Book Review by El: Mask of Shadows, by Linsey Miller

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Mask of Shadows, by Linsey Miller
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Release Date: August 29, 2017

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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.

Genderfluid/Non-binary Character
GF/F Pairing
Young Adult
Secret Identity

Warnings for:
Graphic on-page violence
Graphic on-page death

This book is the fantasy version of The Hunger Games, but that’s not a bad thing.

If you’re like me, you tore through The Hunger Games trilogy in one sitting. You were awed and horrified by the kill-or-be-killed contest, you rooted for Katniss as the underdog, and you cheered when she won. Mask of Shadows captures every one of the things that made The Hunger Games so incredible, but gifts us with a brilliant, sarcastic, and imperfect main character, Sal– who is, in my opinion, a hundred times more fun to read about than Katniss!

Sal is the highlight of the novel, hands down. Despite being a thief, a liar, and (eventually) a killer, Sal is someone who I both loved and could relate to.  Sal’s philosophy is extremely basic: if you’ve done something evil, you deserve to die. And the people responsible for the death and destruction of Sal’s homeland? Definitely did evil things.

The writing is intriguing and captivating. I say this as someone who rarely reads fantasy; I’m terrible at tracking the unfamiliar names and places, so fantasy novels are a hard sell for me. But this book kept me hooked from page one!

There was no room for gods in a world of monsters and monstrous men, but tradition endured.

I also really enjoyed Sal’s gender fluidity. It’s not a big part of the story, but Miller ensures that the reader, as well as everyone Sal encounters, is made well aware.

I dress how I like to be addressed– he, she, or they. It’s simple enough.

Now here’s where the book lost one star. I kept reading, and was completely hooked on Sal’s adventures, the deviousness of the candidates, the politics, and the romance. But at 85%, I looked up and thought, “How the hell is this going to resolve satisfactorily in the next 15%?” The answer? It didn’t. The last bit of the novel was so rushed that I was left with a sour aftertaste upon finishing.

Also, I didn’t realize going in that it’s the first book in a series. But… yeah. I have no doubt that Sal will get a sequel (or two). (If this is a standalone, then I’m knocking another star off, because it ends with a definite open-ending.)

Overall, this book is a fantastic read. It’s exactly what it looks to be and nothing more, and that’s delightful. I wish the pacing at the end had been a lot better though, but I’m still very excited to read the next book in this series!

A wayward biology student from Arkansas, Linsey has previously worked as a crime lab intern, neuroscience lab assistant, and pharmacy technician. She is currently an MFA candidate represented by Rachel Brooks of Bookends Literary. Her debut novel MASK OF SHADOWS is the first in a fantasy duology out now (8/29/17) from Sourcebooks Fire. She can be found writing about science and magic anywhere there is coffee.

You can purchase Mask of Shadows from:
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository

Or add it to Goodreads.

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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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