particular, Annalisa’s sister, Jane, is a massive point of contention in this book. She was previously promised to Jack, before he fell in love with Annalisa, and with uncertainty over who is truly alive and who is not, Jane has set her sights on Jack again. She acts in a truly despicable manner throughout this novel, and at times you want to do nothing but thump her, and tell her to back off and leave Jack alone. After all he and Annalisa go through, for family to once again get in the way, and try to tear things apart is maddening.

This is a rather lengthy novel, coming in at just under 500 pages, much alike Muskets and Minuets. Such a lot happens in both novels, with in-depth character building, and complicated relationships between families, friends, and foes, it could be difficult to jump straight to Muskets and Masquerades without having read the first book in the series. To completely fall in love with the characters, and feel every ounce of joy and heartbreak in this book, I would recommend reading Muskets and Minuets first. 

Muskets and Masquerades by Lindsey Fera is a novel bursting at the seams with things to talk about. It cannot be simply summed up, but could be talked about for hours. It is a story that begs to be spoken about, discussed, and re-read, for it holds so much – so much detail, so many lives, a rollercoaster of emotions – you cannot simply read it and then put it back on your shelf.

I Highly Recommend. 

Lindsey S. Fera

A born and bred New Englander, Lindsey hails from the North Shore of Boston. A member of the Topsfield Historical Society and the Historical Novel Society, she forged her love for writing with her intrigue for colonial America by writing her debut novel, Muskets and Minuets. When she's not attending historical reenactments or spouting off facts about Boston, she's nursing patients back to health in the ICU.

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