Set to release on September 5, 2017, Mask of Shadows is Linsey Miller’s debut novel, and the first book in a planned duology. Riddled with action and deceit, Mask of Shadows is sure to draw readers in right from the get-go. Perfect for fantasy fans of Sarah J. Maas, Susan Dennard and Leigh Bardugo, Mask of Shadows features a compelling gender fluid main character, impressive worldbuilding, and fast-paced action (Disclaimer: I received and Advanced Reader Copy of Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller in exchange for an honest review).
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 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 (Chapters.Indigo.ca).
I picked Mask of Shadows up because it sounded exactly like my kind of book – riddled with action, deceit and cut-throat characters who are willing to risk it all to succeed at seemingly impossible goals. Then, I was even further intrigued by the promise of a gender-fluid main character – a point which promised to add some much needed diversity to the Young Adult Fantasy genre.
What I Liked:
To sum it up, I pretty much loved everything about this book. It was exactly what it promised to be, delivering on the action, the political intrigue and the inclusion of diverse characters. Sallot Leon (Sal) was a badass, consistent main character who stayed true to their morals, and to themselves as an individual – including in regards to they’re sexuality. Sal is openly gender-fluid, and it was refreshing to see this diversity reflected in YA Fantasy. As Sal puts it, when they dress as a woman, Sal is a she; when they dress as a man, Sal is a he; and when they’re dress reflects neither gender, Sal should be referred to as they. Sal’s society is reflective of our own society in terms of the acceptance of the LGBTQ2+ community – some people, like the other Hands of the Queen, or Elise, accept Sal and understand they’re sexuality; others don’t understand Sal’s sexuality, but choose to be tolerant of it; and others, like many of Sal’s competitors, choose to ignore Sal’s sexuality, insisting on referring to Sal as she, or openly shaming Sal for they’re sexuality. I think this reflection of our own society in a fantasy setting was really important, and very well done – it makes Sal’s experience resonate more truthfully with the reader, and brings some much needed diversity into YA Fantasy.
What I Disliked:
To be honest here, I enjoyed most everything in this book, but there was one thing that I felt seriously limited Mask of Shadows – the lack of world-building beyond the competition. While external conflicts, both past and present (such as Sal’s shadows) are mentioned, they aren’t really built upon, and I felt like this limited the scope of the story, because the reader was extremely limited in the understanding and compassion for Sal’s experience.
Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller’s is a strong, well-rounded debut novel. While Miller fell short of the exploration of world-building, she made up for it in regards to the strength of her character development and in the action-riddled plot that was certainly never dull. Sal, as a character, was really interesting and strong, while also bringing some much needed diversity into the YA Fantasy genre (4/5).