***This book was reviewed for Sourcebooks/ Fire via Netgalley
Miller’s Mask of Shadows is a great beginning to a new fantasy series! Sallot Leon is a highwayman, here called a road agent. When they happen to rob a young Erlend noble, their life changes forever. Within the loot is a message regarding auditions for the Queen’s Left Hand, to replace the fallen Opal. Desperate for a new lot in life, and a burning need for revenge against those who left their country to fall in ruin, Sallot wins a place as an auditioner. Question is, can they survive to claim the title of Opal?
I absolutely loved the humour in this book. I love characters with lots of snarky sass and Mask of Shadows doesn’t disappoint! Maud especially cracks me up with her dry wit.
This was another book that doesn’t hesitate to play around with notions of gender fluidity, without it having to bludgeon the reader unnecessarily. Like Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth, it simply is part of who the character is. Unlike Hero, though, some of those Sal comes in contact with do give them some measure of grief. It seems more out of confusion, rather than prejudice or malice.
I adored the scene between Sal and Elise where they mark one another with ink during one of Sal’s tutoring sessions. It was such a sweet, touching scene, in the midst of the intrigue and danger of the auditions. I found it to be a great balance to everything else going on, reinforcing Sal’s humanity. They didn’t come into this game a killer.
Oh! And there is a character with one eye! You don’t learn this until much later. They do not act as if they have a disability at all. I’m partial to characters missing an eye, given I suffer the same. It says a lot about their ability to adapt, and about disability in general. How differently would others have treated her had this been known from the start?
I did feel that there were times when Sal’s personality and actions didn’t match their words, which made it confusing to get a full read of their personality. I have questions- why do they seem to tremble often. That’s usually a cue to fear or anxiety, but Sal really doesn’t seem one to suffer from that unduly. I mean, circumstances are certainly putting their life on the line, but it happens at times that do not make sense.
There were times, too, when the dialogue interactions confused me. It was as if something was missing, snippets of interaction we as readers missed, and then the story picks back up.
Also, besides the gender fluidity, there is something else underlying Sal’s being that’s hinted at but not (yet) fully addressed. My guess is that Sal is truly hermaphroditic. Time will tell. I think it fascinating to have such a main character.
None of the above concerns (hermaphroditism not even a concern) really distracted me from my enjoyment. Kinda just blips along the road. This story was great. I love spies, assassins, and intrigue and I’m looking forward to where the story goes from here!