“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” ― Stephen King
Author: Hayden Thorne
Publisher: Queerteen Press
Pages/Word Count: 238 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
Blurb: 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 history 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 he’s long learned to suppress: courage, self-respect, and the desire to aim for impossible goals.
Review: A boy’s journey into a world of magic, clockwork devices, and self-discovery has never been done more beautifully than in Hayden Thorne’s Renfred’s Masquerade, a novel that immerses the reader in an allegorical tale which tells the story of Nicola Gregori, a young man who discovers the courage to step out from behind a physical affliction and accept that love is worth fighting for, that honesty is worth the risk, and that, regardless of the many illusions surrounding him, the boy he’s fallen in love with is all too real.
Renfred’s Masquerade is the first book I ever reviewed on The Novel Approach, back in December of 2011, but it’s certainly not the first of Hayden Thorne’s books I’d ever loved. It’s just the one I love best. Did it not only stand the test of time but also withstand being read again by the me who’s the same yet has still changed in some small ways over those passing years? Absolutely. In fact, I might even say that the poetic imagery and the themes the author weaves throughout this coming-of-age story are all the richer for my ability to appreciate them through new eyes and in different ways.
Nicola Gregori has learned to disappear into the scenery, to become entirely inconspicuous to avoid the teasing and bullying that accompanies the lame right leg which impairs him physically and disfigures him emotionally. Whether historical or contemporary, fiction or reality, the need to, if not fit in, then to be invisible, is universally understood, and the author capitalizes on it with an emotional appeal that’s all too real.
Feeling shameful of his affliction, Nicola has learned the cruelest result of his deformity may be his father’s emotional distance. He is a boy who wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a master clockmaker, to weave his imagination into the faces and bodies of the keepers of Time, perfect in their magic, but Jacopo Gregori has a far better life planned for his son than the one he himself has lived. The relationship between Nicola and Jacopo is difficult to witness at times, feeling Nicola’s yearning and Jacopo’s affectionless demeanor, but perhaps not so hard to understand, and it’s the sense of lost connection between father and son that sets the emotional tone of the novel perfectly, and opens Nicola up for all the things he will experience as Time permits.
Orphaned by the deaths of both his father and his beloved Pietra, the housekeeper who’d become surrogate mother to Nicola after his own mother died when he was an infant, Nicola becomes the ward of magician, alchemist, and estranged friend to Nicola’s father, Gustav Renfred, the man whose secrets and gifts will become the catalyst by which young Nicola will discover a hidden strength, empowered by his compassion for a family that had been broken by a past deception which returned to cause immeasurable damage in the present. Isolated on an island off the coast of Traviata, magic and wonderment go hand in hand with tragedy as Nicola learns he is so much more than his disability. In a race against Time, Nicola must find a way to rescue Davide Renfred, a young man whose own sense of disgrace has caused him to disappear within an illusion, where there is no shame in his sexuality.
Renfred’s Masquerade is a brilliant tale of self-discovery, a masterpiece in the same vein as the author’s stunning The Twilight Gods. Hayden Thorne’s writing is a love affair with language and symbolism, her books ones that engage the mind and envelope the senses. The settings are a breath of life, as much a part of the plot as the characters themselves, time and place becoming characters that are wholly imperative to the narrative.
This is not a story of romance as much as it is an exposition of a boy who becomes a young man and learns a valuable lesson in the transformative power of love. He learns that the value of a man is what is beneath the façade, that what lurks in the heart and mind is far more powerful than what is visible on the surface. Renfred’s Masquerade is a dreamscape woven in words, threaded with pain and hope and wonderment; with love, both unrequited and unconditional, a story of one young man’s evolution, gorgeous in all its symmetry, and is a celebration of storytelling.