George Cautley, a young gentleman of indifferent background, comes to London in 1770 and attempts to enter society, hoping to make his way as a painter. He becomes obsessed with Lady Beauclair, who sits for her portrait and spins him a tale of a castrato opera singer, who fifty years earlier fled Italy for London.
Lady Beauclair is not what she seems. Indeed, nothing is what it seems in this novel. Everything is a mask. Or a masquerade. Arch whispers. Veiled glances. Layers of face paint hiding blemishes. New portraits daubed on top of old. Deception. Intrigue.