Title: Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
Published: September 5th 2017 by Sourcebooks Fire
Page Count: 384
Where’d I Get It: ARC (Netgalley)
Rating: 2 stars
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 worldbuilding, 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.
I had to gather my thoughts quite a bit for this book, and I’m still a bit torn on it.
Honestly, what could be cooler than an assassination competition? Apparently anything else. The premise was tired, the challenges droll, and the execution lackluster. The author’s disjointed descriptions didn’t help matters. Imagine a Michael Bay movie, but in word form, where you know that action is happening and that it’s probably really cool, but you’re not getting all the cool bits. This is what this book felt like.
There’s also a whole complicated backstory where Sal’s entire homeland was murdered by executive order, a genocidal meat shield, as it were, against rampant magic. The magic is barely brushed upon, except in Sal’s PTSD hallucinations, and the orders only mentioned when Sal’s about the kill someone who isn’t a competitor. Those Sal seeks vengeance on are also conveniently at direct odds against the queen, in a play slow burn play for power against her.
Nothing surprised me. Nothing was explained well. I didn’t get attached to anyone, not even Sal. As you’ve noticed, I’ve refrained from using any gendering pronouns for Sal, using instead their name. This is due to Sal being gender-fluid. Don’t worry. You won’t forget that fact, as Sal is constantly reminding the audience to this fact, and to if they are wearing trousers or skirts that day. There was some mention of Sal’s gender at least every other chapter, if not every couple of pages.
I found the romance forced and hard to connect with. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it was the lack of descriptiveness again? Sal suddenly had feelings and they barely talked about it, but it was a relationship?
Everything in this book was so predictable. There was never a moment where you thought Sal might not come out on top, where you thought maybe this book was a lead in to greater things, a different path. I just couldn’t get behind it at all. I know others have loved it, and feel like the black sheep in all this, but I just didn’t enjoy it.