Who are you anyway? 11 Books with Characters in Disguise

Whether the genre is fantasy, romance, comedy, or mystery, authors often employ the plot device of disguise to delight and surprise their readers. It is an ancient tactic, used by such literary mega-giants as Homer and Shakespeare, and it is still effective today.

Here is a selection of eleven great books we love with characters who assume alternate identities:

Howl’s Moving Castle (Diana Wynne Jones)  Perhaps you’re unaware that this was originally a book by the fantastic YA Fantasy writer, Diana Jones.  Most of the characters in the book, including Howl, a powerful wizard, Sophie, a humble hat maker, the Witch of the Waste, and the King’s own son, Justin, are under disguises and spells for the entire book.  Some of their own choosing, some not so much.  This, of course, lends an atmosphere of merriment and confused identity as the wizards attempt to lift spells and figure out both the identity and motives of all involved in the book.


The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin)  Here is another example of a well-done children’s novel with a complex mystery at the heart of story.  Sam Westing has recently died, leaving behind a fortune for some of his 16 heirs… if they can discover how he died.  All 16 of the heirs are living together in the Sunset Towers and each have their own very unique quirks and secrets.  Connect Shore writer Beth first read this book when she was young, and she has continued to read it every few years since.


Stardust (Neil Gaiman) This is another fantasy novel which takes its cues from legends and myths.  There is a town bordering fairy land and Tristran Thorne enters it in order to undertake a quest given to him by his one true love Victoria.  In an attempt to compete this task he encounters a fallen star, a witch, and many other vivid compatriots.  As you read through the novel you can see that although Tristran is entirely transparent, few of the other characters in the book are who they say they are.  Ultimately a sweet novel with a wonderful ending.


Shutter Island (Dennis Lehane) A psychological thriller about a US Marshal and his partner on a quest to track down the truth of Shutter Island, a lonesome island in the Boston Harbor with a hospital/prison on it for the criminally insane.  There are daring thrills as they uncover more and more evidence of a secret at the very heart of the hospital and its doctors.  The disguise element?  The narrator suffers under some delusions himself as to his own identity.  Disguise isn’t something that merely fools others, sometimes we fool ourselves as well.


The Man with the Twisted Lip  (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) An opium den of 1880’s London provides the setting for a chance encounter between Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes.  The good doctor has come to fetch a narcotized friend and Sherlock Holmes is on a missing person case. Mr. Neville St. Clair has disappeared, and curiously, he was last seen by his wife waving frantically from an upstairs window in an obscure corner of the city. A red-headed beggar and his clever disguise holds the secret to this mystery.


Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) We should have known there was something a little off about this guy. Instead, we let ourselves get sucked in by the sexual tension between Rochester and Jane, and we let it slide that Rochester disguises himself as an old gypsy woman to tell fortunes and play a joke on guests at his own dinner party. We should have realized that a trickster like that probably had a secret or two in the attic.


The Witches (Roald Dahl) Is that seemingly nice woman itching her head? Could be a wig. Limping a little? Probably has no toes. Wearing gloves? Ah, that might be to hide her hideous claws.  Little children watch out! She may be a witch! In this classic children’s book, a young boy finds himself smack dab in the middle of a witch convention and survives (albeit as a smaller, furrier version of himself).


The Body in the Library (Agatha Christie) In the ingenious whodunits of Dame Agatha, we routinely see the characters, or to put it more accurately, we see the suspects disguise their affections, motivations, whereabouts, and identities. In “The Body in the Library,” legendary spinster detective Miss Marple deduces that the identity of the corpse itself has been concealed.


The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) This classic adventure novel follows the life of Frenchman Edmond Dantès. Locked away through a series of false accusations by those he once called friends, Dantès learns of a vast treasure hidden in Monte Cristo. After finally escaping, he is able to claim the treasure and to proceed on a path of retribution and revenge against his former friends by disguising himself as various people, including…the wealthy Count of Monte Cristo.


The Prince and the Pauper (Mark Twain) This novel tells the story of two young boys who look identical in appearance: the first boy is Tom Canty, a pauper who comes from an abusive home, and the second is Prince Edward, the son of King Henry XIII. After meeting by chance, they agree to switch clothes just for fun. However, when the real prince is thrown out for being mistaken as a beggar, Tom Canty is mistaken as the prince! Soon both boys are struggling to navigate a completely different world from their own.


The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Emmuska Orczy) This is an adventurous tale of disguise, cat-and-mouse, and a little romance set during the Reign of Terror, right after the beginning of the French Revolution. The Scarlet Pimpernel is the head of a secret society engaged in saving innocent French aristocrats from imminent death via guillotine. But who is the Scarlet Pimpernel? French aristocrat Marguerite St. Just would love to know, since he is oh so much more fascinating than her boring, shallow British husband, Sir Percy Blakeney.


See other book recommendations and reviews from Connect Shore

What are your favorite books with characters in disguise? Let us know in the comments!


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