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The Mask of the Enchantress by Victoria Holt
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This is the story of Suewellyn, who will be impersonating her half-sister after she dies, and claim the family castle as her own. Though the girls look very much alike, their personalities couldn't be more different, which Suewellyn gradually discovers after coming to live in the castle. About half of the book is spent on the facts leading up to the point of the identity switch. We even get to read a lengthy journal of Suewellyn's mother, explaining to her daughter the circumstances leading up to her birth. So most of the book isn't very suspenseful, but the anticipation of things to come combined with Ms. Holt's superior story-telling, make you eagerly read on. The castle is impressive and enchanting instead of eerie and glooming, no things go bump in the night, no mysterious behaviour by the people, no gothicness at all. It seems like Victoria Holt herself thought the gothic elements were a bit lacking in the story, and therefore she told us some mysterious behaviour of the indigenous people on the Pacific Island where Suewellyn lived when she was young. This actually had nothing to do with the main story and can be discarded as filler.

I wanted to compare this book with "The Ivy Tree" by Mary Stewart, which I read just before. In both books it's about a heroine taking on the identity of a look-alike. In TIT the reader wonders if the heroine might actually be this person, in TMOTE it's clear from the beginning that the heroine is an impostor. This is a big difference, as it completely affects the way the story is told, so I've decided an in-depth comparison of both novels would be rather pointless. In TIT the deception starts already in the very first pages, whereas in TMOTE we must wait until the second half of the book. I like the way how in TMOTE the heroine is uncertain and careful not to slip up and give away her deception. In TIT the heroine is very self-assured and confident. Both heroines find out things about the girl whose life they've taken over, in TMOTE the heroine is shocked and confused, in TIT she acts like it's no surprise. I think the way Ms. Holt portrays her heroine makes it easier for the reader to identify with her. Of course, in my opinion Ms. Holt's story-telling abilities surpass those of Mary Stewart, so there's no need to dwell on this difference in both books. There's not much romance in either book, in TMOTE it's a sweet kind of romance, and in TIT it's more about love sans rose-coloured glasses.

I don't know if this is a coincidence or a little joke by Ms. Holt, but a few names in both books were somewhat similar: both stories have an An(n)abel, there's Donald Seton vs. the Seton family and a Mary Grey vs. a Matty Grey.

Concluding: Even if the suspense wasn't very great, I was drawn into the story and was anxious to see the heroine getting out of the tangled web she wove for herself. I think this situation could have been made more complicated and exciting; now things were resolved rather quickly in the end. Therefore, I'm not going for a 9, but an 8 as my verdict.


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