Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail Wilson
A Regency era gothic romance, the story follows Elizabeth Cantrell as she attempts to travel to take up a new position as a housekeeper, her baby son Isaac in tow. When her carriage crashes after an encounter with a highwayman she’s caught up in a plot involving secret messages and French spies, and somewhat to her own bewilderment ends up married to Adrian, Lord Torrington… the older brother of her erstwhile lover. Arriving at Adrian’s estate, Middlecrest Abbey, Elizabeth soon discovers the house party gathered to celebrate the wedding of Adrian’s eldest daughter conceals dangerous secrets - secrets which turn deadly for one of the guests.
Alone in a house full of strangers, Elizabeth has no idea who she can trust, but as it quickly becomes obvious both she and her son are in danger, she’s determined not to sit back and passively wait for things to happen. Her growing feelings for Adrian complicate things, as do the secrets they’re both keeping, all of which are slowly revealed over the course of the story.
I had my suspicions about the murderer from early on - there were a few clues which didn’t quite add up - but the reveal still had a few surprises, including some sad ones (trigger warnings for stillbirth of a child apply). I did feel annoyed by Elizabeth’s failure to come clean with Adrian about her son’s parentage earlier; she literally sat on her hands about it until the truth ambushed both of them, something any sensible person should have seen coming a mile away. It’s frustrating when the author makes otherwise intelligent and sensible characters make such an obviously dumb decision for the sake of the plot.
Historical accuracy wise, this was pretty good; I do wish authors would check out when special licenses were actually appropriate and how difficult they were to get, because you don’t just ‘nip out’ of an inn one morning to get one and get married before lunchtime. You had to go to Doctor’s Commons in London and apply to the Archbishop of Canterbury, a busy man who didn’t hand the licenses out to just anyone; it was a tricky and expensive endeavour. Especially considering that Adrian resided in a nearby parish and could just get a vastly cheaper and simpler common license.
Overall, these were pretty minor niggles. The pace of the story was a bit on the slow side for much of the book before picking up to breakneck right at the end, making it feel a little uneven, but it was still a good read and I did enjoy Adrian and Elizabeth’s romance. I’ll give it four stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.