This novella was submitted to me by the author, and based on her description, ” about a girl who decides to masquerade as her twin in order to get the attention of the guy she’s secretly in love with” I decided to give it a try.
Viola Gardener is the quiet twin, and has a Secret Thang for a Hot Earl who has danced with her once. She decides, as the author stated, to attend the masquerade ball her family is hosting and pretend to be her twin, Olivia, who is much more socially vivacious and popular. She captures Hot Earl’s attention immediately, but holds it through her own intellect and personality – something she’s not prepared herself for, because of course Hot Earl is thinking that he never knew Olivia was so interesting and smart. And much like the Shakespearean play for which it’s named and from which it drew some inspiration, shenanigans and mayhem erupt based on that and other mistaken identities.
In Twelfth Night – the Shakespearean version – Viola’s twin is a man, and Viola dresses as a man to serve as the servant to the Duke she’s secretly in love with. In this version, Viola’s twin is female, there’s no duke, and no one is cross dressing. That said, the mistaken identity and costume changes makes for an entertaining setting for a novella.
The problem I had was that I really liked the heroine and liked being in her head. Viola was smart, curious, daring, and something of an original in her character. But the Hot Earl, better known as Leighton Fortescue, is not as strong or as interesting, and when the reader gets to his POV and spends some time with him, the more he thinks, the more I thought he was downright barmy.
As I read, I made several notes to myself. Here they are, in order:
1. The author really likes semicolons. She; likes; semicolons; a lot. It was to the point where I started looking for them on every page. They were everywhere. They might have been breeding at exponential rates while I wasn’t looking.
Sometimes I don’t think they were used correctly. I remember seeing a discussion about semicolons and that editors would remove them because they were distracting to readers. I personally like semicolons about the same amount as I love compound sentences with eighteen supportive clauses that beat a metaphor into the dust, but I am distracted when I think they are not used correctly.
So here, feel free to tell me I’m doing this wrong. Is this semicolon incorrect?
The guests would see him, and those he knew would approach him, and those who wanted to know him would follow him with stares and whispers; but he seemed happier when he was not dangled before them like a prize or a taunt.
I think it is incorrect, because of the use of the word “but.” BUT, I spent so much time staring at that semicolon I had to back up and re-enter the story again because I couldn’t remember where I was.
2. There is a LOT of telling. The point of view switching means that the reader spends a lot of time in the characters’ heads as they ruminate about the situation at hand, and my GOSH these are some PENSIVE PEOPLE.
I think if this were a full-length novel, there’d be a lot of room to show rather than tell in ruminations like this one:
Perhaps it was the same restraint Viola had learned in her decision-making that made her more reserved in conversation than her sister; perhaps it was the symptom of having grown up with her sister and at some point striking out in a different direction so that she could be more herself and less her sister’s understudy.”
Here’s where I’m torn. On the negative side, that is one cumbersome sentence. In addition, it describes something relatively commonplace: twins have different personalities. But on the plus side, I was curious about the idea of the heroine, Viola, feeling like “her sister’s understudy,” and wanted to know more about that feeling. It’s almost macabre, the idea that the wallflower sister is the popular sister’s understudy, and is waiting for the popular one to break an ankle or become otherwise unable to fulfill her role, so the wallflower can step into her role.
And step in she does – by posing as Olivia at a costume ball. She poses as Olivia long enough to grab for herself some of Olivia’s braver, socially daring, popular personality without having earned it. Yet Viola keeps enough of her own intellect and curiosity that she catches the Earl’s attention.
Ultimately I wanted more revelations about the relationship between the sisters, but there was hardly any scenes of the two of them together. From what few there were, I couldn’t decide if Olivia was the stereotypically thoughtless popular sister, or if she genuinely cared about Viola.
There’s another semicolon in that excerpt, too. Don’t know if you noticed that one.
3. There were words that made no sense:
The man was the right height, the right build, the right chinned, and he was looking at Viola with the appreciation of a long-standing admirer.
4. There were sentences for which there could only be one reaction:
The lurch became a rushing pound that blew a roaring through her ears and pushed a tunnel between her eyes and her mind.
And that reaction is, “Whoa.”
5. There were other sentences which confused me:
He bowed, and when he stood again it swept the hood of his cloak off his bright hair.
It? What is “it?” What swept the hood of his cloak off his hair? I went backwards looking for whatever “it” referred to, and there wasn’t anything to be it. That was the first sentence of the paragraph. I kept picturing his own feet kicking his hood off his head, which, wow! Acrobatic!
6. There were descriptions that could have used some adjustment:
His lips were warmer than hers, and surprisingly soft. Not just the skin, though it was satiny smooth, but…mushy. Very fleshy.
Is that a good thing?
7. Yet here were moments I very much enjoyed, such as this scene, where Viola is pretending to be Olivia and is busy charming the cravat off Leighton:
“…You can have your pick of men.”
“Is that what you think?”
“It is the fact.”
“No.” She shook her head gently to emphasize her denial. Or perhaps it was a rueful shake at the male perspective she so clearly didn’t share. “Even if what you mean is that I can have my pick of my admirers… I still only have my pick of the men who have picked me. It is hardly the same thing.”
“It is exactly the same thing.”
“No, it’s not. Of course it is not. All a woman has is the right of acceptance or refusal. That is not the same thing as choosing. That is deciding whether a man is intolerable or whether he can be lived with, not whether he is the one she really wants. A man gets to actively court the woman he chooses. A man will never know how it feels to be a woman, yearning for a man who does not know she’s alive and helpless to change that.”
Viola is wise about her own predicament, and comes up with a way to go after what she wants – by pretending to be her twin, who already has a much more friendly relationship with Leighton.
Unfortunately, Leighton is inconsistent as a character and is not worthy of Viola. When he begins to suspect that he hadn’t been speaking with Olivia, he chastises himself for not figuring it out. I would think most men would be angry to have been fooled and possibly ridiculed.
Leighton is also inconsistent in his ruminations and reveals himself to either be completely bonkers or just a complete shit.
At one point he realizes that Viola, whom he had rarely spoken to at public functions, is engaged to his best friend, Francis. Leighton then has the following train of thought while pondering why Viola would pose as her sister, and whether he wanted to court Viola now that he’s met her, sort of:
Leighton hoped that Francis would not mind too much if he courted his fiancee. If Frances truly loved her, he’d have time while Leighton made sure he wanted her for his countess to try and win her back. And if Francis didn’t want her, then he might just see Leighton’s interference as a gesture of friendship.
That’s a real friend, right there. He’s the kind of guy who might want to bone your girlfriend, but while he makes up his mind about that, you’re free to try to steal her back. Real friends seduce your fiancee and call it a gesture of friendship.
Leighton also took the express train from “Wait, you’re not who I thought you were” to “I looooove you and what to marry you right now.”
She would make him a fine countess, and that was in her favor.
So was the fact that he liked her. He had genuinely enjoyed their discussion; he suspected they would never run out of topics, and neither would they sink into the polite trap of discussing only the weather, and their children, and social events.
Another plus – he desired her. Taking her to the marriage bed would be a joy and not a duty.
About the only flaws he could find were that her father was a commoner, if a very wealthy one, and her maybe-engagement to Francis.
They have had ONE CONVERSATION at this point! ONE!
By this point I was horrified by his justifications for his actions and figured he was a tool.
The strength of Viola’s point of view was undermined by Leighton’s bizarre jumps in justifying his own feelings and intentions. I liked the idea of casting Twelfth Night in a ballroom masquerade and the plot device that features a twin who feels like her sister’s understudy taking on her sister’s name for an hour to go charm the man she’s been staring at all season. I liked the concept and Viola’s adventure and the daring.
But the overuse of semicolons, the odd words and phrases, the at-times florid descriptions that made little sense to me, and the barking mad internal monologue from Leighton distracted from my enjoyment of the narrative overall. I was sorry that the writing and the hero didn’t live up to Viola herself.