Stepping into the world of Mask of Shadows is like submerging yourself into the darkness of a world that could have maybe been.
Our hero (or anti-hero, depending on your perspective), is Sallot Leon (aka Sal Leon), a highway robber known who has the usual rough start in life that a lot of fantasy novels use as backstories.
Where this novel bends the norms is that Sal presents as a gender-fluid character navigating this world of crime, and the extent they will go to to exit it into a better life.
The portrayal of Sal’s gender fluidity within the novel is a real testament to Miller’s commitment to authentic representation.
Sal is a truly genuine character that in a lot of ways is easy to connect with. Their rage at the hand life (and political machinations) has dealt them offers a way into their psyche for anyone who has just felt how unfair life can be sometimes.
A Unique Take on A Tested Device
Sal’s story is set up early on when a chance encounter leads them to become intent on becoming a member of the Left Hand, the Queen’s personal assassins.
This super-elite group holds open auditions for a new Opal, presenting a once-in-lifetime opportunity for Sal to leave the drudgery and crime syndicate they have been a part of since they were a kid.
You immediately buy into the danger of the setup where these would-be assassins are pitted against each other (and there are definite vibes that bring to mind The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins).
But Mask of Shadows isn’t just another survival competition narrative. It’s full of unique characters, including clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers.
When you combine them with Miller’s impressive craftsmanship in world-building, action scenes, and general feel of importance to the literary landscape, the book is wholly unique.