Book title: Unmasked Heart
Author: Vanessa Riley
Number of pages: 412
Book blurb: Shy, nearsighted caregiver, Gaia Telfair always wondered why her father treated her a little differently than her siblings, but she never guessed she couldn’t claim his love because of a family secret, her illicit birth. With everything she knows to be true evaporating before her spectacles, can the mulatto passing for white survive being exposed and shunned by the powerful duke who has taken an interest in her?Ex-warrior, William St. Landon, the Duke of Cheshire, will do anything to protect his mute daughter from his late wife’s scandals. With a blackmailer at large, hiding in a small village near the cliffs of Devonshire seems the best option, particularly since he can gain help from the talented Miss Telfair, who has the ability to help children learn to speak.
Ex-warrior, William St. Landon, the Duke of Cheshire, will do anything to protect his mute daughter from his late wife’s scandals. With a blackmailer at large, hiding in a small village near the cliffs of Devonshire seems the best option, particularly since he can gain help from the talented Miss Telfair, who has the ability to help children learn to speak.
If only he could do a better job at shielding his heart from the young lady, whose honest hazel eyes see through his jests as her tender lips challenge his desire to remain a single man. Unmasked Heart is the first Challenge of the Soul Regency novel.
Sadness, sweetness and true beauty were poetically woven throughout this story with the perfect title for its content.
The story is called Unmasked Heart and the author Vanessa Riley is a true authority on all things regency romance. She skillfully and flawlessly paints vivid pictures in every scene featuring characters of color.
The heroine Gaia Telfair is what people back then (and now) would call a “mulatto” which means that she is a mix of White and Black blood/heritage/lineage. Due to her mixed blood, her skin is a bit darker than her White family members and she’s very self-conscious about it. She even stays out of the sun for a month prior to a fancy masquerade ball so that she appears paler and closer to the skin color that was accepted by society at that time which was a milky white complexion.
Gaia’s father spun the story about her skin color from her birth to be socially acceptable. He said that she had Spanish ancestry and for a while, that lie worked…until Gaia discovered the truth.
The author knows how to peel back the layers in this story like a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef would expertly peel back the layers of an onion. Every layer reveals something new about the hero and heroine of this story. It’s so well done and intriguing that the reader will keep turning the page until they reach the end. The reader’s journey through this book is an experience of a myriad of emotions as the plot twists and the tension builds.
Highlights from this book include the scene where William St. Landon, the Duke of Cheshire, advises Gaia that she give her love interest “something to chase” because “every man wants to win love and know that it’s his alone.” It ups the ante on the love triangle that’s happening in this story. It’s the classic case of the heroine wants the object of her affection but he does not want her (at first) and meanwhile, the true hero (William) wants the heroine. The difference, however, is that William is a hero worth his weight in gold who makes Elliot (Gaia’s love interest/first hero of choice) pale in comparison.
Another highlight in this book was when Gaia confesses her feelings to a man that she thinks is Elliot. But his face is hidden behind a mask because they’re attending a masquerade ball. It was compelling to hear Gaia pour out her “unmasked heart” to “Elliot” only to find out that it is not he. The reaction of the man who is not Elliot was swoon-worthy.
A sad part of this story was the fact that Gaia believed the Black side of her heritage prevented the only father that she knew from loving her as one of his biological daughters. Even sadder was the scene where Gaia learned the circumstances of her conception and the tragic results of the affair that her mother had with Gaia’s biological father. Worse yet is her belief that her Blackness will prevent the man she loves from loving her back.
However, the reader may be surprised by Gaia’s unique marriage proposal. It was a scene that made me laugh out loud. The interaction between Gaia and her suitor was heartwarming.
One of the most clever lines in this story was when a Black man named Albert talks about his mixed-race niece whose hair like Gaia’s which he describes as “feathers in the fog”. It was a very clever way for this author to reveal that Albert knew that Gaia was part Black and it rings true even in the year 2017 when quite often a Black person in America can easily point out another Black person no matter what percentage of Black blood they have just by details that most people who are not Black may miss.
It made me sad that a character advised Gaia to not tell William that she is Black because it would “ruin everything”. But that’s a reality that Black women of mixed heritage still sometimes face in 2017 which is centuries after the era this book was written to reflect.
Most powerful was the point in this story where Gaia realizes that it doesn’t matter how her biological father’s background or status in society ranked. What matters is that she’s a Child of the King (GOD) so God made her somebody and she deserves happiness.
I loved reading this story! The author’s storytelling style is historically accurate, enthralling, and smooth. The storyline is strong and so well told that it was hard to take a break from reading it.
Unmasked Heart is worth every bit of a 5-star rating!
*The book reviewer (Alexis A. Goring) received a complimentary copy of Unmasked Heart from the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author: Vanessa Riley worked as an engineer before allowing her passion for historical romance to shine. A Regency era (early 1800s) and Jane Austen enthusiast, she brings the flavor of diverse peoples to her stories. Since she was seventeen, Vanessa has won awards for her writing and is currently working on two series. She lives in Atlanta with her military man hubby and precocious child. You can catch her writing from the comfort of her southern porch with a cup of Earl Grey tea.