When I picked up the young adult fantasy novel that is Mask of Shadows, I genuinely didn’t know what I was getting into.
The first in a pair of books written by Linsey Miller, this novel is not only a groundbreaking, “first-of-its-kind” addition to the world of fantasy literature.
It’s also just a really, really good book.
There is so much intricacy to the layers of this engrossing novel that the complex themes, rich character development, and clever world-building are only the beginning of the things I could rave about.
World Building At Its Finest
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.
The Revenge Plot
Driving much of the plot is Sal’s quest for revenge against those who turned the Shadows (horrifying and magical zombie-like beings that wiped out whole regions) against Sal’s people and family when they were a child.
As the Queen’s left hand and an elite assassin, Sal has entre into circles they never would have before and they plan to make use of that fact.
Through the story’s unfolding and political intrigue, we learn some of the real reasons behind why things unfolded the way they did during the Civil War.
I don’t want to say more and risk spoiling the book for you, but let’s just say the Queen and the members of the left hand are not alone in having ulterior motives.
Mask of Shadows is Also a Bit of a Love Story
Some of the most relatable moments are the ones Miller describes between Sal and their love interest.
Elise, an intriguing scribe and member of the Queen’s court, adds another dimension to the narrative. Their budding feelings add emotional depth and a sense of humanity against the backdrop of this otherwise incredibly ruthless world.
As Sal tries to win the heart of Elise (though even they are conflicted on if their motivation is pure or political), we learn more about the new country that Queen Ignasi rules.
Together, they are able to dream of a new life and a different future for not only themselves but the citizens they serve and long to protect.
Not to Be Missed by Fantasy Fans
For fantasy fans of Sarah J. Maas (author of the brilliant A Court of Thorns and Roses) and Leigh Bardugo (of Shadow and Bone fame), Linsey Miller’s debut novel provides a compelling addition to the Fantasy world.
The entire book will capture you from beginning to end (and have you immediately reaching for the next book, Ruin of Stars).
Full of relatable characters, a solid plot, and a compelling gender-fluid protagonist who subtly educates as well as entertains, this book is a must-read for fans of the YA fantasy genre.
Looking for more Fantasy? Check out these other books!
Looking to make reading a more regular thing? Why not start a book club! Check out my article on How to Form a Book Club for tips on creating the ideal club for your lifestyle.
Did you read Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller? What did you think? Leave me a comment below about what you loved (or didn’t love) about the book!