Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: Available Now
Synopsis: 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 steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.
But 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. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.
I have to begin by commenting on this gorgeous cover. The artwork is definitely eye-catching, and if I were rating just that, it would definitely be 5 stars. But, as I have to take other things into consideration like character and plot development, and world-building, to be honest, I ran into some issues with Linsey Miller’s debut novel.
Sal is the first gender fluid character in YA fiction and I have to say “Bravo!” I can only imagine the time that was spent crafting their character, and for the most part, it really paid off. They’re feisty, determined and very resourceful and I was instantly emotionally connected to them. Sal has a tragic backstory which plays a big role in shaping who they’ve become and it makes them very sympathetic, but the way in which it was revealed was a bit too much info-dumping. What I loved the most about Sal was the matter of fact way their gender fluidity was portrayed. This isn’t a book about bigotry, and everyone accepted Sal for who they were. When dressed as a male they’re referred to as “he”, when wearing female clothes, they’re a “she”. No big deal. It just is.
There are several secondary characters who add interesting components to the story, and the romance between Sal and Elise is lovely and avoids all the cliches like love triangles and instal-love. But the standout for me is Maud, Sal’s attendant for the assassin audition. I loved her backstory and her support and loyalty for Sal. She’s just a wonderful character that I fell in love with.
The world-building is okay, but I thought it could have been developed far more. There wasn’t enough detail about the world or the setting and it left me a little frustrated. I also thought the assassins audition went on far too long and really slowed down the pace of the story.
Mask of Shadows has some brilliant moments, but doesn’t quite live up to its highly original and creative premise. However, this is the first book in an as yet untitled series or trilogy, and I have a feeling that Linsey Miller could turn this into something truly spectacular. Because of this I still recommend this to fans of YA fantasy, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this series develops.