Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

Oh man, I just got off a plane and I’m kind of tired, but I couldn’t let the whole day go by without gushing about one of my new favorite books of 2017. It comes out tomorrow {!!!!!}, so lucky you, because you can read this awesome review and then show all of your friends and then you all can make a group trip to the bookstore to buy Mask of Shadows.

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Title: Mask of Shadows {384 pgs.}

Genre: YA Fantasy

Publication Date: August 29, 2017

Summary:

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, Emerald, 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.

So. Where to start? Oh, we can start with Sal, if you insist.

Sal. Sallot. Twenty-three. Sal has bigger dreams than merely being a thief for some greasy jerk in the slums. Sal wants revenge against the Erlend nobles who used Nacea, Sal’s country and people, as a distraction against the shadows {terrifying creatures created by Erlend mages}. While Nacea was metaphorically burned to the ground, Sal plotted her revenge. Becoming Opal, the Queen’s own assassin, Sal would be able to take her revenge and maybe do some good in the process.

What else about Sal? Oh, did I mention that Sal is gender fluid? Sal prefers “him” and “he” when dressed like a man, and “she” and “her” when dressed like a woman, and then  the pronoun “they” for all other times. Most people were cool with this {AS THEY SHOULD BE, honestly}, but not Five, another auditioner for Opal {the auditions started with twenty-three, and their numbers are their names from the moment they start until the moment they die}. Five is a jerk, and he doesn’t seem to care about simple manners, which might sound funny when discussing assassins, but these are the Queen’s assassins, remember. Not only do they have to know a thousand different ways to kill a traitor, but they also have to know how to address certain people in the most fitting way possible.

Long story short, Five is a JERK.

Then there’s Elise. Oh, Elise, Elise, Elise. I don’t want to say too much about Elise, but let’s just say that she met Sal in a very fortunate moment, and she continues on in Sal’s journey to become Opal. Elise is beautiful and kind, and she tutors the auditioners in whatever they need to learn. In Sal’s case, Elise teaches them to read and write, and maybe a little flirting. But Sal seems pretty adequate in that subject.

The majority of this book follows Sal and their fellow auditioners to becoming Opal, but there are mysteries and intrigue awaiting around every corner. The autditioners are from all walks of life, and no matter how nice some of them seem to be, this is still a competition.Some are there for their own means, while others only have their country’s best interests at heart. Mostly, though, thee kids are trying to make a better life for themselves.

The fast paced writing keeps you on the edge of your seat, hardly giving you a moment to breathe before launching into the next death-defying audition. Emerald, Ruby, and Amethyst try their best to prepare these kids for what to expect if they should become Opal, but teaching Assassin 101 seems rather difficult to fit into a class. Still, the Left Hand do what they can, and none of them show any preferential treatment toward anyone. There were even some moments when they didn’t even seem to like Sal all that much, for which I was grateful. It kept Sal’s future up in the air, and it makes the reader realize that nothing in this world is certain.

While a lot of fantasy books deal with magic in some form, Mask of Shadows deals with the suppression of magic. Once the war ended, the Queen sucked the land of magic, making sure that no one would be able to call the dreaded shadows anymore. But those against the Queen want magic back, and they’ll do whatever they can to get it back. I like that the Left Hand doesn’t know magic, that they rely on their hands and weapons to achieve their ends. Magic always seems to be lurking over everyone’s shoulders, and the mere idea of how destructive that magic is, is enough to keep your heart rate up {especially after reading about a certain auditioner’s death…it’s a nightmare}.

I’d been so excited all summer to read this book, and I like to read them right before they’re released so I can write a clearer review. I waited as long as I could for this one, and I still finished it about two weeks ago. I reread it again, just because I liked it that much. Sal is strong and exciting, and watching them hunt for the revenge they so clearly deserve is rewarding. You cheer for them the entire way, and you want Sal to get everything they want. But this is really just the set-up for the war Sal is ready to unleash on the Erlends that are not prepared for her.

To say that I’m eagerly anticipating the next book is a bit of an understatement.

Now you have my review in hand, your friends crammed into a mode of transportation, and you better be on your way to a bookstore. Trust me, you don’t want to miss Mask of Shadows. This is going to be a fun ride.

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