Book Reviews

The Artistís Masquerade (Chronicles of Tournai 2) by Antonia Aquilante at NineStar Press

Genre Gay / Fantasy / High Fantasy / Magic / Royalty/Nobility / Shapeshifters / Romance
Reviewed by Serena Yates on 04-May-2020

Book Blurb

As the first-born son of a royal duke and cousin to the prince, Cathal has always put his duty to family and country first, even when it conflicts with his own wishes. When Cathal’s father arranges a marriage between him and Velia, cousin to the emperor of Ardunn, without consulting him, he sees no alternative but to go along with his plans for the good of Tournai. But it’s Velia’s companion, Flavia, who fascinates Cathal from the moment he first sets eyes on her. Cathal doesn’t know Flavia is really Flavian, an artist masquerading as a woman to escape Ardunn, a restrictive and repressive place where Flavian’s preference for men is forbidden.

Even when Cathal discovers Flavian’s identity, even as he struggles with his obligations and duty, he cannot fight his attraction to the sharp-tongued artist. Flavian is intrigued by him as well, but Cathal is still betrothed to Velia, and Flavian worries he is more taken with the feminine illusion Flavian presents than the man beneath it. He came to Tournai to start a new life—a safe one—as an artist, and an inconvenient attraction to his friend’s betrothed, a man who happens to be a member of the royal family, is not a part of his plans. While both men battle their longings for each other, spies from Ardunn infiltrate the capital, attempting to uncover Tournai’s weaknesses and secrets. They are also searching for Flavian, who possesses a magical Talent giving him the ability to see the truth of a person just by painting their portrait—something that would be invaluable to Ardunn’s emperor.

First edition published by Dreamspinner Press, December 2015.

Book Review

This second visit to the fantasy world of which Tournai is a part was as fantastic, amazing, and full of surprises as the first. While ‘The Prince’s Consort’ focused on royal couple Philip and Amory, who play an essential role again, this second volume is cousin Cathal’s story. Now, if you have read the first book (and you should before attempting this one), you may remember that Cathal was not exactly the nicest person around. I thought it was fascinating how that changed with a little more information, and how Cathal gradually emerged from the shadow of his overbearing father, Philip’s uncle, Umber. With some great new characters as well as old favorites who return for more royal intrigue, this sequel made me laugh, frown at some of the characters’ stupidity, and delight in the special magic that pervades Tournai.

Cathal has a much tougher life than I suspected. He is Prince Philips cousin and had a job as his personal assistant until he left when Philip took Amory as a lover, then married him. Cathal seemed flighty, with a new female lover every few weeks, and very rigid in his adherence to protocol. Duty is everything for him, and that includes not just “proper court protocol”, but the way he lives his life as the firstborn son of the Duke of Tournai – Umber, brother of the previous ruler and the man who makes Prince Philip’s life as impossible as he can. Well, what I found out in this book is that “Uncle Umber” makes his family’s life impossible as well. Cathal has lived with his edicts and orders all his life, and when Umber decides to present him with a future wife, Velia from the empire of Ardunn, without even consulting Cathal, he has had enough. His rebellion doesn’t start right away, oh no. Cathal spends most of the book trying to do as his father wants – which drove me up the wall. Cathal only very gradually begins to think for himself, and that is mostly due to Flavia, Velia’s companion.  When Cathal finds out that Flavia is really Flavian, and his continued attraction questions Cathal’s sexuality as well as his ability to do his familial duty, Cathal comes close to a mental breakdown.

Flavian is an artist with a hidden magical Talent who is desperate to escape from the homophobic policies of Ardunn and the power-hungry emperor who is out to conquer everyone and everything he can get is hands on. So when his friend Velia offers her help to get him away, he is enthusiastic even though he has to pretend to be a woman so he can masquerade as Velia’s maid. But nothing goes the way they planned. Upon arrival at Tournai, Velia is invited to stay at court, from where it is impossible for Flavian to escape. Cathal, who is betrothed to Velia, shows a much higher interest in Flavian. And even when supposedly heterosexual Cathal finds out that Flavia is really Flavian, he does not give up. Flavian can’t believe Cathal’s interest is real – as much as he is quickly falling for the man’s charms, how can he trust that playboy Cathal will still want him a few weeks later? And anyway, Cathal keeps saying it’s his duty to marry Velia, so Flavian has very little hope for a happy ending.

Royal and other secrets, a magic Talent that shows the truth about a person when painted, political enemies, and foreign spies alike kept me interested and turning the pages of this very imaginative story. It is a fairy tale in some ways, and a political thriller in others, and I loved the deepening world building, old and new characters, and the inner struggle of both Cathal and Flavian held me spellbound. I am so glad there is at least one more book to come – Tournai is fast becoming a favorite place to visit for me.

If you like fantasy of the interesting kind – shifters, magic, and powerful enemies included, if two men from different worlds learning to stand up for what they believe sounds interesting, and if you’re looking for a read full of political power plays, danger, charm, and royal parties, then you will probably like this novel as much as I did.





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Additional Information

Format ebook
Length Novel, 369 pages/109700 words
Heat Level
Publication Date 04-May-2020
Price $6.99 ebook
Buy Link