ABOUT THE BOOK:
Title: Mask of Shadows (Untitled #1)
Author: Linsey Miller
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publishing: August 29, 2017 (Sourcebooks Fire)
Format: Kindle Edition, 352 pages
Source: e-ARC via Netgalley
“I was Sallot Leon—one of the last children of Nacea, orphan and street fighter, highway thief and Twenty-Three.”
“I love every aspect of this amazing book—a gender fluid hero, a deadly contest, and vicious courtly intrigue. Get! Read! Now!” —Tamora Pierce, #1 New York Times bestselling author
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.
*Note to those reading my review: In regards to the gender fluid main character, I will utilize gender neutral pronouns, including they, them, and their, as the author previously suggested via her Twitter account. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org should you have any questions about the meaning I am trying to convey.
The description and fierce cover art are what compelled me to read Mask of Shadows (yes, I do love an awesome cover). I am drawn towards Young Adult, Fantasy far more often than not, so it was not a stretch to say that I would likely enjoy this book. This is a book that, for several reasons, though, I believe you need to read with an open mind.
Mask of Shadows is the debut novel from Linsey Miller, a “wayward biology student from Arkansas (Goodreads)”. It is the first book in a duology, and it releases August 29, 2017.
Prior to and since reading the book, I read reviews and have seen the comparisons to, both, vastly popular YA authors and books, but this is partly why I feel you need to maintain an open mind while reading Mask of Shadows. This is not an exact duplication of any other story, although I see the similarities. Linsey Miller is not Sarah J. Maas or Leigh Bardugo. Despite having seen those comparisons, I was able to enjoy this book as its own, individual entity. It seems quite natural for authors to draw inspiration from other authors and books. I also rarely find that ideas, especially in YA Fantasy, are truly original.
In Mask of Shadows, we follow the gender fluid Sallot Leon, an orphaned highway thief and street fighter, as they try to find a way out of their menial life while exacting revenge on those who obliquely had an effect on the deaths of their family members and all those in their home of Nacea. The story traverses the deadly auditions to become the new Opal, a member of the prestigious Left Hand of the Queen.
We’ve got a tumultuous world, a competition to the death à la Throne of Glass and The Hunger Games, cunning characters, and a slow burn romance! Sign me up, right!?! The foundation for a knockout story was there, but, unfortunately, I think the execution missed the mark a bit.
I enjoyed the premise of Mask of Shadows. Not wholly inventive, but certainly intriguing! I liked the hierarchy that Miller created in her fantasy world, but I wish there was a little more world building.
I struggled with the syntax in Mask of Shadows, though. I felt the writing lacked fluidity, and I often found myself having to reread various sentences or scenes because I found them difficult to follow. This is a large part of why I lowered my review rating. Fantasy writing already has so many elements that could cause confusion among readers (i.e. imaginary worlds, characters with inhuman traits, mythical situations, etc.) that I believe the writing needs to be succinct, which Mask of Shadows was short of, in my opinion.
Miller won me over with a lot of her characters:
- Sal was a home run. Their history/story is compelling, their relationships with various characters are endearing, and I could not help but root for them! I probably shouldn’t be so willing to cheer on someone slowly becoming an assassin, but what can I say!?!…I love them! Miller’s portrayal of a gender fluid character seemed appropriate and well-done.
Elise and Maud were also strongly-developed characters that I happened to adore! Part classy, part sassy, and utterly fabulous! Both of their interactions with Sal were irresistible, and I found myself wanting more!
I really liked the members of The Left Hand, too. They seemed to feed well off of each other, and their group dynamic is great!
- With numbers assigned, rather than names, I found it hard to emotionally connect with the other auditioners. As the story went on, we did get to know some of them better, for which I was thankful, but for the most part, not knowing who they are or their back stories was a little disappointing. Two of them did stand out to me, though: “Four” and “Five.”
Overall, I did like Mask of Shadows. The suspense was there, and it is a decent YA Fantasy read. Moving forward with the second book in the duology (and her writing career, generally), I think Miller has room to improve. If you’re willing to give it a fair chance, I would recommend this book. So, be on the lookout for Mask of Shadows next week!
Until next time…xo
*Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced galley of this book. Please note that it, in no way, had an effect on my opinion or review.