Title: Mask of Shadows
Author: Linsey Miller
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2.5 Stars)
Release Date: August 29, 2017
“And I was what I was – What Nacea had made me, what Erland had made me, what Our Queen had made me. There was no innocence left in this world, left in me, not after all we’d done.”
This book had a lot of potential. The premise was there and it made sense, but it lost itself in info dumping and inaccessible characters. We follow Sal as they enter into a competition to become a member of the Queen’s esteemed assassin’s guild, The Left Hand.
Things I Liked
I actually thought the premise of the competition to become the Queen’s next assassin was great It made complete sense: kill the other competitors and don’t get caught. It was smart and allowed the book to have a lot of action and fight scenes. The tests the competitors faced were also very logical – specific tasks used to both test and train the potential assassins. It was smart.
I have to praise the inclusion of Sal, our genderfluid protagonist. Sal likes to be referred to as he/she/they depending on what they’re wearing. Sal’s being genderfluid was very much a non issue for the other characters, who largely accepted Sal as any other competitor. Though there was a few instances of mis-gendering, but the characters were called out on it.
I loved the imagery of the Queen’s assassin’s guild, The Left hand, each member reflecting a ring worn on the Queen’s left hand. The use of gemstones created a vibrant picture of this assassin group, when the aliases of the other characters made connecting with them difficult. It was one of my favorite parts!
Things I Didn’t Like
There was a good bit of info dumping in the beginning of the story. We get fed a lot of history about Sal’s background, the revenge quest Sal is now on, the country, previous wars and customs. Even with all of this information, it didn’t feel cohesive. I couldn’t clearly connect points of information we were given to fill this new world. Or get enough of a feel for the characters in this world.
The number aliases given to the competitors and the code names given to the Erland Lords did not help the story at all. It made it hard to keep track of the competitors, especially when the competition was beginning, and difficult to connect the Lord’s roles with the wars that destroyed Sal’s home. I couldn’t connect to the characters and had to reread several passages to understand who was doing what, and what their motivations were.
It was clear that the Queen banished magic, and the Shadows along with it, but I couldn’t tell you anything else magic/shadows related. I still don’t understand how the shadows/magic work: If it’s by glyphs, can anyone use them or only magically inclined people? What do the shadows actually do, or do they just kill people? How exactly are they controlled? The whole magic situation was unclear and confusing.
I didn’t really connect with the romance in the story. I just didn’t need it and I didn’t really buy it. There was some cute banter, but it didn’t feel like there was enough build up for me to be invested.
There was LOTS of action which was a plus, but there wasn’t much tension or suspense in the action scenes. The fights and training felt like there was only one outcome possible. Even when the new Opal is told they won the competition, it’s done so blasé and given none of the weight we’re told the position deserved.
I was disappointed with this book. And it’s unfortunate because it had the greatest potential – who doesn’t love assassin stories. Being more straightforward and deliberate would have greatly helped the story, especially regarding the scattered history we were given. As someone who LOVES to connect with the characters, the aliases really made them feel inaccessible, but this will not be an issue for everyone. I feel like this book is definitely worth a shot, especially if you like fantasy stories.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for a honest review