“There was no room for gods in a world of monsters and monstrous men, but tradition endured.”
Mask of Shadows is an amazing book. Hands down, amazing! Full of adventure, court intrigue and most of all, revenge, this is the first in a duology.
Sal Leon is just a thief trying to survive in a world that has forgotten their people. Killed by monsters knows as shadows, an entire nation of people destroyed and forgotten. Except for Sal, who survived.
When a robbery reveals that the Left Hand of the Queen is holding auditions for the next Opal, Sal knows an opportunity has been presented.
The audition is more than it appears and turns out to be a fight to the death. Sal has to face soldiers and nobels, circus acrobats with built in alliances and deadly apothecaries, all who have trained for moments like this their entire lives. Sal is just a thief, a forgotten child who only knows survival. But they know to survive the auditions is to become an assassin, so they become the assassin first.
I had such a good time reading this book! From the very first pages, I was drawn to Sal, who is such a riveting character. They are sassy and bold, but are also frightened and fiercely cling to life. Rather than cower in fear, Sal faces those fears head on. Sal is a character who embodies bravery. Because even though they are afraid of dying, never once do they back away from doing what is right.
“Regret does nothing but soothe your own guilt.”
I will confess, that this is the first novel I’ve read where the main character is gender fluid. As I write this review, I am realizing how often we present with he/she pronouns. If I get it wrong, please let me know so that I can better review future novels, especially as I plan on completing this duology.
The author does a fantastic job not only explaining the gender fluidity, but also in highlighting how often Sal is frustrated by living in a society that doesn’t always respect this.
“Rath had asked once, a while after we’d met and been living together, and I’d not known how to explain it yet. I didn’t have the words. He always felt like Rath, and I always felt like Sal, except it was like watching a river flow past. The river was always the same, but you never glimpsed the same water. I ebbed and flowed, and that was my always. Rath not understanding that had hurt the most, but at least he accepted it.”
Miller writes amazing characters. Honestly, I loved them all. They were full of mirth, and sass, and sarcasm, but also vivid and full of depth. Even though everyone was trying to kill each other off, and the judges were also masked assassins, this is a crew I would enjoy hanging out with, Ruby most of all.
“We were discussing fashion and murder. Join in.”
That actually sounds like a text I would have equal odds of sending or being sent.
Elise, the nobel girl tutoring Sal, and Maud, the maid assigned for the audition, are both extremely smart and strong women. Even though Maud can’t help, she always finds a way to circumvent the rigid rules in order to help Sal. I loved how at first every relationship Sal had was simply a transactional one. They tolerated or tried to use people as it suited their needs. But Elise and Maud quickly show Sal that people aren’t always who or what they appear, and that transformation was delightful to read.
“I don’t flirt with people who could kill me as easily as they could kiss me.”
Miller builds this world gradually through her narration, so we learn about the past through Sal. Their need for revenge helps guide us into this world, and the past that built it.
“This is what Erland had done to us — stolen us, torn us away from what we were, ripped children from their homes and souls from their bodies.”
We get a very real sense of how personal this war is to Sal. How it shaped them, changed them, focused them. This is why becoming Opal is so important. So that they have a chance to ensure justice is done. Justice, though, is always more complicated than initially we imagine, and this hard truth isn’t any easier for Sal.
Even though we unravel the full glimpse of the world Sal lives in, along with the past slowly, the detail or realism involved isn’t lessened. It also doesn’t feel slow paced. Each page reads with urgency. Sal is constantly in life and death situations, never knowing when death may come, and you feel that as you read. Even in the slower moments, the moments stolen with Elise or simply training, you feel the constant pressure they face.
And yet, for all it’s intensity, it’s a fun read. Funny and heartwarming. Because while the world building is solid and the history richly written, it is the characters that breathe this entire novel to life.
This book has all the intrigue of Game of Thrones, the brutality of The Hunger Games and the sass of Six Of Crows. You will laugh as often as you climb the walls in suspense. I am very much looking forward to reading the conclusion to this story. I need to know what happens next, and definitely need more of these characters!
Thank you Sourcebooks for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.