“Mask of Shadows” (Duology #1) by Linsey Miller

There was a LOT of hype around this book so I was super excited to get to read an early copy for review.

It was marketed as being perfect for fans of Sarah J Maas (Which why why why are so many fantasy books now said to be just like SJM? It’s okay to not be. Her writing is great don’t get me wrong, but it’s getting a little overkill for me in terms of marketing, but I digress) and fans of Leigh Burdugo.

Also there was a lot of hype because our main character protagonist is gender fluid and we never really know the whole way through if our main character is male or female. This was a new style for me as a reader. I have never once read a book where I didn’t know if the main character was male or female. I hadn’t realized prior how many pre-conceived ideas about gender went into the way that I imagined a character while reading. Miller asked that in reviews Sal be referred to as “they” or “them” instead of he/she respectively.

So they were said to have dressed in male clothes at times and wanted to be referred to as male during those times and in distinct female attire (dresses) at times and then be referred to as she. Sal, also called “Twenty-Three” engages in a slow burn relationship with a female character said to be bisexual so we as the readers never do know. This was interesting for a few reasons to me:

  1. Why have I never even heard of this gender fluid terminology before let alone come across it in a book before? It was fascinating to not know.
  2. Sal could have been pan sexual, asexual, or literally born with both parts but we never know and it isn’t used as a plot device or made out to be a huge deal and that was refreshing. It just was what it was.
  3. The “voice” of the character was not changed in my eyes due to this not knowing. Like it really did make me think that we as readers do put certain imagery onto distinct male and distinct female characters and without that I was able to just read and see what happened without labels…which was nice.

The plot itself had a few oddities. I can see why the assassin “game” was put down because it seemed like the rules were always changing and never really clear.

During certain training times they couldn’t try to kill off the competition, but then other times they could. During dinner yes some food would be poisoned, but others not. You could kill off your competition, but then do’t get caught doing so or be so obvious etc. That was confusing yes.

This was also marketed as Sci-Fi among other genre marketing and I didn’t really think it featured Sci-Fi at all. If anything it featured a lot of back history/world building and Fantasy elements.

Having the bulk of the characters being referred to as numbers (“Three”, “Five”, “Eight” etc.) did make it harder to connect who was who but I think that was part of the point. Most of the time the characters wear masks with their numbers on them adding to the anonymity. They weren’t supposed to really be seen as “people” so much as other assassins that didn’t really matter to the court.

Also the family relations weren’t really explored all that well in detail and it would have been nice to get to dive more into that backstory. A sister was mentioned during a nightmare one time and then later toward the end the “siblings” were mentioned but that was all.

I found it strange that the character weakness or drawback chosen for Sal was lack of being able to read and write. That seemed like an odd toss in that didn’t really make it plausible for the later reading aspects to have happened. After three writing/reading lessons it seems unlikely to all of a sudden be fluent in a language.

The main “bad guy” wasn’t really brought in until about the 96% mark which was an odd choice too.

I can understand why some DNF’d this one for multiple reasons.

I actually really enjoyed it and read it relatively quickly even with the drawbacks.

Maud and Elise were fun characters that I really enjoyed. I also liked the dynamics between then with Sal.

Despite the drawbacks it had, I am looking forward to seeing how Miller concludes this in the next book as this is set to be a duology.

It was unique in some aspects and very common in others, so I would say this one is a great read to get into if you want to read something a little bit out of the usual for YA.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Sallot Leon is a thief and a good one at that. 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.

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.

Quick Facts:

Page Count: 384

Format: Hardcover

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Teens, YA

Expected Publication Date: August 29th, 2017

 

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