Sunday, July 16, 2017

Review: Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

by Linsey Miller
Sourcebooks Fire
YA Fantasy
384 pages

AUGUST 29th, 2017!!!

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.


This is a complete on-the-fence read for me. There were some things which were very well done and others which fell more than flat.

Sal, a thief, discovers a chance to jump in on the audition for the queen's new assassin. Being that the queen is Sal's idol, Sal soon makes sure to be a part of the audition. The catch, kill or be killed and don't get caught.

This is a fast-paced novel with tons of tension, fight scenes, secrets and ninja like movements. There are a vast variety of characters, all with different personalities and agendas, and the layers of intrigue surrounding historic wars and this world's current politics are heavy. There is good, there is evil and there is a ton of grey in between. 

The world building was fantastic on the surface. The scenes came to life, and I easily sunk into Sal's surroundings. The sequences were cleverly thought out and offered some surprises in how the contestants attempted to make their way through the process. The story grips and offers new twists all the way through with a promise of evil schemes still ahead in the rest of the series. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and I wondered who would die next or what problems Sal would run into next.

That was the good side. Now, for the negatives.

The plot isn't as deep as it seems. While there is a hidden, political agenda that Sal is being drawn into, this book focuses on the audition and Sal's attempts to get through. There is mention of more underlying evils, and Sal uncovers some of this with a promise of so much more to come. But the it's exactly this hidden intrigue where the the problem begins.

The general political unrest wasn't solidly laid out. Sal's got some vengeance issues, which are pretty clear, but what the leading families were really after during the war and what set it off (who was to win, lose or why it was even there) isn't clear. There's simply a lot of explanation and foundation missing, which could have brought more sense to what was going on in the world that Sal would soon be apart of (Sal's plan of revenge aside). This is especially true of the magic. It disappeared due to the horrible happenings of the war, but that's all that's said. And yet, magic was one of the moving factors behind the war and runes cover multiple characters. There are deep running scars, but the reasoning behind these is skimmed over with quick dabs of information which fail to hit the core they need to.

The gender fluid character didn't thread into the story as much as the blurb suggested, and actually brought more confusion than good. Sal never commits to one gender but flows between the two (awesome for an assassin, btw), but this also madeit hard to grasp the character. Not only does Sal's rough past lack Sal felt as a Sal could maintain gender fluidity among such harsh thieves (no mention of this whatsoever)...or even the lack of reaction by other contestants or court members. If Sal's gender fluidity was a norm in the book's society, this wouldn't be an issue, but it's not. Sal stands apart in his world in this aspect, and although it's hinted at that this might be difficult for some in the society to swallow, this intolerance never happens...not even knee-jerk or twitch. In other words, the gender fluidity comes across more as an added characteristic to fit publishing desires than an actual depth to a character. Too bad.

Although there was a lot to like in this book, there were other aspects which left much to be desired. 

I received a complimentary copy from Netgalley and wanted to leave my honest thoughts.

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