Themes: Assassins, Revenge, Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Released: August 29, 2017
Given what this book is about, I wasn’t expecting it to be as entertaining as it was. Mask of Shadows, the first instalment in a duology set in a fantasy world, follows genderfluid thief, Sal, through a gruelling audition process to join the elite ranks of the queen’s personal assassins. Since this involves a contest to the death, I was prepared for a fair amount of gore and brutality. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much fun I would have reading it, and the fast pace kept me gripped throughout.
I found Sal to be an incredibly interesting protagonist. On the one hand, years of surviving as a thief on the streets has lent them a ruthless streak, and while not needlessly cruel, they have little compunction when it comes to killing. On the other hand, however, Sal can show vulnerability and feels things deeply. Underneath the hardness and thirst for revenge lies a good heart, and these contrasting aspects to their personality made them a fascinating character to read about.
Yet, my favourite character has to be Sal’s love interest, Lady Elise. Though a member of the nobility Sal has come to despise, she is in no way a snob. She’s kind and compassionate, patient and clever. She might possess a gentle sweetness, but her underlying toughness and sharp wit make her a perfect match for Sal. I loved watching the tentative romance blossom between them, and some of the scenes I enjoyed most were those that showed the two interacting.
One of the reasons I picked up this novel in the first place was because Sal’s genderfluidity appealed to me, and so far as I’m concerned, Linsey Miller handled this really well. Some reviewers have criticised the author, arguing that Sal’s gender identity is superfluous, but for me this is kind of the point. Sometimes Sal is male, sometimes female, and at others somewhere in between. Yet, how they identify doesn’t define them and isn’t crucial to the plot. It’s simply one part of who they are.
Much as I enjoyed this story, there were a couple of things that didn’t wholly work for me. Firstly, the world-building was a little confusing at points. There’s a lot of history with so many countries and conflicts to remember that I think it will take a second read for me to get it all straight in my mind. Secondly, the fact that we never see the faces of Sal’s competition and know most of them only by their assigned numbers, made them impossible to relate to, rendering them little more than anonymous targets.
For an entertaining read with plenty of action, a sweet romance, and a multi-layered genderfluid protagonist, Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller gets 8/10 rainbows.
About the Book
I Needed to Win.
They Needed to Die.
Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But genderfluid 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.
About Linsey Miller
Linsey Miller grew up in Arkansas and has previously worked as a crime lab intern, neuroscience (undergrad) lab assistant, and pharmacy technician. She is represented by Rachel Brooks of Bookends Literary and has an MFA in Fiction Writing from Wichita State University. She can currently be found writing about science and magic anywhere there is coffee.
Her debut duology, containing Mask of Shadows and Ruin of Stars, was about a genderfluid thief who fought their way through auditions to be the next royal assassin. Her most recent book, Belle Révolte, is a French-inspired fantasy about two girls, one revolt, and unimaginable magic. It is set to be released 4 February 2020 with another standalone YA fantasy to follow in 2021.