Heroes in disguise set Ruth Axtell’s heart a’flutter

Like Ruth Axtell, author of the recently released Moonlight Masquerade, I’m a big fan of heroes in disguise. My favorite disguised hero of all time has to be Lord Saxton/Christopher of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’ A Rose in Winter. Sigh. Here, Ruth shares her favorites and how they influenced her new book.

Ruth: What is so irresistible about a hero in disguise, whose outward appearance makes him appear less than he is? Consider the Scarlet Pimpernel, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man. In real life, they seem hesitant, nerdy, timid. But underneath they are strong, decisive, heroic.

I fell in love with the story of the brave man rescuing victims of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution when I first discovered The Scarlet Pimpernel at my public library back in high school. What a dashing hero Sir Percy Blakeney was when he disappeared from London society and crossed the English Channel, donning any number of disguises to rescue aristocrats under the very noses of the French officials who were ready to send them to the guillotine.

But to his wife, Marguerite St. Just, he is an oafish, mentally slow, silly individual and she wonders in despair where the man she originally married went to. But it’s all a disguise. He has lost his trust in her and his very life depends on keeping up the appearance of a simpleton.

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If any story influenced my latest regency, Moonlight Masquerade, it was The Scarlet Pimpernel. The hero, Rees Phillips, aka Harry MacKinnon, plays a butler in a widowed countess’ household. A butler must appear silent, dignified, ready to carry out his lady’s commands at a mere nod. Just like the Scarlet Pimpernel, Rees must trade his true personality for someone seemingly inferior. This, in my opinion, makes for a very attractive hero, because it forces him to humble himself — a challenge to his masculine pride — while all the while, we the reader know or suspect what he is capable of. We can’t wait for the heroine to look beneath the surface and discover who the real man is.

In the Regency era, a time of strictly delineated classes, a highborn lady would never glance at her butler as a human being on her own level. He belonged below stairs, even if he reigned as king in the servants’ hall.

Lady Céline Wexham, the daughter of a French marquis and widow of an English earl, is nothing if not highborn. But she is also a Republican, who believes in the original ideals of the French Revolution — democracy and the equality of man. Just as Marguerite St. Just, the heroine in The Scarlet Pimpernel, catches glimpses of the authentic man under the bumbling façade of Sir Percy Blakeney, so my heroine Céline suspects there is more than meets the eye in her new butler.

Like a true heroine, she is able to see beyond the butler’s uniform to the man of character and worth beneath. There’s also something irresistible in those gray eyes that draws her as a woman.

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I have been fascinated by the Napoleonic Wars ever since reading War and Peace and A Tale of Two Cities in high school. They play a significant part in the Regency era, since England and France were at war for about two decades. With Moonlight Masquerade I was able to delve more extensively into the history of it. I hope readers will find how I wove actual events into my characters’ story both entertaining and informative.

Here’s the blurb for Moonlight Masquerade:.

Lady Céline Wexham seems the model British subject. French by birth but enjoying life in 1813 as a widowed English countess, she is in the unique position of being able to help those in need — or to spy for the notorious Napoleon Bonaparte. When Rees Phillips of the British Foreign Office is sent to pose as the countess’s butler and discover where her true loyalties lie, he is confident he will uncover the truth. But the longer he is in her fashionable townhouse in London’s West End, the more his staunch loyalty to the Crown begins to waver as he falls under Lady Wexham’s spell. Will he find the proof he needs? And if she is a spy after all, will he do the right thing?

Ruth Axtell deftly creates a world where black and white burst into a confusion of colors and no one is who they seem. Readers will be hooked from the very first scene to the final page.

To find out more about Ruth Axtell and her books, visit ruthaxtell.Com or ruthaxtell.Com/blog.

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