Mask of Shadows: Review
Note: I received an Advanced Reader's e-galley from the publisher for review via Netgalley.
Today, I review another much-anticipated book that I received as a free e-galley from Netgalley: Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller. It's the first in a series, and the description had me eager to dive in. Check it out below, and let me know if this is a book you'd read!
Perfect for fantasy fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo, the first book in this new duology features a compelling gender fluid main character, impressive worldbuilding, and fast-paced action.
Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class―and the nobles who destroyed their home.
When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand―the Queen's personal assassins, named after the rings she wears―Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.
But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.
First of all, if you're going to describe a book in the vein of Sarah J. Maas or Leigh Bardugo, you better have your A-game on. Young Adult readers hail these two authors as literary queens of fantasy, magic, and world-building, and it's easy to see why I had enormous expectations for Mask of Shadows. As I started reading, I realized that the plot, the devious action, and the blunt intensity of the main character reminded me more of Nevernight, by Jay Kristoff, than anything else.
The audition to become a member of The Left Hand is filled with twists and turns, poisons and sharp blades, and many people with numbered masks on their faces. While it's a clever way to keep all of the characters... mysterious, I guess, it does little to make us care when they slowly die, one by one. However, I did love the idea of The Left Hand: Emerald, Ruby, Amethyst, and Opal. It's an interesting way to classify these powerful individuals and set them clearly apart.
I'm going to refer to Sal here using the "they/their" pronoun, out of respect for the gender-fluid protagonist. This was a big selling point for why I requested, downloaded, and ultimately read this book. I am always on the lookout for diversity in my fantasy reads, and I've never seen this down before. I was curious to see how Miller would execute a gender-fluid character.
Aaaaand I had mixed feelings about it. I mean, I think it was beautifully done, with respect to both genders, but most importantly, with respect to Sal's own wishes. But, I still had an itch in the back of my mind that it could have all been a ruse. There are explicit lines in the beginning of the book where Sal refers to their gender fluidity as a means to hide their face from the other contestants. Could all of this have just been a tool of the trade for a skilled thief?
Another aspect of the book that I took issue with was the world-building. That is to say, there wasn't any. I had no idea why the queen was so revered, even by Sal, whose people were wronged by the kingdom and its forces. We're given no context into the magic that's hinted at throughout the book, no geographic bearings on the various lands and peoples that are mentioned. This makes Sal's motivations for entering the audition a little murky. Why are they so intent on getting revenge and how does becoming a member of the royal court help?
But for all of my misgivings, Mask of Shadows boasts some incredible action scenes. Those bits are fast-paced and slightly gruesome, but well worth the wait. I also loved Sal's quick wit and sharp tongue. Miller's writing is nothing to stick my nose up at, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for her next book.
But at the end of the day, I was extremely conflicted about whether I actually enjoyed this book, or was disappointed by it. Like I said earlier, I went into it with extremely high hopes, and I think that any other YA reader would, after seeing it compared to Maas and Bardugo. Mask of Shadows comes out August 29th, 2017!
I rate Mask of Shadows 3/5 stars.