MASK OF SHADOWS was such a nice surprise. The assassin in this story is gender fluid. In fact, no where does it say whether Sal Leon is a male or female. Now that I have explained that, let me try to use the proper pronouns in this review.
Sal’s homeland of Nacea was massacred by Shadows. Sal is one of the only ones to see a Shadow and live. Living now as a thief at the latest heist Sal finds a flyer to audition to become the Queen’s Left Hand. Opal, named for one of the Queen’s rings, is open for auditions and either an invitation or a proven skill is necessary to join. Sal easily proves worth and enters the game. Sal becomes Twenty-Three, named for their number in arrival to the competition. Sal needs to win so they can serve the Queen but it is not for the reason everyone believes. Sal only wants to infiltrate the royalty to gain revenge for what was done to Sal’s homeland.
This story jumps right in with Sal finding out about he competition and then in the competition as Twenty-Three. I had no trouble understanding Sal’s nature with the way it was broken down.
“Address me however I look” I was both. I was neither. I was everything, but that wasn’t exactly a friendly conversation.
In this story they use swords, knives and poisons to kill so there is an old-timey feel to the story. There is mostly acceptance to Sal’s gender-fluidity, but there were some people who voiced issues with it. Sal can’t be the only person in this place that lives that way. I had to keep in mind that this story is just Fantasy, so the author really had free reign to define this world and the people in it however she wanted. I had no problems with the way Sal’s gender was handled.
Sal is a baddass assassin whether dressed as a man or woman. Sal grew up fighting in the streets and stealing to survive. Those strengths come in handy for the competition. There is an anonymity to the story as all 23 would-be Opals wear masks with their numbers on them. At first, all the assassins have free reign to try to kill each other, so long as the killing isn’t witnessed. I loved Sal’s wit with his opponents and clever preparations to avoid being killed by the competition. Sal gets a little help from the maid and I really liked seeing how Sal treated “the help”.
Sal also starts a relationship with a royal love interest named Elise. She teaches Sal to read the Queen’s home language (there are a few languages mentioned in this book and I can’t remember the name or location of any of them, sorry). Elise also teaches Sal manners and how to act at court. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see Sal put those skills to work so I have high hopes for the next book. I did like the beginnings of this romance. I’d like to see where the author takes that as well.
There is a few things I have to mention about this book that I didn’t like. Other than Sal, we don’t get much character depth. That should be a huge deal for me, but the story moved so fast I was just going along and didn’t notice that I didn’t know anyone really until they died. Also, the world isn’t really explained well. The scenes are well described but I know very little about the world. I wish I had a map or something. I don’t know how far Nacea is from where the competition took place and that bothered me some. Other than that I really enjoyed this read. I am looking forward to the sequel.
Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Action & Adventure, General, Fantasy, Dark Fantasy
ARC provided by Sourcebooks
"I love every aspect of this amazing book—a gender fluid hero, a deadly contest, and vicious courtly intrigue. Get! Read! Now!" —Tamora Pierce, #1 New York Timesbestselling author
Perfect for fantasy fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo, the first book in this new duology features a compelling gender fluid main character, impressive worldbuilding, and fast-paced action.
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 theaudition 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.