Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
Publication Date August 29, 2017
Summary from NetGalley:
Perfect for fantasy fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo, the first book in this new duology features a compelling gender fluid main character, impressive world building, and fast-paced action.
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.
ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review.
This was a fabulous read that was fast paced and hard to put down. The world building could maybe use a little work, it was a little confusing with the different cultures and countries being brought together under one queendom, but if you go with the flow it doesn’t interfere with the story too much until the end. I will admit the ending confused me a little with all of the politics thrown in, but with a reread it got a little clearer.
Sallot Leon is a unique character that I really enjoyed. I think this is the first book I’ve read where the main character was gender fluid. Their gender was handled well and I liked Sallot’s explanations of how to address them, depending on dress. It was not used as a plot point however, just who Sal was. You could tell that there were some that were confused or angry about Sal’s gender, but it was not a theme or focus of the plot. Sal is who Sal is and that was that. Sal’s orphan and thief status are very important to the plot. The thief instincts help with survival and how Sal became an orphan is important to the plot of revenge, which is the real reason Sal enters the competition.
The plot of an audition was well done with lots of death and stabbings, and attempts at poisonings, although the outcome was predictable, how it is done is interesting. There is a little romance thrown in, but it does not overpower the main plot which was nice. Some of the other competitors were interesting and some I even didn’t want to die and it made me sad when they were killed. I liked that they went by numbers during the audition, it made it less likely that they would get to know each other and have a harder time killing each other. The masks were a nice touch as well, although I need a better explanation of how they worked, especially the Left Hands, which were more advanced and seemed to mold to their faces. I loved Sal’s servant Maude too, she was brilliant and clever and a nice addition to the book.
Overall this is a very clever and well done book that I enjoyed immensely. It is lite fantasy, not a lot of magic, although that appears to be a part of the past of this world, with interesting characters and a plot that will keep you turning those pages.