Title: Mask of Shadows
Author: Linsey Miller
Series: currently book one of an untitled duology
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
My Rating: 3/5 stars
Source/Format: e-ARC from Netgalley (DISCLAIMER: This is a review of an ARC, so there may be differences from the finished copy.)
**My first approval on Netgalley! 😄🎉 Thank you so much for accepting my request, Sourcebooks Fire!**
Mask of Shadows follows Sal, our gender-fluid protagonist, who at only eight years old was forced into a life of thievery. A life that Sal resents. A life that could have been avoided had Nacea, their homeland, not been destroyed as collateral damage in the recent war between the North and South. The only comforting thoughts Sal has are of one day exacting revenge on the noblemen directly responsible for Nacea’s ruin.
An opportunity soon presents itself when Sal learns that the Queen is holding auditions to replace the recently deceased member of the Left Hand–the Queen’s most trusted group of assassins.
Only thing is, it turns out that it is not so much of an audition as it is a fight-to-the-death competition.
But if Sal wins, it will give them immediate access to the nobility, therefore bringing Sal closer to achieving their ultimate goal of vengeance.
By now I have seen several mixed reviews of Mask of Shadows. Oddly enough, I think I’m the first to fall exactly in the middle with my 3-star rating, but I can completely understand both sides in this case. While I enjoyed parts of the book, I still had some issues with it as well.
Anyway, I’m going to start with the positives. First off, I really enjoyed the world-building. I thought Miller brought something new to the YA fantasy genre with the history that was given to Sal’s world; I liked that it featured a new spin on classic “evil King who has locked away magic forever” trope, and instead offered us a Queen who is beloved and viewed as a savior (well, at least by Sal) for sealing away magic. After all, by sealing away magic, she was able to put an end to the dreaded “shadows.”
Secondly–or maybe I should have mentioned it first–a gender-fluid protagonist in YA fantasy! Finally! I feel like Miller handled this representation perfectly in Mask of Shadows and gave it just the right amount of discussion. Sal clearly spells it out for the other characters and specifically points out how they wish to be addressed.
“I dress how I like to be addressed–he, she, or they. It’s simple enough.”
(However, there are a few instances in which other characters misgender Sal. If I remember correctly, one by an ignorant character who quickly corrects himself and a couple other times by a character who knowingly and maliciously misgenders Sal, so I’m just mentioning that as a warning to those who might be hurt by it.)
I also really enjoyed the side characters, Maud and Elise. Both characters actually had a rocky start, but ended up being the highlights of the book. Though I didn’t know what to think of Maud at first, she grew quickly on me; and though I was a little wary after reading Elise’s first chapter, everything after that was fine and dandy.
On the negative side of things, to be honest, the first half of Mask of Shadows was hard to get through. I think most of my frustration was a result of the writing. Now, I’ve never really been one for first-person writing, but that actually wasn’t the problem here; the problem was how disjointed and consequently confusing Miller’s writing was.
There were just so many odd moments and phrasings that wouldn’t make sense no matter how many times I reread. Which was quite irksome, as I’m not used to missing things or not being able to understand what is being insinuated; I’m no stranger to complicated plots and complex writing. I guess the real reason why it deeply bothered me, is that most of these instances centered around small things, and would come up again and again without any absolute clarification.
After the halfway point in the book, I reconciled with the fact that there were just going to be parts like that and hoped that I would understand later. Once I was able to accept that, it was much easier to continue reading.
As far as characters go, while I liked Maud and Elise, Sal was mostly just okay for me. I wish they had been given more of a personality. Seeing things through only Sal’s eyes got kind of tiring after a while, as it made them seem more one-dimensional over time. Actually, the majority of the characters felt underdeveloped to me. Which is likely to happen when titles and numbers are all you use to identify them… As you can imagine, that got tedious pretty quickly. “Two did this, Eleven did that, and Four did that.” I just wish there had been characters with different backgrounds and personalities for Sal to have clashed with and encountered.
Lastly, I thought the ever-changing logic and rules behind the auditions was a bit shoddy. It was just a bit too conveniently used to help Sal progress through the competition. But that’s a very minor complaint.
Overall, if you’re interested in this one, I say give it a go! While it wasn’t my cup of tea, I am very hesitantly considering checking out the sequel to see if my few critiques can be resolved.
Release Date: August 29th, 2017
Thanks for reading! I actually buddy-read Mask with my friend Delaney, and though our opinions were very similar, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read it!