Title: Mask of Shadows
Author: Linsey Miller
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: August 29, 2017
Genre(s): Young Adult, Fantasy, GLBT
Pages: 352 (Kindle Edition)
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I Needed to Win.
They Needed to Die.
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.
This book was an interesting experience. There were a lot of things about this one that I liked, but I ultimately had trouble connecting to this one. Initially, I was hyped about this one. As you guys can see, the synopsis is fantastic. A gender fluid main character that’s in a competition to be the queen’s new assassin? Yes! Sign me up!
First and foremost, this is the story that we got. The MC did identify as gender fluid and that was addressed in the book and the overall plot was an assassin competition. We got what was promised to us, though I wish it was done better. My biggest issue with this book is that it was super forgettable. I went between listening to the audiobook and reading my eBook of this one and was having trouble remembering (some of) the details. I’m referring to my notes a lot more than usual for this review as I’m having trouble remembering several key plot points. Usually, I can write a review from memory, only referencing my notes to ensure accuracy, but that is not the case for this one.
From what I do remember, the actual story was fun in the moment. I was pleasantly surprised with the pacing of the book. We learn Sal is referred to as Twenty-three when in the competition, suggesting there are at least 23 competitors. By the 30% mark, there were only 10 competitors left, however, it takes until the 75ish% mark for most of the remaining ten to meet their fates. This was reminiscent of other competition stories, such as Hunger Games.
As for the plot, it was not one I’ve read before, but I’ve seen from other reviewers that it was in the same vein of Thron of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. I did like the idea of stripping the identities of the competitors by using numbers and masks and selecting the successor by skill alone. Learning the motivations for the main characters was intriguing as well. I was not as invested in this book as much as other fantasies, but it was entertaining at the moment. This is one that I think those new to the fantasy genre would enjoy. One thing I did like was the set up for a sequel without leaving the book on a cliff hanger.
As for the gender fluidity rep, I cannot speak to this and currently have not found any own voices review, though I thought the subjected was approached…okay. Sal’s pronouns change based on the outfit they choose to wear, sometimes favoring feminine pronouns and wearing dresses and other times favoring masculine pronouns when wearing pants. There are times when Sal’s outfit is more neutral, which indicates the preference for they/them pronouns. One issue I did have with this was the implication of gender norms directly relating to gender identity. If this was a more traditional historical setting, I can see the argument, however, in this world, men and women can serve as assassins and don’t appear to have to conform to explicit norms outside of outfit. I don’t know, I think that it was a valid and ultimately harmless attempt, but it wasn’t perfect.
While this wasn’t the best fantasy book I’ve ever read, it was still a fun read. Those new to the fantasy genre and want a fun adventure to start off with would probably love this one. Similarly, it sounds like fans of Maas will also really enjoy this one. This assassin story is a great way to kill a weekend and was a wild ride. Action, betrayal, and political intrigue shroud this story leaving many readers wanting more. While I don’t plan on continuing with the series, I still had a blast with this one.
⭐️⭐️⭐️✨ – 3.5/5
If you are/know and own voices review, please leave it below in the comments.