MASK OF SHADOWS
by Linsey Miller
I received this free physical finished copy in advance from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
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.
While I enjoyed the story, I found myself constantly being ripped out of the scenes and the story as a whole because of the writing. It was adequate writing, enough to get the story across, but it needed quite a bit of polishing. I had a very hard time following the dialogue and it often felt awkward. It was like the characters were having thought trains and I kept following the wrong tracks. Thus, they’d end up at a different location than me and I’d have no idea how the conversation was flowing at all.
Additionally, the scenes were disjointed. Maybe the characters’ actions were just very subtle, but I felt like I kept missing how a character got from point A to point B. Or a scene change would occur and I wouldn’t catch it and would be left scratching my head wondering what the heck just happened. This was disappointing, but all too common among debut authors.
So… the dialogue was an above-mentioned problem that only added to another, even bigger problem: the overly-fast development of character relationships. Maybe if I’d been able to follow the conversations better, this wouldn’t have been an issue, but the characters gained attachment to each other extremely fast. As in, way too fast for the little depth between them (especially given the face-level topic of their conversations. [*hint hint* I’m really zoning in on the romance in this story here.]) Unfortunately, this left me suspecting everyone of being fake and phony and only hindered my ability to connect with any of the characters.
Though, to be honest, a bit thing that contributed to the inability to form realistic connections between characters was the fact that these characters were not developed enough. There is a rather large cast and we focus on a select few, but even those few aren’t well introduced. Heck, even the main character isn’t that well introduced. In other words, it was like reading a story where a bunch of anonymous people were running around doing things and I couldn’t remember which one was which. It was quite frustrating and disappointing because it meant I lost all ability to connect with and care for any of the characters.
Another thing that was underdeveloped in this story and is of particular interest to me (as anyone who reads my reviews knows) is… world-building. o.o I. Am. Dying over here. This world is so confusing! I think there are three kingdoms. Or maybe there’s only 2 and one is gone. Honestly, I don’t even know because the way the kingdoms, historical events, and current politics are set up is… well, not set up. It’s very poorly explained to the point that I didn’t even truly understand which kingdom was which until the last few chapters. This is a HUGE problem for me as world-building is the setting and without a setting, characters might as well be in front of a white screen.
I loved this story for its unique aspects. There are other assassin contest stories out there, but I really like the challenges, the rules, and the character motivations in this one. Those are the pieces that made this story worth reading and what pulled me through to the end, and what gives me hope for a sequel.
Okay. This is an audition to become an assassin. Thus people must die. However, I have some serious issues with the last character who was killed in the book because I think it was one of the most well-developed characters who offered the most flavor to the story. Granted, their death pulls at the most heartstrings because they’re one of the few characters I was starting to become attached to, but I just didn’t see how that death really advanced the story in any way. Aaaand I kind of wanted Sal to be the one to fail the audition/die.