Linsey Miller: Mask of Shadows

I Needed to Win.
They Needed to Die.

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’m going to just get the obvious out of the way, and say what everyone else is saying about this book:  This could be called “Hunger Games with a Gender-Fluid Hero.” It could be…if books were that simple.

But they aren’t. So I’m not going to call it Hunger Games with a Gender-Fluid Hero. Does it have some similarities to that series? Sure, absolutely. They are both about battles to the death in post-war countries. There’s a love interest with some sparky sparks elsewhere. But I find myself annoyed that Hunger Games is now a very narrow genre of its own, and if any other book is remotely similar to it…it is undesirable. Unpopular Opinion Alert.

Now for some unsimiliarities (that’s not a word, Haley):  This is more high fantasy than dystopia. The world used to have magic, but it has been broken. This definitely isn’t a modern society, and that’s the biggest break from the HG dystopian genre. Also, these aren’t kids. Sal is youngish, but the audition for Opal is seen as a legit job interview. We aren’t sending 11 year olds to do this, and it’s not an annual sacrifice. Not everyone has to do this, it’s totally optional, and it’s not seen as a game.

Definitely not a game. These people are not messing around with their tasks and their rules. It isn’t an audition for the lighthearted–you’re gonna die if you don’t take it seriously. I loved Maud and how she kept pointing out to Sal how much she was doing everything wrong. I’d want her in my corner always.

Sal’s gender fluidity is a big deal, so I don’t want to skim over that, but I also realize it is very much not my lane. I admit that I was a bit confused by the pronouns–I’ve never seen anyone go by all three before, and I haven’t been able to find anything online about that. In the book, they prefer which every pronoun suits the clothes that they are wearing:  ‘he’ when wearing masculine clothing, ‘she’ when wearing feminine, ‘they’ when wearing both. For some characters, this was absolutely no big deal and accepted. For others, they were called she all the time–either out of confusion…or mostly spite. Again, this is absolutely not my lane, and because the book hasn’t been released yet, there aren’t a lot of own voices reviews yet. I will say that I am glad that there is some gender fluid main character rep in the market, and I will keep my fingers crossed that nothing problematic comes out of this. I want very badly for this to be a good thing for people.

I really enjoyed this debut for Linsey Miller. It’s a solid high fantasy series starter. I’m super interested to see where the rest of the series takes us!

I received this ARC from NetGalley and SourceBooks Fire. This post contains affiliate links.


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