ARC Review: Whitley: Mask of Shadows

title: Mask of Shadows
author: Linsey Miller
pages: 384
format: ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 5/5 (from hated to loved) or 9/10 (all books I've ever read)

I Needed to Win.
They Needed to Die.

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.

Okay, I need to get something off my chest about the Maas and Bardugo comparisons (because a lot of other reviews have been):

If you liked those authors for the brutality, action, murder, and fantasy setting, read Mask of Shadows. If you liked those authors for the swashbuckling tone, energetic antics, and high-key-high-stakes romance, don’t. And if you didn’t know that’s why you liked those authors, don’t take it out on this book.

I thoroughly loved Mask of Shadows for being a story about brutal murder, complex morality, and gritty tone. For me, this book is what I wish Throne of Glass had been – similar plot but with less romance, grittier hijinks, and actual on-page murder. And—Well, I should stop there, I’ve ranted about ToG elsewhere.

But on that same note, many people are not going to like that Mask of Shadows has a much more subdued tone, or will at least want to know what’s what they’re getting into. This book has a relatively direct plot with lots of action but not necessarily a lot of mystery. The directness, however, leaves room for other aspects to become the draw: the time spent reflecting on morality, the focus on logistics when it comes to murdering and avoiding being murdered, Sal’s inner emotional turmoil. I love those things in general and, in this book, loved that they were given space to become the focus.

Sal especially carried this book for me. I loved their relationship with morals, the competition, the culture, and especially with the Queen. That hero-worshiping-from-afar kind of dynamic is not one I see too often in fiction. Sal’s reactions to the action are refreshingly practical without coming off as wooden or uncaring, and felt very organic to the environment created by this book. They are exactly my kind of grey-morals assassin character, all grit and melancholy but coated in so much vengeful determination that they’ll keep going anyway. God, I fucking love Sal.

The romance between Sal and Elise was very firmly a subplot in this book, without much in the way of high stakes until the end, but it was sweet and slow and perfect. It felt for me as a reader the same way (I think) it felt for Sal; a safe calm port in a storm full of action. A chance to breathe and get a little cuteness to store up against the rampant murder. I want more romance that’s a balm for the ills of the world, not moar angst. (I mean, moar angst is fun, too, but variety is the spice of life and all that.)

There’s only a few things that threw me out of the book. One is that the writing style is weak in descriptions, which, uh, is a bit of a hindrance when your main character’s gender is telegraphed by clothing? 95% of the time it didn’t matter (descriptions nor Sal’s gender at a given moment) but on the occasions that it did matter, the reader is still left wondering because Sal didn’t bother to tell us what they’re wearing that day. The other is that all the competitors are given numbers and masks instead of names, which made telling them apart hard. Only a couple actually stood out, and even then not until near the end.

Overall, I’d still consider this a strong fantasy offering and recommend it heartily. Its’ difference in tone from what’s most popular at the moment might throw people off, but if you think it might be your jam, please try it!

in a sentence

Smooth writing and an interesting premise doesn't save the plot from a heroine who is largely removed from the best part of the conflict.


will i read this author again?  Maybe   
will i continue the series?  I'll wait to see what reviews are like for the second book. Not as an ARC read again, though.

Note: I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


Cover Love: C.J.: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

cover love 

I haven't done Cover Love in a while, but how could I not with this epicness in front of me? The cover to one of the year's most hotly anticipated, hyped up novels was revealed recently and basically everyone on the internet exploded into shards of twitching glee. LOOK. HOW. FIERCE. There's a beautiful, dark black woman centered. her gaze owns the onlooker. Her white hair spills starkly across the black background like so much flame. Etched into it is the title in words plucked out of a middle ages illuminated manuscript, a touch of the European fantasy tradition claimed and surrounded by Nigerian-inspired glory. It's a cover worthy of hanging in a gallery and it's going to look startling on shelves. 



Top Ten Tuesday: Ten of our biggest pet peeves in books

top ten tuesday                peeves

Hosted by The Broke and Bookish.  

Want to help support your broke blogger so she can host more giveaways and give swankier prizes?  Click the book covers.  If you like the book and choose to purchase it from Amazon, a little bit of the proceeds goes to Sarcasm & Lemons!   

Even though C.J. hates the phrase "pet peeves." And yes we know it's Thursday, thanks.          

c.j.'s selections                         ten ten ten

Hypermasculine brojerk love interests 

I'm looking at you, Rowan from Queen of Shadows and basically most SJM guys noawadays. Or Locke from Roar. If their only attribute is being strong and male and smelling like pine and male and being overprotective and male...ew no. 


Fictional languages that aren't linguistically sound (especially names!!!)

Languages have rules: about sounds, syntax. They have commonalities, like profanity generally being one syllable. Names MUST fit your languages phonological rules unless they're influenced by outside cultures. I hate when people just pluck any name and it doesn't make sense. Monsea...really? 
(Whitley: And curse words! You can't just make up two curse words and use them exclusively through the rest of the book! Argh!)
"She let out a breath she hadn't even known she was holding." 

I didn't notice it until someone brought it up. Now I notice it. Everywhere. Popping out at me. Curling its insidious fingers around my soul.  

*note, example cover is just me being ironic. There are so many books that do this I couldn't think of just one, and also JTAB sounds cool so have a cover. 

Titles that don't make sense 

Like Blood Rose Rebellion. Pretty sure those words are never strung together in the whole book. Or, I loved Genie Lo, but I don't really get the Epic Crush part. Words on Bathroom Walls? Most tenuous link ever. You can't just pick something because it sounds pretty! 

Plot twists that come out of nowhere 

Tell me a story, don't throw in a Deus Ex Naga because you forgot to think about it in your first draft but you need something really explosive at the end. If your plot twists don't follow at all from the rest of your story, I reserve the right to laugh at you. 

whitley's selections                         ten ten ten

Nonsense geography

Whether it's entire continents that somehow can be crossed faster that Maui or biomes that stop and start at country lines (or in the case of the book to the left, both), I get real picky about my geography and fantasy maps. And don't get me started on geographically impossible rivers.

Nobility that doesn't noble

It's not that I don't get the appeal of royalty, I do! But, um, the glitz and the glamour divorced from actual work is just...rich people. Isn't it? And...you can just write books about rich people if that's what you really wanted. (Honestly I think Graceling was a better fit for this peeve, but CJ already used that one.) 
Impossible descriptions

I'm sorry, but if your beau is an entire stadium length away from you, I should not be hearing about the minute twitches in his clenched jaw. I mean, not unless you have super-sight and it just hasn't been mentioned before now.

Same for any detail that's far away, or only glimpsed for a second, or while the POV character is looking through a tiny door crack, etc.

Pretty much anything military

I mean, this one's pretty much a given. There's too much to get wrong, and I'm going to catch it and laugh at it. (Riders wasn't actually bad on this count...except that the MC is 18 and sounded like the 20-year veteran that the author clearly went to for research. I spent the whole book going "lol, you're a FNG, shut up.")

Girls Hiding as Boys

Pure, 100% personal pettiness and preference here, but Alana ruined this trope for me in high school and nothing will live up to it. Plus there's just so many weird pitfalls involved, too many to list here. (I almost used Under a Painted Sky for this one, but no, go read that book, it was gorgeous.)

Your turn!  What book tropes or aspects irk you?