The Vizard Mask by Diana Norman was a captivating read from start to finish. It takes place during the Restoration Period with Charles II on the throne and ends with William and Mary of Orange on the throne. The story spans 25 years and includes fictional as well as real historical characters that include Aphra Behn, the first woman playwright of her time who was buried in Westminster Abbey to the chagrin of many. Nell Gywnn, mistress to Charles II as well as the actress, Elizabeth Barry. But the story is seen through the eyes of Puritan Penitence Hurd, a young girl who flees America in search of an elusive aunt in London and finds love and adventure!
The Vizard Mask is a combination of political intrigue, suspense and love-story. The novel begins with Penitence Hurd making her way from the Americas to London on her own. Her reasons for leaving have to deal with a house-fire along with accusatory remarks of her being a witch and fleeing from the threat of ravishment from the Reverend Block. In searching for a Margaret Hughes in London – she is given direction to Dog Yard and is led to a brothel called The Cock and Pie. It is there that she finds out the secret of her heritage, fights to survive the Plague and falls in love with an actor.
There is a really nice scene that I’ve book-marked and reread more than once because it is so moving and so telling of Henry King and Penitence Hurd’s relationship. It is when the Dog Yarders close ranks during Shut-Up to help the Brysketts only surviving child escape when so many others have died during the Plague. Just to recap some history for you: Anyone who was found to have Plague, they were Shut-Up with their family & friends or strangers or whoever happened to be there for 40 days & 40 nights. It was the law and a death sentence. So, up on the rooftops and up on the balcony’s people went along with the Watch as well as many others who were Shut-Up. All are excited about the new play they are about to see called, Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare; it is a ruse to distract the Watchers while the Brysketts make good their escape. Penitence, fearing that her stutter will ruin the ruse, gets nervous and Henry King is right there to provide encouragement and help her overcome her fear. Love, love, love that scene!
I was a little surprised at how little we get to spend with Aphra Behn but then again, there is very little known about her life other than the fact that she was the first woman playwright. There were many historical markers that I enjoyed reading such as the Duke’s Theatre and Newgate prison which the author holds nothing back as far as how prisoners were treated there. Also, when Penitence gets her first start at the Duke’s Theatre as a “walker” we get to see how the rakes and fops would always disrupt the performance with their loud and rude behavior. Actresses were fawned over and treated like property. As you all well know that the profession of an actress was not a respectful one. Penitence tries her best to retain her freedom but after a near rape, she quickly obtains protection from the Duke of Rochester by being his mistress.
Diana Norman creates some of the most interesting characters. I loved Henry King who appears more than he seems and plays a important role in Penitence’s life. He literally comes out of nowhere to save Penitence from some thieves one day and ends up living next door to her. Ms. Norman knows how to write some of the best heroes, ladies. I’ve read five of Ms. Norman’s books and Henry King is right at the top and after that would be the hero from Blood Royal, Archibald Cameron.
The Vizard Mask is a historical novel- make no mistake about that. It has a romance in it and it’s not your typical romance either nor is it the focus. If you can’t stand long separations between the hero and heroine, then this book is not for you. If you expect to read detailed love scenes – you will be disappointed. If you can’t stand the hero/heroine sleeping with other people – then skip this novel altogether. If you enjoy historical fiction that grabs you and captivates you, then pick up this book. Alas, it is out of print. A lot of Diana Norman’s books are out of print but let me tell you, my fellow readers, never have I read an author whose books transport you to another time and place as well as Diana Norman. She is the absolute best. She breathes life into her characters. She transports the reader to the Restoration Period and I enjoyed every word of it. This book is currently available used/new in the UK.
[tags] Diana Norman, Historical Fiction, The Vizard Mask[/tags]