MASK OF SHADOWS
Author: Linsey Miller
Series: Mask of Shadows #1
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
Pub Date: August 29, 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Source: ARC from ALAAC 2017
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 Leon steals a poster announcing open auditions for the Left Hand, a powerful collection of the Queen’s personal assassins named for the rings she wears — Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, and Opal — their world changes. They know it’s a chance for a new life.
Except 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. But Sal must survive to put their real reason for auditioning into play: revenge.
GUYS, THIS BOOK!!!!! If it hasn’t been on your radar then I have no idea where you’ve been. HELLO, GENDER FLUID ASSASSIN!! Assassin stories are a little overdone in YA these days, but with a protagonist who is gender fluid, I was super pumped (as you can probably tell).
No matter what my opinion is, I think everyone should give this book a chance because we need to support diverse books. Plus this idea sounds awesome!
Sadly, this book missed the mark for me.
I think a lot of my problems circle back to this: the writing was a little wonky. Style wise, I thought it was beautiful and just generally great writing. But when it came to the story, I thought there weren’t enough details, so scenes felt like they flew by, and I was often confused as to what happened because there wasn’t a lot of explanation. I think this made the pacing seem super fast, which hindered my enjoyment.
In a competition book, it’s important to make it seem like the main character actually struggles to win (even though they almost always do in the end). I felt like things were way too easy for Sal; they never really struggled or had any serious obstacles in their way. I thought this was very odd, considering they were in a competition that literally involves competitors killing each other.
Sal explicitly states in the text that they like to be addressed as she or he depending on what they are wearing, but for the purpose of this review, I’m going to use the pronouns they/them. (Also, I didn’t necessarily like this explanation because clothing doesn’t really have a gender, and assuming this perpetuates stereotypes, but take my opinion with a grain of salt because I’m a cis woman and listen to gender fluid/non-binary reviewers).
Sal was a nice main character; they had a clear goal–revenge–and I personally love revenge stories. They were well developed, but other characters were seriously lacking. I felt like all of the side characters, including the rest of the competition and even Sal’s love interest, were underdeveloped. This prevented me from connecting to them and caring if they died or not. A lot of the deaths in the book felt very “meh” to me because of this.
The world building was also very confusing. It felt like a lot of info dumping in the first couple chapters, and there are a lot of similar/easily mixed-up names to remember. Because of all this, the world building felt shaky and I could never remember which country was which and what the history was. There’s a timeline at the back of the book, but by then I was thoroughly confused so it didn’t really matter.
I liked Sal’s love interest, Elise, but I didn’t have a good grasp on her personality. Her introduction in the first chapter was great (the first chapter was stellar) but I couldn’t connect that girl to the one later in the book. I think my lukewarm feelings for her stopped me from really shipping them together. Also, I thought it was almost instalove-y; there wasn’t much build up, other than Sal thinking that Elise was a “real person” AKA not evil like all the other people in the country. I don’t really understand why they had a romantic connection, or why it formed over just a few meetings. It was definitely cute, I just didn’t feel emotionally invested in their relationship.
OKAY, HEAR ME OUT. Please don’t leave this review thinking that you shouldn’t read this book. Yes, I won’t lie, I didn’t like this book a ton. BUT, this is one of the young adult books (*two secret words today, whoa!*) we need out there for teens. There are tons of gender fluid teens out there who need this book, but it’s more than that. Non-marginalized people need to expand their horizons and read books about experiences different than theirs, and this is a great book to start with.
Despite everything listed above, I genuinely enjoyed the last 125 pages or so. From then on, I read the book in a single sitting, and I found it pretty enjoyable. This just goes to show that a book might not have all the elements that make a great book, but it can still be really enjoyable.
Overall, Mask of Shadows fell flat by being just another fantasy assassin book that fell short. While the main character and the premise were intriguing, the lack of world building and fast pace outweighed the pros. I might check out the sequel, but I’m not sure. Either way, I definitely think you should give this book a try for yourself–who knows, you might end up loving it! And I sincerely hope you do.
I’m really sorry for delaying the scavenger hunt, guys! I had no wifi for a few days, but now I’m back at home with a secure internet connection, so the hunt goes on! Since there were a few days where no reviews went up, I extended the end of the giveaway–it now ends on September 9th, 2017 at 11:59pm!
Remember, don’t forget to collect all the secret words and only enter the *entire* secret message at the end! The full details are here, but as a reminder, this is open internationally!