MASK OF SHADOWS, by Linsey Miller, Sourcebooks Fire, Aug. 29, 2017, Hardcover, $17.99 (young adult)
I read a lot of books — like more than 200 books a year. I receive books from publishers in exchange for my honest review. Some of the books I request, others just arrive in the mail. Because of this, I’m exposed to a huge variety of genres, and when I review, I try to give each category and honest look. That’s why I requested Mask of Shadows, by Linsey Miller, via NetGalley.
While I’m not a fantasy connoisseur, I do enjoy it. I find it a nice break from reality. So I set about reading Mask of Shadows with no expectations beyond the book’s synopsis:
Sallot Leon is an honest to goodness highway robber. It’s not the job Sal’s always wanted, but it pays for food and a warm place to sleep. What Sal really wants is to get back at the nobles whose inept selfishness destroyed the land and wiped Sal’s people from the face of the earth.
When Sal inadvertently steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of the Queen’s personal assassins, Sal sets in motion plans to infiltrate the court and get revenge.
But becoming a member of The Left Hand — so named after the rings the Queen wears — is no walk in the park. Only the person left standing will take on the role of Opal, and death is literally around every corner. As a common street criminal, Sal is decidedly less prepared than the other auditioners, or so they think. Street savvy might just be the key to the Queen’s inner circle.
In some ways, Mask of Shadows reminds me of Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass. I think this comes in tone and in keeping with the competition to become an assassin thread.
One of the major differences, however, is the gender fluidity of Miller’s Sal. Sal becomes who he/she wants to be and would prefer not to be known or judged by anatomy. Truthfully, Sal is written so well that I never really wondered about gender. It wasn’t until it was brought up that I had to sort of stop and think about it. For me, Sal was just Sal.
One of the defining elements of Mask of Shadows is in fact the use of masks. Every member of The Left Hand wears a mask to protect his or her identity. That means that all of the auditioners must wear one, too. The auditioners become faceless numbers. In any other book, this probably wouldn’t work, but I found it fascinating. Instead of relying on facial expressions, Miller counts on body language, and it works for the most part.
I’ve seen a number of reviews critical of Miller’s world-building. Many cite a long list of characters that are hard to keep track of. While I admit I struggled with remembering a few of them, I never found it particularly worrisome. I was too immersed in the story to care. Another criticism has been its similarity to other YA books of this genre. That could be true. Although, if the writing is good, this doesn’t tend to bother me either.
Mask of Shadows is an intense read. It’s dark. There’s a lot of death, mostly murder — as you would expect with assassins. But it’s also fast and compelling. I didn’t want to put it down, and though the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped, I’m looking forward to its sequel.
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