Natasha Peters’ Splendid Torment–originally published as The Masquers–takes us to late 18th-century Venice, to the world of Fosca Loredan, a titian-haired young noblewoman trapped in a loveless marriage to a much older nobleman. It’s an unusual romance, in the style of Bertrice Small sans purple-prose: part bodice ripper, part historical fiction, replete with swashbuckling and political intrigue.
Two heroes are vying for Fosca’s attention: Raffaelo, an atheist, revolutionary, bastard Jew and Alessandro, a middle-aged, philandering, anti-Semite politician. But this love triangle is actually a quadrangle with a fourth player: Lia, a woman who will do anything with anyone to save her true love.
Besides this adulterous entanglement, some of the book’s highlights include a Dynasty-style catfight; a Sapphic May-December love affair; an omniscient dowager who hasn’t left her bed in 20 years; a singing eunuch and a cross-dressing, dancing dwarf.
Final Analysis of The Masquers (aka Splendid Torment)
This is the third Natasha Peters romance I’ve read, the others being Dangerous Obsession and Savage Surrender. I’ve always enjoyed them all. She skillfully wove history with melodrama and created flawed yet all-too-real characters in over-the-top scenarios. Despite being morally repugnant, all the players in this game captured my sympathy. As such, I was both saddened and pleasantly surprised at the result of the love triangle because one hero I cared for was left behind, while the other hero got his unexpected happy ending.
One gripe: Fosca’s inability to think with anything other than her hoo-hoo is frustrating. The girl is recklessly horny and could well have benefited from a chastity belt. In fact, they all could have used one. These guys got around!
This epic drama spans decades as characters are too proud and stubborn to communicate, thus leading to their own downfalls. Characters rarely tell the truth to themselves or others, hiding behind their Carnival masks. But what a dazzling Carnival it is.