ARC Review: Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

Posted July 6, 2017 by Madalyn || 11 Comments

ARC Review: Mask of Shadows by Linsey MillerMask of Shadows (Untitled #1) by Linsey Miller
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on August 29th 2017
Pages: 352

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 received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I enjoyed this fast-paced fantasy novel so very much! I’m honestly baffled by the amount of one- and two-star reviews of this book on Goodreads. If you’re a fantasy lover like I am, don’t let the negative reviews deter you from picking up this book!

I’ll preface this by saying that I am cisgender, but one of the elements of Mask of Shadows I was most looking forward to was the fact that it features a genderfluid protagonist. I’ve only read one other book with a nonbinary POV character, and I was so excited to see this representation in a YA fantasy! Sal’s genderfluid identity isn’t a huge part of the plot, largely because they seem to be fairly widely accepted by others in this world, but the couple conversations about it were incredibly well-done, in my opinion. Sal goes by they/them, she/her, and he/him pronouns over the course of the book. Any time another character misgenders them, that character is quickly corrected. Again, I am a cisgender woman, but I will be linking to #ownvoices reviews by nonbinary reviewers of this book below (and I will be updating this list as I find more), so be sure to take a look at those!

I loved Sal as a character in general. They were definitely morally ambiguous (so are real people, though, right?), but they were incredibly easy to root for. It wasn’t a typical “chosen one” story, which I really appreciated since that plot is quite overdone in YA and can get tiresome. Sal had to work hard to improve their skills and stay alive throughout the competition; nothing was handed to them. All of the other characters won my heart, too– especially Sal’s love interest, Elise, and their servant during the tournament, Maud. Both of these ladies were resourceful and quietly clever, and Sal 100% would have been dead without the help of both of them. I also loved getting to know the members of Our Queen’s Left Hand, the guild of assassins Sal is competing to join. I thought the whole idea of the Left Hand– them being named after the gems the Queen wears on her actual left hand, the fact that no one except each other sees their faces unmasked, and their deadly skill– was incredibly clever and unique. Really, none of the characters in Mask of Shadows are completely “good.” All of them are doing what it takes to survive and therefore they all are morally grey in some way. I love love love books like this, because the characters react to real situations the same way that real people would. That element kind of gave me Six of Crows vibes.

As for the actual plot, I’m a sucker for a magical/fantasy tournament plot (think Goblet of Fire, A Gathering of Shadows, Throne of Glass, etc.), and this one completely delivered on that front! Again, Sal is competing to fill the spot of Opal, one of Our Queen’s assassins who makes up her inner circle known as The Left Hand. I loved the high stakes of the competition, and I enjoyed reading about the various tasks and challenges Amethyst, Ruby, and Emerald put the contestants through over the course of the story. Basically, it’s like Throne of Glass, but without Sarah J. Maas’s shitty writing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ The other contestants all had interesting backstories and motivations that were fun to learn about. Mostly, I loved Sal’s resourcefulness throughout the audition. Like I mentioned before, they had to work hard to make it through, and it was really refreshing to read from the POV of a protagonist who actually planned their next move instead of always just acting impulsively and getting through every challenge through some miracle or stroke of good luck. I’ve seen many reviews where people took issue with the pacing of this story, but I found it compulsively readable and perfectly paced! I read this entire book in one sitting on an airplane, which is incredibly rare for me with fantasy books.

I think if you’re new to the fantasy genre, Mask of Shadows would be a wonderful starting place. The world is interesting (and comes with a helpful historical timeline in the back of the book!), but it’s not too dense or confusing, and there are no huge info-dumps. Plus, the magical elements of the world play a relatively small part, at least in this first book.

All in all, I cannot wait to see where the story goes in the sequel! The action built steadily til the end of this first book, and think the conclusion to this duology is sure to be an action-packed ride. I highly recommend Mask of Shadows to established fantasy lovers and to those new to the genre of YA fantasy alike.

Have you read Mask of Shadows? If so, did you enjoy it? And if not, do you plan to pick it up?

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Madalyn is a 20-something music student and lifelong lover of reading. When she's not reading or singing, you're likely to find her drinking coffee, traveling, or buying more lipstick than one person could possibly need.
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11 responses to “ARC Review: Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

  1. I hadn’t heard of this one, but omg! It sounds amazing, Madalyn. It sounds like the kind of fantasy that I enjoy too, with the whole game setting. Also, I’m not sure I know what it means to be gender fluid, so I would love to read about the conversations about that here. Thanks for sharing! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
    Also, I just tend to ignore GR ratings now. They always hype up the same dumb like SJM books or like ROAR by Cora Carmack (which was a garbage fantasy) , and downrate the diverse ones. *eye roll*

  2. I’m so glad to finally see a positive review for this, haha. I immediately requested it once I saw it was a fantasy novel with a genderfluid protagonist because like you, I’ve only read one other book with one and I really wanted to see a genderfluid MC in a fantasy novel. I’ve seen a lot of reviews saying it was disappointing so I was getting nervous I wouldn’t like it, but you and I seem to have pretty similar tastes in books, so I’m feeling better about it now, haha. Great review, Madalyn!

  3. I’ve been thinking of checking this out! It really does sound like a fun action packed fantasy and I’m glad it really worked out for you! I don’t think I’ve read a nonbinary POV yet, and Sal sounds awesome! Great review, Madalyn!

  4. Hallo, Hallo Madalyn — I wanted to ask you, in regards to the tourney scenes and any sort of battles that might be happening in this plot – if someone isn’t into graphic violence but can handle reading Crime Fiction (ie. Cosy Mysteries, Suspense or Thriller) would they be alright with the content in this novel? I tend to shy away from a lot of Fantasy as sometimes I find the layers of violence to be too extreme for me. However, what I *loved!* about your review is how you were saying it appears the story is more focused on the world-building and the development of the character’s journey – which is what left me curious to read! I appreciate any feedback you can give?

    • Answered your question on Twitter (as you know), but thanks so much for reading my review! 🙂 Even though there was quite a bit of violence, it was a mostly character- and world-driven story, I think.

      • Thanks Madalyn! I appreciate the time you took to get in touch with me about the content of this novel! I might try to read it one day and see if I can handle the inclusions but at least, going into reading this, I’ve been forewarned I might find it over the top! Your review was the best I’ve read because you definitely give out exactly what I hope a review of this book would share! Thanks for that!

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