Review: Mask of Shadows - Linsey Miller

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
Series: Untitled #1
My rating: {★★★★☆}

YA Fantasy
Expected publication: August 29th 2017 by Sourcebooks Fire

Source: Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley
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, Emeral, 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.
Mask of Shadows has a gorgeous synopsis, and to top that, one of my favourite authors of EVER (Tamora Pierce) loved it, so there was no way I was walking past this one and I was THRILLED when Sourcebooks approved my request for an ARC.

This book is a complex game of deceptions combining a deadly competition to become the newest member of 'The Queen's Left Hand' (an elite group of assassins) with the intrigues of court life and a land in turmoil after a war.

Our protagonist, gender fluid Sal, is far more than a thief and an orphan - they are quite possibly the last of their people and the only one who could possibly avenge the decimation of an entire country and extract the blood debts that are owed.

The beginning was a little rough for me and the narration and the world only just seemed to find it's legs and get off to a rather wobbly start after quite a number of chapters. Once I was into it though, I found myself drawn in deeply and I was intrigued with the competition and the revenge that Sal sought.

Only difference between robbery and murder was what you stole

There are echoes of many worlds and plots that I have read before, but that is almost inevitable when it comes to reading a YA Fantasy and I thought that Mask of Shadows managed to hold its own well enough . I could tell that there were so many aspects that were so well thought out, from the history of the world to the various aspects of the competition and I appreciated how much effort the author went to with world building and creating realistic political situations.

Unfortunately, Mask of Shadows was slated as being "Perfect for fantasy fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo" and I hate it when people do that to books - it can set some very high and often unrealistic expectations, especially for ACTUAL lovers of the authors or the books you are comparing to.

YES, this book has a protagonist who goes into a competition to become the monarch's assassin, which does sound familiar now, HOWEVER - almost every single circumstance is different. You may as well say it's also similar to Harry Potter because they are both orphans and live in a magical fantasy world....

I've also seen this book being compared to the Hunger Games and the same arguments apply here: YES, there is a portion of the competition in which the auditioners are told to assassinate each other (but it was to be done in such a way that noone knew who made the kill) however it's not exclusively a rivalry to become the last auditioner standing and each and every task/test that was set for the auditioners made sense to me in an attempt to select the best person for the job (which, may I remind you is to become a part of an elite group of assassins).

I loved Sal's voice. The book is written in first person and Sal has a slightly coarse and rough voice that is just so true to character. The fact that Sal is also gender fluid was both good and bad for me. I loved that the rep was there for the sake of diversity and making things like gender fluidity normal, especially for the younger generations that will read this book. I was a little frustrated though in that it was never mentioned what gender Sal was actually born (while this was probably intentional, I just wanted to KNOW!! Although I decided for myself after a few passing comments in the book, I still would have liked for it to have been spelled out for me!) and I do think that, although sexuality in general wasn't a big deal in Sal's world, it would have been nice to have been educated a little more in what it means to be trigender and what the person actually experiences.

There was a romance and I thought it was a really sweet and realistic portrayal of a first crush and first love although it wasn't really integral to the plot at all it was a nice addition.

Probably my biggest complaint was not so much the pacing of the story, but the fact that all of the elements straight after the outcome of the competition was announced seemed a little rushed. In the last fifteen percent of the book there was a pretty large reveal, a devastating plot twist and the set up for the sequel all squished into the final pages. An extra thirty or forty pages could have gone a long way to building a little more tension and making the last few events hold even more of a punch.

Mask of Shadows had some ups and downs for me with many 'debut moments', but overall it is a wonderful, intricate and well thought out story with a fast paced plot and more than a few gory incidents. It is complex and compelling and left me waiting desperately for the sequel.

I wasn’t killing because I liked it. It was a job. Eight, Seven, and Four had all signed up to die, and we all knew the risk. We’d agreed to serve Our Queen in any way she saw fit. We were keeping her on the throne.
Peace had a cost and we collected.

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