Author: Hayden Thorne
Cover artist: n/a
Publisher: Queerteen Press
Amazon: Buy Link Renfred’s Masquerade
Genre: Young Adult/Gay Fiction/Fantasy
Length: 75214 words
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
A guest review by Sirius
Summary: This coming of age story may be set in a fantasy world, but it explores realistic pains and struggles which come with growing up and realizing who you are.
Young Nicola Gregori has always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, a brilliant clock-maker who’s famous for his wild, fantastical designs. But his father instead sends him to school to learn more practical matters. Nicola, stricken with infantile paralysis that left him with a deformed right leg, becomes an object of mockery and cruel jokes in school. He learns that in order to survive his daily ordeals, he needs to vanish in the crowd, to stop aspiring, to stop dreaming, and above all, to believe himself unworthy of respect and love.
Tragedy strikes when Nicola turns sixteen. Gustav Renfred, an old friend of his father, takes on Nicola as his charge and whisks him away to an isolated islet filled with empty mansions and bordered by a bluebell forest. There Nicola slowly learns about the tragic story that tightly weaves together the fates of Jacopo Gregori, Gustav Renfred, and Gustav’s twin sister, Constanza.
Magic, impossible dreams, and unrequited love come together in Ambrosi, the Renfreds’ mansion, where Nicola is caught up in a world of haunting portraits, a ghostly housekeeper, and the mysterious disappearance of Davide, Constanza’s adopted son. When Nicola’s invited to one of Renfred’s magical masquerades, he discovers the answers to riddles as well as the mounting danger that the Renfred family faces with every passing hour.
With the masquerades’ existence depending on the physical and mental strength of an ailing Renfred, the task of solving the mystery of Davide’s disappearance before time runs out falls on Nicola’s shoulders, and he has no choice but to depend on things that he’s long learned to suppress: courage, self-respect, and the desire to aim for impossible goals.
First let me say that when I pick up a story written by Hayden Thorne, I know that even if I do not enjoy the subject matter, I will at least enjoy her writing, and this story was beautifully-written in my opinion. The writing was just so clear and it was easy to imagine everything that was happening on the page.
Renfred’s Masquerade is marked young adult and I may have mentioned before that I have a weird relationship with this genre. On one hand, many stories that I read when I was a child and teenager are still on the list on my favorite rereads; on the other, I am really uncomfortable with the idea that there are topics that a young person 16-18 years of age will not be able to understand. Do not get me wrong, I think that young people need more books covering topics and issues which are relevant and interesting for them, not less, but it is the exclusion of topics and dumbing-down the storytelling that makes me uncomfortable. And note that everything that I said in the previous two sentences has no relation to Hayden Thorne’s book.
The themes of the book are simple — coming of age, coming to terms with who you are, how you view yourself and how the world views you. But the themes are by no means simplistic; never once did I, as an adult, feel that the book talked down to me, thus I would imagine and hope that a young person reading it will not feel that way either. This writer developed the themes by populating this story with interesting, flawed, but very likeable characters. She also developed extremely interesting fantastical settings where it felt as if the author let her imagination run wild. I was a happy reader because of that and I could not put the book down until I finished it.
The blurb describes the story pretty accurately and in great detail. I do not think I need or want to go in any more plot detail. I adored Nicola’s character, and I felt as if I was living his life through his eyes. I think his struggles were written so heartbreakingly-well that a lot of young people in a similar real life circumstances may relate to him. I felt his pain when he was craving his father’s love and did not feel that he was getting it. I hoped he would be able to live his life the way he wanted to and stay straight and look the world in the eyes because he deserved to be proud who he is instead of trying to hide away because of his disability. I was so happy when Nicola finally managed to realize who he is and that he deserves to be happy too. I was also very impressed that his idea to spend the time in less boring ways would be to use a library. 🙂 I love characters who love books and have creative talents.
While the story has a suspense storyline and does not have standard horror elements, I easily get scared and to me, the suspense a couple of times became a bit scary (but I am sure that’s just me and I just have a low threshold for scary 🙂 ). This tale also has magic and the magic manifests itself in the beautiful art creations, which I loved.
There is a beautiful beginning to the love story in this book, but please do not expect a full blown romance. Nicola’s romantic interest is much less fleshed out than Nicola, but he is also a likeable and interesting character.
If I were to offer another niggle about this story, I would say that I was kind of disappointed that the adults in this story are so broken or so dead. Yes, adults do die. Adults do make mistakes, and I definitely realize that the point of a coming of age story is for the young person to come into his own, to come into the world and realize that he is fully able and capable to deal with everything the world throws at him. I know all that and that is why it is kind of the point that adults make plenty of mistakes and it is up to the young person to fix it, forgive them, etc. At the same time, I have also read stories where the young person comes into his own and not every adult around him disappears or dies, so I know it could be done. This is just my personal taste preference, really. Regardless, the “adults making mistakes” element was beautifully done, and they were very interesting characters — if minor ones — but I wished for a less morbid resolution for them. I also thought that Nicola was much better person than me as I could have never forgiven his father, but again I know this is one of the common themes in coming of age stories.
Lastly, may I just say how much I love the cover?