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Rook & Rose #1

The Mask of Mirrors

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Fortune favors the bold. Magic favors the liars.

Ren is a con artist who has come to the sparkling city of Nadežra with one goal: to trick her way into a noble house, securing her fortune and her sister's future.

But as she's drawn into the elite world of House Traementis, she realizes her masquerade is just one of many surrounding her. And as nightmare magic begins to weave its way through the City of Dreams, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled…with Ren at their heart.

The Mask of Mirrors is the unmissable start to the Rook & Rose trilogy, a dazzling and darkly magical fantasy adventure by Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms, writing together as M. A. Carrick.

630 pages, Paperback

First published January 19, 2021

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About the author

M.A. Carrick

5 books475 followers
M.A. Carrick is the joint pen name of Marie Brennan(author of the Memoirs of Lady Trent) and Alyc Helms (author of the Adventures of Mr. Mystic). The two met in 2000 on an archaeological dig in Wales and Ireland — including a stint in the town of Carrickmacross — and have built their friendship through two decades of anthropology, writing, and gaming. They live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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5 stars
2,112 (37%)
4 stars
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3 stars
893 (15%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,250 reviews
Profile Image for ~ a foray in fantasy ~.
271 reviews266 followers
January 17, 2022
If anyone’s curious, the kind-of-tarot is on the author’s website! I’d love to hear if you decide to do it. Link: https://www.macarrick.com/pattern/

Edit upon rereading: I just LOVE this book. I’m never going to stop screeching incoherently about how much I love it. The characters, the plot, the setting— everything about it is just perfect in every way.

If you want Six of Crows meets the Lies of Locke Lamora, this is the book for you. I don’t know how this book isn’t hyped more- it’s absolutely one of my favorite books.

I was surprised to like this because there were so many negative reviews about slow pacing and people being confused. I felt the opposite- the world was so well developed that I felt like a part of every con.

The found family in this book!! Is just so adorable and definitely reminded me of the Crows. If you liked the Dregs (and especially Kaz and Inej), you’ll love this book.

It’s also queer-normative, which is also a huge plus! Every character felt so multidimensional and so real.

Bottom line: Read this book if you like fantasy, con artists, found family, tragic backstories, tarot, and Six of Crows.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,535 reviews32.5k followers
November 25, 2021
after reading several average YA books back-to-back, i forgot just how deep and complex adult fantasy can be.

it was so refreshing to read such nuanced writing. i mean, the narrative value of this story alone is high. i really enjoyed the storytelling, primarily the writing style, but also the vast web of connected characters and plot.

i was actually getting a lot of ‘the lies of lock lamora’ vibes from this in terms of conning high society. to me, the sly characters and complex deceptions were the highlight.

the fantasy aspect i could have lived without, though. i mean, for reading 600+ pages, i cant even begin to describe the magic system. its not explained, there are no rules to figure out, its just something i had to accept and not think too much about.

but that aside, this is surprisingly entertaining.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Amy Imogene Reads.
929 reviews800 followers
November 21, 2021
5 stars

Give us a pseudo-Venetian atmosphere, a criminal underbelly like Six of Crows but grown up, and a twisty-turny plot like the best of the best... Y'all need to read this!

Plot: ★★★★★
World building: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Enjoyment: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★

There was nothing that I did not love about this. Masterful writing, nuanced world building, and twisting character arcs. It was a bit long, but who can blame the author for that?? There was a lot to cover.

Ren comes to the city of Nedezra with one goal in mind: to con her way into the noble house of Traementis. A former thief and Nedezran gang member who escaped the city as a teen, she's going to pretend to be their distant cousin and it's all going to be fine.

Everything is not fine. When she arrives, Ren quickly discovers that House Traementis is dying on the vine and almost broke to boot. And things in the city of Nedezra are fracturing. The noble houses, which are Liganti born, exert their will onto the city, and most importantly, they exert their ironclad will onto the city's indigenous population, the Vrazenians. In a (sadly) classic nod toward our world's cultural battles and colonizations, Nedezra is on the brink of an uprising with the Vrazenians and the Liganti on opposing sides.

And while Ren might be in the process of conning her way into the Traementis' Liganti household, Ren herself is Vrazenian...

To make things more complicated, Nedezra's foundations lay in a holy space for the Vrazenians, where myth and magic all combine into the realm of dreams and visions that the Vrazenians are known for. (Patterning, for example, is a Vrazenian pursuit that is a direct relative of tarot card reading. Etc.)

But someone is messing with magic that they shouldn't... and children are dying in the streets. "We can't sleep," they say. And then their essence is consumed by a living nightmare.

Weaving together the core point of view of Ren—our plucky, street-rat protagonist—with several other players throughout the city on both sides, The Mask of Mirrors was an amazing entry point into a new favorite series.

I will say the pacing was a little on the longwinded side, but given the complexities of the world building and the intense setup needed to establish the main plot points, I didn't mind.

We also had almost a dozen POVs to keep track of, including: a mysterious Robin Hood-esque vigilante, a former thug turned profitable merchant with a penchant for secrets, a Vrazenian-born police captain who now works for the Liganti nobles, and a few more with their own agendas and secrets to share.

Eagerly awaiting the second book in the series. May there be many more to come from this author duo pseudonym!

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Profile Image for charlotte,.
3,129 reviews819 followers
December 28, 2020
On my blog.

Rep: bi mc, lesbian side character, trans side character

Galley provided by publisher

Before I start this review, I think I ought to be clear that this isn’t a bad book. It’s actually quite good, from an objective standpoint. But it’s also a book that pissed me off no end.

The Mask of Mirrors follows Renata, who plans to infiltrate a noble house by pretending to be a long-lost cousin, for reasons which are currently lost to me but we shall assume involves wanting their money. Only, by doing so, she finds herself entangled in some sort of conspiracy (although this takes a good 300+ pages to become clear. I’m summarising a plot that took nearly 700 pages in two lines but I promise you, it’s not as quick as it sounds).

I may as well make this my first point then: the book moves at a snail’s pace. Nay, slower than a snail. A snail would outstrip this book’s plot in a footrace by a country mile. That’s how slow it moves. And, on one level, I expected this. It’s an adult fantasy, so I knew it’d move a bit slower and be a bit more in depth. However. There’s slow, and then there’s this. Things happened so incrementally they might not have happened at all. I got to the halfway mark, when something finally happened, and it just made it so clear how little had actually come before. I think you could cut out almost the entirety of the first half, that’s how little it adds to the plot.

So the book is slower than usual, fine, but it also seems to have missed the memo on in depth worldbuilding. There’s a lot of description, but I don’t think I could tell you a whole lot about the world itself. There’s a ruling class and a ruled-over class (and the former seems to be sort of colonisers, in a sense? But that’s so barely touched upon it’s easy to forget). They seem to have different religions, although this is only mentioned right at the end of the entire book, and the ruled-over class wants to be free (again, only seen through a single character. There’s no continuous unrest or anything which might display that more obviously). It’s very… light touch worldbuilding, I would say. The sort that’s just told about as and when it becomes necessary. Case in point: the magic system. For the first half of the book, you might be convinced you’re reading a world that doesn’t have magic. But you would be wrong! When the plot requires there to be magic, there is magic. Much like almost every other aspect of the worldbuilding. When the plot requires it, it gets introduced (and barely explained). In all, it’s very much hand-waving look at this lovely description of the physical world. There’s no groundwork for anything that the plot relies on.

As for when the plot itself finally gets moving, well, let’s just say none of the problems Ren encounters ever seem to bother her for long. It takes so little time for a solution to be found that it’s almost ridiculous. It feels like the authors were too busy patting themselves on the back for describing the world, they forgot to do anything else. There is, quite literally, a magic-using woman who, given a problem, knows exactly what the solution is. And Ren has an uncanny ability to hear exactly the information she needs to hear, at exactly the right time. I know that such plots must, out of necessity, contain some degree of happy coincidence, but the number of times it happened truly took the biscuit.

Moving onto the characters, then. My favourite by far was Grey, and he is the only reason I might actually be tempted into continuing the series, but for the fact that he gets about a fifth the page time of anyone else (also that reveal at the end was so obvious). Vargo was also interesting enough but again suffered from having not that much page time. Leaving Ren.

I’m not saying I hated Ren. At the start, she did interest me a fair bit. But after a while, I couldn’t really stand reading her POVs. It’s like, she’s a perfect character. Okay so she’s trying to swindle that noble house, but it’s pretty clear she won’t be able to early on, and thus she starts becoming perfect. She has no major flaws and there was nothing about her I could latch onto and like because of it. She was just… there. And her burgeoning romance with Leato? Who everyone thinks is her first cousin? No, thanks! The most positive feeling I had about this book was when that went nowhere.

All of which meant that, by the time the ending came around, an ending which was supposed to be a holy crap kind of ending, I was just too frustrated to appreciate it. But then again, given the lack of groundwork for that ending in the first place, perhaps I shouldn’t have been too surprised.
Profile Image for Aoife - Bookish_Babbling.
301 reviews306 followers
March 2, 2022
Plz don't sleep on this series!
(I need more people to fan girl with 🥳)

A multi-PoV with a strong female lead former street rat out to con her way into the nobility set amidst an imaginative magical world with a growing undercurrent clash of cultures/beliefs systems based off patterns/threads and fascinating tarot like cards of the oppressed vs mathematical/geometry/planetary alignment magically infused creations that aid the ruling classes and those that can afford imbued products. It is so rich that it is hard to describe without spoilers and we still have so much to learn...it certainly feels like we barely scratched the surface of what's to come! 🤩

Oh and there's also vigilante/robin hood type character, strong sibling bonds, found families & openly LGBTQ+ characters with zero societal judgment 🥰
Master Peabody, his accomplice + mental companion are so intriguing to me and are but another layer I have so many questions about considering the string pulling achieved...can we actually trust?!
I want more Pavlin page time pretty plz be as sweet as they seem and also moar of Tanaquis, Arkady & other fab side characters + the main crew who I'm also rooting for 🤞🤞🤞

I haven't been this captivated by a relatively "unknown" series EVER (I don't think)...I am usually really far behind on discovering books 🤗
Pacing took a bit for me to warm up to initially, this can be a bit dense/overwhelming at first as we come to terms with this new world and magic system - however I noticed the glossary/character breakdown at the back of the book after I finished...so please learn from my mistake & enjoy it sooner 🙈
Some of the character names make me think this could be Slavic inspired but the "House" control of power brings to mind RJB's Foundryside which I believe drew inspiration from Italian merchant houses so noice mix to shake things up in the fantasy setting 🙃

Eitherway now that I think I have a grasp on what's going on and the wheel of fortune has turned for many with the ending of this first book I cannot wait to see where the Rook & Rose series takes us next as the shifting pieces fall into place and what secrets shall be kept/revealed next - there are still so many 🕵️‍♀️
Thankfully my hold came through on book2 yesterday #weekendsorted 💪

Massive thanks to @AFiF who I think put this on my radar when I happened upon their reread review and of course the cover & book blurb were the final nail in my "need-to-read" coffin 😉

Profile Image for Alex (The Scribe Owl).
349 reviews109 followers
January 3, 2021
See this review and more at my blog, The Scribe Owl!

Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit for an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

5/5 glowing stars!

First of all, what a completely perfect book to start off 2021! There is no better way to start a year than a perfect rating! This was amazing. Imagine Six of Crows, but everyone's grown up, there's cons instead of heists, and everything is much, much darker. Well, I guess it doesn't sound as much like Six of Crows now, but it has the same vibe and excellence!

Ren is a con artist who has come to the city of opportunity with one goal: to con a noble family to secure her fortune and her sister's future. She never expected to actually become attached to the family, or the people around her. And she definitely didn't expect corrupt magic, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats, and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly to become tangled -- with Ren at their heart.

A big make or break in a book is the characters. Are they interesting? Are they unique? Do they have any kind of character arc? I was on the lookout for all of those characteristics, and I'm happy to report that all of them were checked off!

What I especially loved was that we got some gray area characters! Does doing the wrong thing for the right reason make it okay? What about doing the right thing for the wrong reason? We got that with basically our entire cast of characters. Our main character is literally a con artist! She walks that thin line and is an amazing MC. I have trouble finding a main character that I actually enjoy reading, so I'm glad I found one in her. My favorite character, Vargo, is an enterprising crime lord. What could possibly be cooler? He's also a bit of a grown-up, cutthroat Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows (yeah I know, sorry for all the SoC references but this book reminds me so much of it) who, if you know me at all, you'll know I LOVE him, just as I LOVE Vargo! Seriously, I can't wait for more in book two.

The Mask of Mirrors brought in a super diverse cast! Not only in personality (though thank goodness it's diverse there too) but in every aspect! We got to see all different kinds of fantastic LGBTQ+ representation as well as an interesting kind of rep I haven't ever seen written about. Vargo, the best character in the book (in my humble opinion), seems to have nosophobia. Nosophobia is the fear of contracting an illness or developing a disease. Vargo is a normally unshakable person who takes great pride in his dignity. So to see him gone completely limp from fear, so much so that he had to be carried around another character's neck like a scarf, really just goes to show how much something like that can level your world, no matter how strong or powerful you are.

The worldbuilding in this novel was so rich and consuming that it didn't feel at all like anything I've read! I know I keep saying that this book is unlike anything I've read and then I call it Six of Crows or something, but it really has so many unique elements that I just love. I was a little confused at the beginning with all the terms, but I, the idiot, didn't notice the glossary or character index at the end until I was an embarrassing amount of the way through the book (the end). I'm so glad it was included! When reading political high fantasy books, I get the names and terms mixed up too often.

The Mask of Mirrors was written by M.A. Carrick, which is the pen name for two authors working together. When I read a book written by multiple authors, it's really a no go for me if I can tell the writing apart. But these two writers fit seamlessly, so much so that I would never have guessed there were two of them if I didn't read the author blurb!

I've been looking at the reviews on Goodreads for a while now, trying to find why anyone could have rated it below five stars, and the complaint I see most is the pacing. Yes, the pacing can be a little slow at times. The book is nearly 700 pages! Do you expect it to zoom along the entire time? I actually enjoyed the slower pacing when it cropped up, though the pacing was pretty good for the most part, as evidenced by the fact that I didn't even think about it until I saw the reviews.

I absolutely loved this book! It blew away all my expectations. I'm so grateful I got to read a copy, and I would 100% recommend it! I positively can't wait for the second book to be released, and I wonder what else these authors could create!
Profile Image for Angela.
419 reviews853 followers
December 3, 2021
re-read update this is a 5 star read, I do not know what I was thinking saying this was 4.5 the first time, I was very wrong.

4.5/5 update: decided to round up to 5 cause its been 5 days and I miss this world so much and I already want to re-read it.

Video Review (Spoiler Free): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Vxz6...

Thank you NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this book.

What a fun fantasy read! I loved the character relationships and how they developed throughout this story. I think even though it is a slow pace at the beginning I didn't mind because all I wanted to do was watch these quiet moments where characters are interacting with each other. Once the pace does pick up then the mystery and tension takes over and I couldn't put it down. My one complain is that the character relationships took more of a back seat than I wanted in the later end of the story when the pace picked up. The magic is also really interesting. I am always a fan of dream magic which plays a large roll in this story. There are lots of things still to learn but for a first book in a series I was really intrigued and happy with where it ended and the answers I did get to all the intriguing questions that this narrative gives you. Recommend this to anyone who likes multiple point of view adventure/political fantasy.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,046 reviews3,450 followers
January 27, 2021
The Mask of Mirrors is a politically-driven fantasy full of twists and turns that might appeal to fans of The Lies of Locke Lamora. Intricate world-building, two intersecting magic systems, and dangerous plots come together in this epic narrative.

It is multi-pov, but the primary character is a lady con artist named Ren on a mission to worm her way into an elite family in the city of Nadezra. Other characters range from the privileged elite to crime lords of the underworld, and even a notorious vigilante who's like a cross between Batman and Robin Hood. It includes casually queer characters as well in a society where homophobia doesn't exist. Which is fantastic.

In terms of world and setting, this reads a lot like the Italian city states, but add magic and colonization. The local magic system involves the reading of cards akin to tarot, while that of the colonizing elite is a more academic form of magic using complex inscriptions. It's definitely interesting and quite well-developed. While this book takes place in a single city, we do learn some things about the wider world as well.

In general, I enjoyed my time with this book, although I do think it's longer than it needs to be. The pacing of the plot and the revelations is relatively slow and there are a lot of different threads to follow involving a huge cast of interconnected characters. I imagine some readers will eat up all of the detail woven in, while others will run out of patience for how long it takes to get where it's going and the lack of clear sign-posting for where the plot is headed. That said, if this kind of book appeals to you, I think it's a pretty darn good version of what it is. Personally, I would have preferred a bit tighter pacing, but it was still well worth my time. I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Lucie V..
973 reviews1,788 followers
February 25, 2022
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley (thank you Orbit Books). All thoughts and opinions are my own.

✅ Setting / World-building
✅ Characters (some are morally grey)
✅🆗 Complex intrigue
🆗 Magic system
🆗 Number of characters

Ren is an orphan (and ex-street rat) trying to con her way into a noble family to ensure a future for her younger sister and herself until she realizes that she got involved in something way bigger than a simple con. She is thrust into the middle of family feuds and political intrigues while trying to avoid suspicion and maintain her image of a wealthy young lady wanting to meet and connect with her aunt and cousins.

I like that the intrigue is complex, we come to realize that Ren’s story is only a small piece of a big puzzle about economic gain and corrupt elite fighting for power. The setting is also well done, it reminded me of Venice with the small isles and the canals. The number of details in the setting is impressive, and it definitely is a strength of the book.

The characters in this book are multifaceted and it gives them a depth and complexity that we do not encounter in every YA fantasy book. There are many morally grey characters in this book, and it seems like everyone has something to hide. They sneak around, spy, and manipulate with no shame. I must say though that even if the world and the characters are vibrant and colorful, the pace is quite slow. It takes a while for all the pieces to fall into place and for us to understand what the actual bigger plot is.

There is magic in the book, but it is not much present at first, it is introduced slowly in the first part of the book. It gets a little confusing, I am not sure yet that I understand exactly how the magic works in Ren’s world. Since it plays a more important role in the second part of the book, I would have liked it to be better explained. It is also hard to keep track of all the secondary characters, their relations with each other, their various cultures, and their titles (plus all the new vocabulary specific to this world). There is a list of characters and a glossary at the end of the book, but it is harder to refer to it every time with an ebook, so it was challenging to hold onto the threads of every conflicts, alliances, names, titles, and backstory. The complexity and the details of the setting in a part of the reasons why I liked this book, but it’s also why I struggled with it.

The second half of the book is more engaging, and more significant things happen, but it is still a long book with a complex setting a slow pace, it might not be the ideal book for just anyone.

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Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,551 reviews2,937 followers
January 24, 2021
* I was sent this by the publisher but my review is my honest feelings on the book *

This story is one I was pretty excited for as it's written by one of the authors I've really enjoyed previously, Marie Brennan. She co-authored it with Alyc Helms, and this was a perfect pairing, their styles melded really seamlessly together.

The main characters of this book were a lot of fun, I really enjoyed getting to know them all bit by bit.
Ren is the first and most major of the characters, she's a street rat child with a tough upbringing, but we meet her when she's escaped her past and is going to be running a con. Her plan, with the help of her 'sister' Tess who's also from the streets, is to infiltrate the noble Treamentis house and claim some of their fortune for herself.
I really loved Ren's inventiveness and her relationship with Tess is heartwarming. Tess is also a lovely character too and very creative.
Next up we have The Rook who is a vigilante character, kind of Robin Hood in style, helping the street rats of the world against the nobles. He's been around for hundreds of years and his identity is a mystery so it's quite a fun part of the book to really start to guess who the Rook could be. His mystery and intrigue is a lot of fun.
Our next main character is Vargo, a former lower-class business-man trying to work his way up to the nobility. He's got some secrets and he's quite the enigma with his scheming too. Hard to read and very fascinating as the plot develops.
The characters of Leato, Grey, Donaia and Guilia are also really fun and I liked getting to know more of them as time went on too. I think their individual stories were all tied into the main plot very well.

The magic of this world is fascinating and vast. We have various types of imbued items, numinats which are almost like magical circles, nightmare/dream magic, gods and monsters. There's a lot of mystery about the magic and how it all works and is connected together, but I think it works well in the world which is build up and the character's use of it.

The political landscape is quite something, there's various layers and levels to the structure. I loved seeing the different levels of the noble houses, the rebel groups, the children of the street and the Vigil which is the watch. There are lots of inner workings which play off of one another and that work with and against one another.

This is a pretty long book and yet I flew through it in a few days. I really was engaged throughout and I found it a lot of fun right from the start. It's dark and twisty and full of suspense. A whole bunch of fun and I highly recommend it. Can't wait for the sequel! 4.5*s.
Profile Image for Alaina.
6,316 reviews215 followers
November 22, 2021
I have received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Mask of Mirrors was beyond addicting to me. I will admit it did start off pretty well for me but then dragged a little here and there because I kept getting distracted by work and other things. Yet, once I just focused on this book - well, I flew through it. I was honestly completely invested in every single person in this book.

I am still not okay with what went down. Seriously. This book had so many twists in it that my brain was having a hard time keeping up with it all. At one point, I didn't even realize that my detective cap wasn't on because I wasn't even trying to figure out who the Rook was. Or anything else.

Other than that, I was definitely getting vibes from other books while reading this beautiful thing. Especially Six of Crows, which I love. Again, a lot happened throughout this book - especially towards the end - and I'm in complete shock right now.

I need all the revenge that I was just promised and I can't wait to dive into book 2.
Profile Image for Maisha  Farzana (on hiatus).
551 reviews215 followers
March 13, 2022
☆ "Six of Crows" but adult!! A little too ambitious, aren't we?

With that being said, this was not a bad book by any means. I clearly see why it is being compared to SOC. Though it didn't live upto the hype, I thoroughly enjoyed it. "The Mask of Mirrors" is original to its core. A very unique addition to the Adult Fantasy genre in my opinion....The series has great potentials. So, I guess I'll continue with the series series....
Profile Image for P. Clark.
Author 46 books4,285 followers
November 27, 2021
An immersive bit of world building with a story that takes so many twists and turns! A great start to what looks like a promising series. Be prepared to clutch your heart wondering if and when Ren will be found out in her con. And root for the Rook!
Profile Image for Kirsty Hendry.
57 reviews68 followers
February 3, 2021

Thank you Netgalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ren has come to the city of Nadezra, along with her sister, with the intention of pulling off their biggest con yet. This con will set them up with money and security for the rest of their lives.

After tricking her way into the noble House Traementis under the guise of a long lost relative, Ren will discover that she is not the only one wearing a mask.

Meanwhile, children are going missing from Nadezra's poorest streets. The search for these children will lead to a nightmare that lurks in the shadows, and to a past Ren has tried hard to forget.

What I liked about this book

This is a well written book with separate story lines running simultaneously and interwoven. The story lines are full of twists but are pulled together well.

M.A Carrick has created a magic system unlike anything I have read before. It is very complex and is used differently depending on where the character originates from.

I enjoyed Ren's ability to adapt to the character she was portraying.

The cover is beautiful.

What I didn't like

There are a lot of characters and some of the names are quite similar. It was easy to get the characters mixed up.

Some of the terms which are used throughout the book are very unique. As such, it took me a while to get my head around what was meant. There is a list of terms and their descriptions at the back of the book which helped but as I was reading the e-book it was irritating to go back and forth to check the list.

The Mask of Mirrors has an interesting concept, good plot lines and some great characters. But for me it took a lot of effort to understand the terms being used in order to keep track of what was going on.

3.25 stars

Find this review and others on my blog

Profile Image for literaryelise.
389 reviews94 followers
March 27, 2023
Slayed the house boots down, Houston i’m deceased. Y’ALL THIS BOOK ROCKS!! Did I understand everything that was going on? No. Can I recall all the character and world building elements? Definitely no. But that’s not really important because this was a ROMP! And also, I probably would be able to recall better if I didn’t read via audiobook. But honestly, the world building was so fully realized it didn’t really matter that i didn’t always know what was occurring because it didn’t feel like worldbuilding it felt like taking a peek into a real, genuine world. I’m so obsessed with the sociopolitical elements of this world. And the twists and turns! WOW!!! We have heists! We have con artists! We have noble houses made destitute! We have curses! We have multiple magic systems! We have nightmare magic! WE HAVE FOUND FAMILY! LIKE SO MUCH FOUND FAMILY!! YEEHAW!!!!

Taking a star off because I do think a few plot threads were lost and I think the stakes and motivations of the villain were sometimes undersold, but it really didn’t affect my enjoyment! 10/10 recommend!

cw: death, child death, child abuse, child neglect, abandonment, injury/injury detail, manipulation, gaslighting, violence, non consensual drugging, grief, death of a parent (past), blood, body horror, classism, police brutality, confinement, panic attacks, suicide attempt, murder, colonisation, xenophobia, animal death, emesis, fire/fire injury, sexual content
Profile Image for christea ☁️.
150 reviews121 followers
June 1, 2023
5 stars.

this was even better on reread, and i'm bumping the rating up to the 5 stars it deserves.


i had so much fun with this one. when i picked it up, the only thing i knew about it was it was about a character who was a con artist, which is a trope i enjoy. but little did i know how many other tropes this book had that just checked all the right boxes for me. it's not the most epic or life-changing story, but it was entertaining and a fantasic time, just what i wanted.

the magic systems are super interesting, but also a bit confusing because it's not really explained to us as the reader. i don't mind infodumps, but i find that this method is actually something i quite enjoy, where a book places you in the middle of a story and just sweeps you along like you already belong in this world, without stopping to go into too much explanation. the glossary in the back of the book certainly helps, though, as well as the extras on the authors' website.

one of the magic systems is called numinatria, which kind of reminded me of scriving in foundryside, where it consists of writing sigils to form commands, but also uses numbers and geometry. the other magic system is patterning, which is very much like tarot reading; the patterning segments were always the most confusing to me, but you kind of just have to go along with it and trust that the characters understand what they mean.

like i said, this was a lot of fun! i found myself really invested in these characters, especially one in particular—derossi vargo (as you may see from my endless status updates screaming about how much i love him), who might just make my favorite characters of all time list. he is a lower bank crime lord, who started off as a lowly river rat but clawed his way to the top, and now he is one of the wealthiest men in the city, but is still being looked down upon by others because of his class and criminal history. he's shrewd, cunning, manipulative, and willing to do anything to achieve his goals, which makes him both dangerous and powerful. but at the same time, he's also a little clumsy, a little awkward, and surprisingly cute.

there are a lot of plot points happening at the same time in this book, and it was interesting to see how they all came together. the only reason it didn't get a full 5-stars from me was because there were a few tiny things that i didn't super love about some of the plots, but otherwise, everything else was great. some questions still remained at the end, but i've been told they get addressed and explained in the sequel. there also isn't really romance in this book, but just enough hints at it that got me hooked, like yes give me all the crumbs.

i'm currently reading the second book at the time of writing this review, and loving it just as much. i already can't wait for the third!
Profile Image for Jordan (Forever Lost in Literature).
818 reviews104 followers
January 11, 2021
I hope this is an indicator of what's to come for fantasy in 2021 because I had so much fun with this book, absolutely loved it!

Find this review at Forever Lost in Literature!

The Mask of Mirrors was one of the first 2021 fantasy releases that I read, and it is giving me some high hopes that this is going to be an amazing year of fantasy releases. This is the first book in a new fantasy series and it has completely captivated me with it's strong world-building, expansive and developed cast of characters, and overall compelling and richly layered plot. M.A. Carrick is the pseudonym for authors Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms, and the super-author duo is just as amazing as you might expect they would be.

This basic synopsis for this book highlights that it features a con artist attempting to pull off a rather enormous/hefty con, and while this is indeed the heart of this particular story, it is also one small part of a much bigger and more unpredictable plot that is full of political maneuverings, scheming, and so many secrets.

Every component of this story is important, from the setting to the world-building to the pacing, but the characters were one of the most vital to the plot, and I am so pleased to say that I think the authors did remarkable work in developing such a strong cast of characters that not only contains quite a few characters to follow, but also managed to make each character feel fully developed, fleshed out, and each have an interesting and unique personality as well as backstory and current storyline. Renata, for all intents and purposes our 'main' protagonist, was a particularly exciting character to follow as we explore both the Ren and Renata versions of her identity (aka, the 'real' and 'con' versions of herself) and I loved how the authors chose to balance this aspect in a way that really showed how difficult and slippery it can be to play with two identities.

In addition to Renata are a variety of other diverse secondary-main characters that we get perspectives from, such as Vargo, Tess, and and Captain Grey, among others. Vargo in particular was a character that stood out to me and is easily probably one of my favorites. He's a great example of the characters in this book in that he's been developed in such a multi-layered and nuanced grey-like manner that you never really know what he's going to do, but you also can't help but love his personality and find yourself eager to see what he's going to do next. I also appreciated the detail that went into developing characters, such as Vargo's repulsion to germs and illness, which seems to hint at a phobia of some sort and that I think really helps to develop his character even further in a variety of ways.

The magic in this book also felt very fresh and exciting and even though we got to explore a lot of what is a part of the magic system, I am really excited for and hoping to experience and learn even more about it in future installments in this series. It's not an overwhelming sort of magic that is constantly around, it's more subtly pervasive and not always discussed, but is always a part of the story in some manner. This is also a very political fantasy, so that takes a good portion of the plot, with plenty of scheming to keep everyone (including the reader) on their toes. You can never really be entirely sure of what someone's intentions are, and everyone usually seems to have some sort of intention or motivation for any and all actions that undertake.

As other reviews have noted, The Mask of Mirrors has a fairly slow pace to it, but I think that's somewhat to be expected in larger fantasy novels. To me, it was a good type of slow pace that allowed for the characters, world, setting, and magic system to be slowly built up and evolve in a way that didn't lend to excessive info-dumping, but instead let the reader slowly and delightfully immerse themselves into the world. It's like the person who chooses to very slowly get into a freezing cold pool by moving in slowly, letting themselves adjust tot he temperature, then continue on--slow, but a comfortable sort of slow. Also, I didn't really notice it because I found the characters and plot so intriguing and I think Carrick moves the story along just enough in a consistent fashion, and it is consistency that is often most important to me in any novel--and there are plenty of more fast-paced moments throughout that help baance everything out.

Overall, it was an easy five stars from me! I genuinely cannot wait to continue this series and I anxiously await its publication, even though that may not be for a while.
Profile Image for Kelly.
1,312 reviews502 followers
December 17, 2020
Omg this book was so good!! It took me a while to read it and get through those 672 pages but I'm not mad about it because I got even more attached to these characters and the plot.

The Mask of Mirrors follows Ren, a con-artist who murdered the leader of her knot after she killed Ren's brother. With her sister Tess, Ren runs away to try another job, one that could let her be part of the nobility if she succeeds and be able to enjoy the benefits of such a position. But for that, she'll have to be really smart and put on the mask of Renata, a distant relation trying to reconnect with her family. She was never meant to care for Leato, Guina or their mother but eventually, she did and so did I. We also have an evil house that needs to be stopped and the mystery of a cloaked man "The Rook" to figure out.

Overall, this was a very interesting (even if can be slow at times) and so worth the read. I cried for some characters and the ending left me shocked . It's not often that authors/books manage to fool me like that especially in Fantasy instead of Thrillers, but wow, I loved everything about it and I cannot wait for book two!!

(Thank you for letting me read and review an ARC via Netgalley)
Profile Image for Emma.
2,436 reviews829 followers
November 12, 2021
That was an amazing read! Lost a star for pacing in the middle and keeping me waiting for answers for too long! This is a richly imagined , possibly Venetian-inspired world with its own astrological and sacred geometry system, its own tarot (pattern) deck, zlyzen demonsa really interesting cast of thousands and a loving found family. I got some answers to the questions I had, but some will be carried forward to the next in series.
Profile Image for Holly (The GrimDragon).
1,000 reviews235 followers
February 21, 2021
“Vargo didn’t often live in his body. He’d grown up thinking bodies were for pain–inflicting; receiving–a belief that lingered even though pain was rarely a concern for him anymore. These days, he mostly thought of his body as a tool. He spent the majority of his time in his head, where he was unassailable, calculating how everything around him could be used.

But he recognized the appeal of the physical. And sometimes he wanted the slap of flesh against flesh, the grind of hips and the slickness of sweat, the fuck and yes and almost there of it all.”

The Mask of Mirrors is the debut novel from M.A. Carrick.

Sort of.

You see, M.A. Carrick is actually the joint pen name of Marie Brennan & Alyc Helms. They are both authors that I’ve heard a lot about, in fact I own the entire Memoirs of Lady Trent series.. which I will begin cramming into my skull meat sometime this year. HOLD ME TO IT!!

This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year & HOLY SHIT! Whatever preconceived thoughts I had about this book were achieved & completely surpassed! It’s also one of the most stunning covers (illustrated by Nekro, designed by Lauren Panepinto) I’ve seen of late. Oof.

The Rook and Rose trilogy starts off with this captivating story that follows a con artist named Ren aka Renata Viraudax aka Arenza Lenskaya. Ren is deceptively planning a con, one that she is determined to see through for the long haul. She has assumed a fake identity as a noblewoman in Nadežra, the City of Dreams. Her goal? To infiltrate a noble house, House Traementis, and secure a better future for her & her sister.

As Ren becomes more deeply embedded in the politics of the nobles, she realizes that she isn’t the only one pretending to be something she’s not.

Joining the thief as part of a clever cast of characters is her sister Tess, a talented dressmaker; Derossi Vargo, her kingpin landlord; Grey Serrado, Nadežra’s police force captain; and the Rook, an enigmatic outlaw who was once Ren’s childhood hero. That’s a good chunk of POV’s as it is, however, there are a fuckton more character names to remember, which I did struggle with in the beginning. However, there is both a Dramatis Personae & a glossary included in the back, which is certainly helpful.

There are a lot of parts to a story of this magnitude & this being book one, the authors are clearly setting up the world in detail for the remaining installments. Although the pace is slower in the first half, it does pick up drastically. The foundation has been set & I can only imagine that the rest of the series will be just as good, if not better!

“Trust is the thread that binds us…and the rope that hangs us.”

Tarot readings, magical makeup, sleepless hallucinations, revelations, deception & consequences. The Mask of Mirrors felt like a combination of The Goblin Emperor & Locke Lamora, while staying wholly original. There were also some delightful “Padme’s Handmaidens” vibes, not only because of certain plot points, but mostly because of the gorgeous descriptions of garments. As someone who is far more comfortable in a Star Wars shirt & pantless (FUCK PANTS), fashion isn’t really my thing. Like.. at all. Yet, writer me was in complete awe at the level of attention paid to fabric & intricate costumes of the time, which only added to my enjoyment of this complex fantasy world!

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this slowly burning mystery, truly! It’s set in a queernorm world, with dynamic characterization, stunning prose & twisty turns. Simply put, The Mask of Mirrors is escapism in amongst the chaos.

Without a doubt, The Mask of Mirrors is already a contender for my favorite book of the year!

Get thee to wherever books are sold & procure yourself a copy!

(Massive thanks to Orbit Books for sending me a copy!)

**The quotes above were taken from an ARC & are subject to change upon publication**
Profile Image for Bertie (LuminosityLibrary).
471 reviews108 followers
January 25, 2021
The Mask of Mirrors is filled with political intrigue, deception, and a wonderfully detailed world. It should have been everything I love in a book. However, with so many characters, places, and conflicts, I found it difficult to hold onto the threads. Nothing felt explained enough, I kept losing track of the plots and characters, and after finishing I couldn't say much of what happened in the plot or world. I often read detailed fantasy with large casts, so I was surprised to have felt this way.

I want to start with the positives of this book because it was filled with intriguing mysteries that I thoroughly enjoyed. Firstly, I appreciate how rich the world is. You can tell that the authors know every detail of the setting they've constructed. The city feels alive, bubbling with different groups, rivalries, conflicts, and alliances. Morally grey characters are the best, and no one can convince me otherwise. I loved that this book was stuffed full of them. I love that every character has something to hide. They sneak around behind their families back, manipulate people into doing their bidding, and hold their enemies close. The political intrigue aspect was by far my favourite part of the book, and it remains the reason why I want to continue with this series.

The complexity of the book is one of the reasons I enjoyed it, but it was also why I struggled. Every single thing in this book is named with a proper noun. The places they visit, every minor character, every faction, every family, all of it had specific names. I couldn't keep track of what I was supposed to be remembering and what was irrelevant, especially when you mix in characters being referred to as either their first name, family name, title, or secret identity. There were so many named characters I'd struggle to remember them usually, let alone when they each have three or four names. Sometimes large events would happen, and I'd be so caught up trying to understand what was going on I'd miss major parts. I managed to completely miss a character death because I couldn't figure out what was happening. I enjoy books that thrust you straight into the world to figure it out for yourself, but you shouldn't have to be completely blind. It was as if I was being given loads of information, but no reason to care about any of it. Constant density stopped me from being able to recognise what was important and what was just background noise. It was only at the very end that I began to understand how the world functioned, and by that point, I was tired of trying.

Overall, this book had a lot of my favourite features, but the complexity wasn't handled in a way that was easy to understand. Regardless, I'll be picking up the next book as I can't help but be intrigued by what's going to happen next.

Thanks to Netgalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review

If you enjoy fantasy and sci-fi you should check out my Blog! You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.
Profile Image for ♥Milica♥.
892 reviews257 followers
March 6, 2022
This book didn't take long to convince me that I'd love it. Two chapters in and I was hooked.

However, the chapters are incredibly long so those first two chapters (and the prologue), felt like ten in a normal length book. But it just kept getting better and better with each chapter, so the length was only half a bother and not a full bother.

The writing style wasn't confusing, which is important for an adult fantasy novel, and the world wasn't hard to get into. What wasn't ideal though, is all the characters.

I'm not talking about the main ones, they were fine and I liked/loved them, but the volume of different characters that were introduced in a short amount of time was a bit overwhelming.

Also, the character names. There are a lot of Slavic/Eastern European, Romani and Italian sounding names, some being actual names and some with replaced letters or made to sound like they came from those places.

I'm Slavic, native to the Balkans (so a lot of č and š usage) and even I had trouble remembering some of them. I think if more of them were actual names instead of made up ones it would be easier, but it's a fantasy novel so I'll allow it.

I also read this whole book in a day, I'd imagine it would be a bit easier to remember more of them had I spread it out over a couple of days instead. But at the same time, my friends who did spread it out, also had trouble remembering the names so it wasn't just me.

Ultimately though, I like that there's at least some Slavic rep that isn't terrible.

Now back to the characters themselves.

I had a favourite from the very start which was Vargo, and I didn't like his ending, because he didn't strike me as that type of character while reading. I don't believe that he's completely black or completely white, but the ending made him seem as if he was purely one of those things the whole time.

My second favourite was The Rook. I'm glad we got a reveal at the end, but the revelation was a bit shocking because I was convinced they were someone else the entire time.

And I really liked Ren too. Lately I've been reading fantasy books with great main characters and Ren is definitely one of them.

As for the ending as a whole, I'd say it was satisfying. Things are wrapped up, but there's enough mystery to spill over into book two and keep you interested in what's going to happen next.

If you are planning on reading this book, I'd recommend you get a physical copy for practicality's sake.

Profile Image for Jennifer.
425 reviews183 followers
September 9, 2021
I think I would have loved this one ten years ago when I was still into fantasy costuming and political intrigue and before my tastes shifted toward plants and misanthropy. The Mask of Mirrors feels a bit like a nostalgia read, a retread of the Paula Volsky and Teresa Edgerton historical-ish fantasy I was reading in my twenties. It's still a heck of a twisty, intricate fantasy with kickass worldbuilding, and I enjoyed it, but twenty-something-Jennifer might have loved it.

This is fundamentally a story of con artists living at the edge of the aristocracy: almost all of the major characters are playing a long game, trading in secrets and trying to expose others' while shielding their own. There's Renata Viraudax, a former street urchin called Arenza posing as the daughter of a disgraced and conveniently absent noblewoman. There's Derossi Vargo, a trader with connections to the black market and lofty ambitions. And then there's the Rook, a shadowy and semi-mythical hero who has been protecting the peasant class against the foreign aristocracy for the past two centuries. True identity: unknown.

The city of Nadezra is a character in its own right with its neighborhoods, its history of violent occupation by the Liganti ruling class over the Vraszenian natives, its aristocratic factions and crime lords and rebellions. The Mask of Mirrors features duels and masquerades, magical drugs, conspiracies, lies, rapid costume changes (to keep up with said lies)...

Who wouldn't want to meet a man introduced thus:
And the clothes of the man who had spoken were exquisite - even Ren could see that. Not innovative in the ways Tess could achieve, but the green wool of his coat was as soft as a carpet of stone moss, cut flawlessly so it didn't wrinkle as he moved. His waistcoat was much darker than Liganti fashion favored, appearing black until it caught the light and flashed emerald, and his coat and collar points rose to his jaw without threatening to wilt. Renata's gaze passed over an odd, iridescent spider pin clasped to his lapel, then snagged on the jagged scar ripping up the side of his neck, too high for even fine linens and high collars to entirely hide.

The worldbuilding is fabulous and the writing is highly competent without being showy. The pacing is leisurely in parts, but I rarely minded. If I had connected better with the main character, it would have been a five star book. But the problem with having players as main characters - people who withhold secrets and reinvent themselves as the situation requires - is that it's hard to feel like you really know any of them. Ren's perspective dominates the book, but she feels distant as she moves between Renata and Arenza and feels increasingly alienated from either.

It's a testament to everything else going for this book that I finished it (at all; 630 pages is a looooong book for me these days) and am looking forward to the sequel.
January 14, 2021
2.5 stars

Con artists, nobility, and crime lords are the main factions in this novel, delivering a collectively intricate plot reminiscent of a fantastical Venetian opera. With ten houses of the nobility and their main characters raging political intrigue - over 20 additional characters will mix into this multifaceted, dynamic plot and keep the reader on their toes.

Arenza Lenskaya, aka Ren, aka Renata Viraudax, was raised in the slums of Nadezra and is learning to gain acceptance into the House Traementis as their long-lost kin hoping for all the wealth and social benefits it will bring. The truth however is, she is a con artist and willing to form beneficial alliances in her alias to achieve what she seeks. What she does not know is that other forces are tugging from every side.

While we follow Ren and her thoughts, she interchanges her name, depending on who she deals with and what she can benefit from the most. With changing garments, going to balls, and going as far as to change her skin color, we follow her upturning and plotting against and for nobility, while being partially open to rather shady business.

In an ever-changing plot and povs, some of the other elements of the novel are introduced. While we meet Oskana Ryvcek, a legendary swordswoman, we are also learning of The Rook, a feared and charming outlaw.

As Ren is thrown into the dangers of the different houses, magical forces sweep her off her feet and she has to sort out friends from foe.

In this story that sounds absolutely intriguing and fabulous, I found myself lost at times for a lack of explanations or connections. A swift change between chapters, characters, and an upending conspiracy, was beyond my ability to fully follow. The parts that worked for me, which were moments that I actually understood the circumstantial connections (keep in mind, there were 52 characters – so listed in the back of the book plus a glossary guide of terms) that were quite enjoyable. I loved some of the darker magic in there and the feistiness of the characters. At a page count of almost 700 pages, and from what I gather took over 2 years to plot-out in regards to the regal houses, alliances, and characters, it was just a bit beyond my complete comfort or delight but certainly commendable.
I am sure there are other readers that will absolutely love this book. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as well for me.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest and voluntary review. All opinions are my own. Thank you.

More of my reviews here:
Through Novel Time & Distance

Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,034 reviews1,420 followers
December 2, 2022
This is the first instalment in the Rook & Rose series.

Ren learned how to cheat and gamble during her time spent on the streets of Nadežra. Now she is part of its sparkling elite, posing as a wealthy long-lost family member returned to its fold. She plays her part well, beguiling all around her until she can steal their wealth for her real sister and herself. However, the family she lies her way into isn't what it appears on the outside and the entire wealthy populace of the city of Nadežra might all have secrets that could, if exposed, prove that every facet of this glittering city is a façade.

I loved learning about Ren's role in her and her sister, Tess', plan to steal from this wealthy family. Their lives prior to this coup was a tough one, with many losses and much suffering. It made them tougher and more unforgiving, but still with a softness at their core and loveable qualities that quickly earned them a place in my heart. I knew their plan would see others ruined but their intentions were only to aid themselves and I longed to see them successful. This was not to be so.

The first half of this novel was slightly slower in pacing than the latter. This did not impact my enjoyment but the later reveals, and the magic and mayhem that also appeared, was where I truly began to love this story as much as I already loved its key players.

Many mysteries featured here and I became invested in them all equally. I thought the author did a commendable job of pacing the reveals for each and luring the reader's interest with littered puzzle pieces to the truth appearing in many scenes. I finished this book and moved directly onto the second series instalment to continue on my quest to finding the rest.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the authror, M. A. Carrick, and the publisher, Orbit, for this opportunity.
Profile Image for Jennie Damron.
467 reviews60 followers
July 26, 2021
This is probably the most intricate political fantasy I have ever read. It was a bit confusing at first as there were so many characters and plot points being thrown in the first 200 pages. Once that was done the story flowed nicely and was fast paced.
I loved the world that was built here. And the characters all of them played a roll in the story even if small.
I should have known not to attach myself to any one character because bad things happen in these types of books to characters I love. But I couldn't help it. This book broke me, but, sucked me right back in and made up for the one betrayal I felt.
I am excited to see where this story goes so I cannot wait until I get my hands on the next book.
Profile Image for Aly.
2,615 reviews
November 10, 2021
2nd time reading

I was able to get an advanced copy of the sequel, so I had to do a reread of this one! The world building is so interesting and even though the pacing is a bit slow, I liked that the authors took time to really fill the story in. There are a lot of characters, houses, and plots going on so if this were rushed it would be difficult to follow.

It was nice listening this time and hearing how the names were pronounced, but I think reading an eBook or physical is the better way to go here. I was more immersed in everything when I read with my eyes and I'll be reading an eBook of the sequel. I can't wait to see what happens after the reveals at the end of this one!


Okay, this book was really good! It's so detailed, with a lot of worldbuilding and character development. There are all these families with various members, street gangs, countries with different beliefs and power structures. The authors really put a lot of time into making this book as fleshed out as possible and I enjoyed it.

The main character is Ren, a thieving orphan who is doing the biggest con of her life to become part of a wealthy family. It was so much fun to watch her become different people; Renata, the wealthy Seterin who is the long lost cousin to House Traementis, or Arenza, the Vraszen fortune teller. Ren is a great con artist and she fits in so seamlessly with everyone. We see her change as she makes friends with the people she's fooling and at times feels bad about lying. She also loves Tess, a girl she grew up with in the gang and would give her life for her. They have a great sibling bond.

Grey is a Vigil captain who came up from nothing and is trying to straddle two worlds. He wants to help everyone and keep his city safe, but with his position in the police it can get tricky. He's a truly good person and I really felt for him every time he was stretched too thin and just needed help. I can't wait to see more of him in the next book!

The plot was a bit confusing at times, with so many characters and subplots happening. My main issue is with the names, they're very difficult to pronounce and I wish there were a guide to help. One example of a crazy name is Egliadas Fintenus. There are also names with consonants pushed together that I had to stop and think about every time they came up and that put me out of the story.

The ending was intense and we learned some big secrets. I am already looking forward to a sequel, with revenge and romance!

I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Profile Image for Brigid .
161 reviews221 followers
January 13, 2021
Check out this review and more at The Alliterates


The intricate clothing, szorsas reading a noble’s future, and a dark hood seeking justice in a world of corrupt politics had me obsessed and cutting my teeth on the pages. The pages turned. One hundred. Two hundred. Then every word felt like a brick that I needed to lift. Everything became exhausting despite my initial enthusiasm. That hope for a glittering debut disappeared along with any desire to read.

The Mask of Mirrors recalls that golden age era of fantasy with its intricate world and those soft and quiet moments that hook your heart onto a character. Like Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy, this series paints a world of violent politics and corruption. It slowly weaves a story and focuses on the details of politics, bit by bit and inch by inch. As a reader, I love slowly built fantasy worlds. They are, to me, the SFF genre’s version of the slow burn. These are the worlds that allow me to know characters on such a level that the emotional climax creates a larger impact greater than shorter fantasy books are able to do.

I adore the grand arcs of Jacqueline Carey’s world, something particularly due to the detail she put into her worldbuilding and characterization. This book reminds me of those fantasy books but still something entirely of its own. Taking inspiration from various cultures, it takes on the conflict between cultures as well as class structures within the dominant society. It builds a world where queer people are normalized. They are the leaders of houses, fencing masters, good people, evil people, or sometimes all. Yet what seems complex and highly detailed quickly turns into an informational manual.

The Mask of Mirrors is structured to be rich and complex in its world building but not too much of it really manages to be all that convincing. It is more of a description novel than it is a making of a world type of novel. There is more description of clothing than there is an actual sense of the world and its magic. We’re described things, about clothing, about gods, about religious practices. All these things could very well be written about in a folklore book. These descriptions and their reliance on ‘aboutness’ doesn’t get me to see the world or even feel it.

What exactly is this world beyond the rooms the characters plot, sew, and converse in? The world is not experienced through the people but like mini facts throughout the novel, providing me with information but doing very little to allow me to experience the world and its magic. The Mask of Mirrors is more like the authors put in thought on the informational aspect of their world but did not push themselves to question how much should be left in the novel and how to sparse it out so it is not quite so packed without giving readers room to breathe. There’s detail and then there’s extraneous detail the pile of which is likened to that dragon hoarding all that gold in The Hobbit.

The Mask of Mirrors is dense the full way through. It is fully without breaks. That is the inherent problem of this book. It does not allow readers to breathe and enjoy the characters without being slammed in the head with a dictionary.

Throughout most of the story, I get the sense that I am to be pulled by the characters and their varied perspectives, each performing their own cons or their own sense for justice lost to them in this corrupt and terrible world. Normally, I’d want to see these characters with chips on their shoulders and vengeance in their futures. I rally for it. Frequently do I love to read that in a story. I am looking for the strings to hold onto some sort of emotion or sense of feeling towards these characters. Some, like Varos, are more interesting. Even with him I have difficulty finding myself clamoring for more and instead I am stuck with ambivalence or just your general numbness after being disappointed by a book. There is more work done on descriptions than there is character work and there is the problem.

The worst thing I could feel towards a book is ambivalence and I’m sorry that is the case here. I feel no hatred towards the writing, the characters, or really anything else in this book. All I know is what I feel, and underline that word please, is a lack of emotions or even a care for much of what was going on in the book. What seemed like an interesting story for the first 100 pages quickly became a tedious thing to pick up. When I am deliberately avoiding picking up a book we’ve got major problems.

I was distant from any emotions that I was supposed to have and that’s the biggest disappointment here. I wanted to feel things and no matter how much I tried to lift this book up I could not earn enjoyment.
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