Authors: Stephanie Burgis
“Atmospheric, suspenseful, and beautifully crafted,
Masks and Shadows
cost me a night of sleep because I simply couldn't put it down. This is an utterly magical novel.”
âTerri Windling, World Fantasy and
Solstice Awardâwinning author of
The Wood Wife
“Terrific. A lush adventure fueled by music and alchemy, and peopled with irresistible characters.
Masks and Shadows
blends history and magic into a rich, believable love story fraught with royal intrigue. I finished it in one sitting.”
âDonna Thorland, author of
The Dutch Girl
Masks and Shadows
stole my heart from the very first page. Set against the lush backdrop of a prince's estate and the Habsburg Empire, this is a story rich in music and dark magic, intrigue and romance, finding the courage to be a hero, and discovering that dreams can come true.”
âJaime Lee Moyer, author of
Against a Brightening Sky
“Passion reigns in this vivid work of alchemy and opera! Burgis conjures a world of dazzling splendor and intrigue, then fills it with a rich cast of characters. Lush descriptions of a baroque past delight the mind's eye while the tension mounts. In this captivating fantasy, you can almost hear the music.”
âElaine Isaak, author of
The Singer's Crown
“The story . . . is not just about opera, it actually is an opera. It is filled with passion and drama, evil plots and heroic rescues, spurned wives and pouting mistresses, demon-summoning alchemists, ambitious noblemen, and the most famous castrato singer in Europe. . . . You can practically hear the operatic score as each character steps onstage and each scene progresses.”
âRachel Neumeier, author of
The Keeper of the Mist
and the House of Shadows series
“A romantic dance of intrigue, wit, and derring-do,
Masks and Shadows
enthralls from start to finish.”
âJustina Robson, author of
and the Quantum Gravity series
Published 2016 by PyrÂ®, an imprint of Prometheus Books
Masks and Shadows
. Copyright Â© 2016 by Stephanie Burgis Samphire. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Cover illustration and design by Nicole Sommer-Lecht
Cover image Â© iStock photos
This is a work of fiction. Characters, organizations, products, locales, and events portrayed in this novel either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Inquiries should be addressed to
59 John Glenn Drive
Amherst, New York 14228
20 19 18 17 16 Â Â Â Â Â 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Pending
ISBN 978-1-63388-132-7 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-63388-133-4 (ebook)
Printed in the United States of America
For my parents, with love and thanks for taking me to
that very first opera performance, all those years ago.
“Did I tell you Niko's invited a castrato to stay?”
“What?” Charlotte von Steinbeck nearly spilled hot chocolate all across her silken sheets. She tightened her grip on the ridiculously fragile, overpoweringly expensive cup, and sighed. Her sister had done it on purpose, she was certain.
Sunlight streamed in through the open windows of Charlotte's guest bedroom, sparking off the gilded leaves that edged every blue-and-white surface and turning her sister Sophie's unpowdered blonde hair into an utterly incongruous halo.
“Oh, I suppose we ought to call him a
, to be polite. But you know what they really are.” Sophie's eyes glinted with mischief over her own raised cup. She sat on the edge of Charlotte's bed, pressed against Charlotte's knees with easy familiarity despite the many years they'd spent apart. “I've heard this one's slept with half the grand ladies in St. Petersburg. Half the gentlemen, too, according to some gossip.”
“Howâ? No, never mind. I don't want to know.” Charlotte set down her cup carefully on her bedside table.
Sophie had been teasing her all through the past week, ever since Charlotte had arrived at EszterhÃ¡za. She had to learn to hide her chagrin, or she'd be tarred as the naÃ¯ve country mouse forever. When had her younger sister grown so sophisticated?
Still, Charlotte couldn't help giving in to curiosity, even if it did allow Sophie to lord it over her even more.
“I thought that was illegal now,” Charlotte said. “Doctors aren't allowed to perform the operation, are they?”
“You've lived in Saxony for too long, Lotte.” Sophie took a long, luxurious sip of chocolate, sending the lace-trimmed silk sleeve of her negligÃ©e sliding down her fair arm. “Oh, they aren't allowed to
that's why they're doing it. But in Italy, they have all sorts of marvelous excuses. âBitten by a swan' . . . âfell off a horse' . . .” She paused, raising her eyebrows innocently. “Aren't you thirsty anymore?”
“Not really.” Charlotte topped up her cup anyway, with hot cream from the silver vase that stood on the little tray her maid had brought her. She needed sustenance to keep up with Sophie nowadays.
Not for the first time, she wondered whether it had really been a good idea to accept her sister's invitation. The offer had seemed so appealing when it had arrived in a gilded letter, overflowing with scented ink and kind words. After twelve long years apart, she would finally be with Sophie againâand in a refuge far from Saxony, her overbearing step-Âchildren, and the chilliness of her new widowhood; a home, equally appealingly, that was far enough from her calculating, manipulative parents in Vienna that she might escape their new marital schemes for a year or two while she rested and regained her confidence.
Best of all, it was the palace of the greatest magnate in Hungary, and therefore an eminently respectable option.
From the moment she'd first arrived, it had been made abundantly clear to Charlotte that she'd been wrong about that last point.
“Ah, well.” Sophie abandoned the teasing with a shrug. “We should have beautiful, beautiful music at any rate. Signor Morelli is rated very highly. Niko's kapellmeister is positively bouncing with joy at the news.”
“Herr Haydn?” Charlotte brightened. “Have you actually spoken to him? The concerts have been heavenly! I've played his sonatas so many times, I would love to meet him. If he ever has time . . .”
“He's only a musician, Lotte. If you want to meet him, then Niko will command him to attend you.” Sophie rolled her eyes. “Honestly, the way you talk . . . it's a good thing you aren't in Vienna with
. You'd be eaten by the wolves there.”
“Or by Maman,” Charlotte murmured into her cup.
For a moment, their laughter mingled. It couldn't last, though. The memory of their mother only brought the specter of her disapproval into the room. Charlotte couldn't meet her sister's eyes.
The one name that Sophie had never mentioned since Charlotte's arrival was the single name Charlotte had most expected to hear. Charlotte's own husband had been too ill for her to make the long trip to Vienna for Sophie's wedding to Friedrich von HÃ¶llner, three and a half years earlier. Charlotte had read reams of description from her mother, though, who had been more than contented with the match and eager to pass on all the details of their new in-laws' social standing. Charlotte had received even more letters when Sophie was invited to live at EszterhÃ¡za as a lady-in-waiting to the Princess EsterhÃ¡zy while Friedrich took up an honorary post with the Prince.
Charlotte had never imagined, in her weeks of jolting coach travel across half the empire, that she would arrive at EszterhÃ¡za to find her brother-in-law mysteriously absent and her younger sister publicly ensconced as Prince Nikolaus EsterhÃ¡zy's acknowledged mistress.
“New visitors should liven things up, anyway.” Sophie yawned delicately and rose to her feet in a flutter of lace. “I must be off, Lotte. Dinner is in only three hours, and my maid hasn't even started on my hair yet.” She narrowed her eyes at her sister. “And as for yours . . .”
“I'm sure I'll find something to occupy my time.” Charlotte matched her sister's stare evenly.
Charlotte might indeed be a widow, crossed into her thirties and living on her sister's lover's hospitality . . . but Sophie was in error if she thought her older sister could be bullied into complete submission.
“Of course,” Sophie murmured. “Perhaps you can practice your music.”
“Perhaps.” Charlotte took another deep sip of chocolate as she watched her sister waft out of the room. She could almost feel the weight of soft draperies lifting off her.
The end of her marriage, despite all its attendant grim misery, had felt as if it might signal her awakening at last from the long and clouded dream that her life had somehow become. Even now, Charlotte often felt herself only half-awake, as if some indefinable essence had disappeared, or wasted away from lack of use, and she no longer knew how to regain it.
Still, she knew enough to see that she'd never find her own way again if she allowed herself to become only her sister's latest toy. This palace could far too easily become a gilded prison.
And now a castrato was coming to stay . . .
Charlotte shook her head ruefully as she set down the chocolate and rang for her maid.
EszterhÃ¡za was anything but what she had expected.