Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire for giving me a free, digital ARC in exchange for an honest review. Quotes are taken from the ARC, and may change in final publication.
Title: Mask of Shadows
Author: Linsey Miller
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: August 29, 2017
Genre: Young adult, fantasy
Length: 384 hardcover
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) “I Needed to Win.
They Needed to Die.
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.”
I really wanted to like this book more. It had so many aspects that I usually love in books: fantasy, a cunning main character, political intrigue, and espionage! And yet… Parts of it worked, but others didn’t. While I appreciate the gender fluid main character, especially in a fantasy book, other aspects such as confusing world-building and the main character’s goal did little to push the book higher in my esteem. I also think marketing it as Leigh Bardugo meets Sarah J. Maas makes the audience expect a lot more than what we’re given. Does that sound harsh? I’m sorry. 😦 I love both Bardugo and Maas, but to compare a debut author to those two can either increase or decrease a book in my esteem.
I struggle a lot with liking cocky characters. Sure, I understand that’s part of their personality, and I can appreciate that, but I guess it’s a reflection of my own life in that I don’t care for arrogant people. Maybe Sal’s confidence in their abilities came across the page as cocky. Some people might not mind it, but I do. I guess I wanted more information about Sal’s abilities rather than the character repeatedly telling us that they were good at certain things, with very little showing.
What I did find intriguing was the entire competition itself. The Queen has lost one of her personal assassins, a key member of The Left Hand, and Sal is quick to jump at the opportunity to become the new Opal. The competition itself is rather gritty, and reminded me a bit of The Hunger Games in the way the competitors kill each other. Nothing is really out of bounds, and I actually found myself drawn to the other members of The Left Hand–Emerald, Ruby, and Amethyst–more than I was to Sal. Actually, I quote like Sal’s servant, Maud. She was sharp, witty, and definitely has an agenda of her own. It’s almost like she uses Sal to help herself as well. I can dig that.
As for the world-building, I found myself a little lost. I get there were once two countries who are now united under one ruler, the Queen, often referred to as “Our Queen.” But her reign is still in its infancy, and there are a handful of people who would rather go back to the old days–filled with magic and dark killer shadows. Yeah, so there’s no magic in this kingdom. It was used for evil. (In any future books, I hope it returns, but is used in a good way.)
In terms of the romance between Elise and Sal, I wasn’t convinced. I wanted to be so bad, though. I guess this sort of falls under the trope of “I’m not like all those others” and I couldn’t swallow it. I did, however, feel bad for Elise, especially when we discover how her father works his way into the overall plot.
Truthfully, the last few chapters really bumped the book up in terms of star rating. I planned to give it only 2.5, but we see some characters unravel, and a deeper part of the plot unfolding. For that, I give it 3 stars. I’m not sure I’ll add this book to my collection, or keep an eye out for the sequel.
Interesting in other reviews about this book? Check out:
- Avery’s sparkling review, especially about the rep in the book.
- Wren from For The Love of Books loves the genderfluid rep as well!