I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
Series: Untitled #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, LGBTQ+, Young Adult
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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.
Well….I finished the book and I’m still not really sure why I bothered. Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller was what I hoped would be a fantastic new YA fantasy series, but it fell prey to so many tropes that I’ve seen too many times. It’s like The Hunger Games and Throne of Glass had a baby…Mask of Shadows would be the product. Y’all it didn’t completely suck, but it wasn’t a great read, at least not for me.
Sallot Leon, oh Sal. Sal is the gender-fluid main character. I stress the gender-fluid part because it the character beats it death during the course of the book. I’m not even sure how to refer to the character. There is a quote from the book that says if the character is dressed as a girl or boy to refer to the character as such. If he/she is not, to refer to the character as they…..Ummmm….I’m not savvy on the LGBTQ+ lingo here but “they” refers to a plural noun. If I started referring to myself as We or They I’d go to a psych ward and the doctors would be trying to diagnosis a multiple personality disorder….but hey, to each their own ?
So back to Sal….Sal is an easy to like character. Sal is a thief who wants revenge on the kingdom who wiped out his people. Pretty simple right? I think witnessing their (see I can use the plural pronoun because Sal said too ?) family murdered is why Sal is the way they is….are….I’m confusing myself. I’m just going to refer to Sal as he because that is how he identifies most of the book. Anyways….back to Sal….again. Sal does not trust easy and during a carriage robbery early in the book, he learns that Opal, one of the Queen’s Left Hand (her assassins) has died and a new audition is about to begin.
Here’s where the book lost me. From the moment Sal enters the palace for the audition, all of the characters are referred to as their entry number. It makes it hard to follow the book. It’s an audition to the death. Sal and the others must kill one another without being caught. They are auditioning to be assassins after all. This is where the book seems a lot like The Hunger Games and Throne of Glass. The numbered characters are also confusing. They run together. It was hard to decide who was who as they began to kill off one another and who was good at what.
The book’s saving grace for me was the world-building. I liked the detailed history. It fleshed out the world and a few of the characters that Sal looks up too. However it also was it’s downfall. The history came at times as info dumps and in the most random of places. Here Sal is fighting a battle, let’s dump into about the war that killed his parents. Ummm…not how it should be done. Just no. While I found the info interesting, it detracted from the plot and slowed it down. I mean it too. The plot was so slow-moving til the last quarter of the book that it took me almost 2 weeks to read it. (Y’all I just finished an entire series, 1200 pages in three days….just an FYI reference)
Overall, this book was just okay for me. I wasn’t crazy about Sal. The author seemed to stress Sal’s gender-fluidness and the society’s acceptance of it, but in the same breath reinforced gender stereotypes by Sal’s declaration that “you will know what I am by how I dress.” Really, because I’m a girl, I identify as one, and I loath dresses….just saying. Also I didn’t buy the love interest at all. It felt flat and forced. If you enjoy action and don’t mind the overuse of tropes, I say go for it. You may enjoy it more than I did.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: