I picked up THE MASK OF MIRRORS in a 99p ebook sale because Alex told me that he liked it a lot. I didn’t really know much about it, other than that I love Orbit fantasy a lot and I trust Alex’s taste. It was kind of a revelation to me how much I enjoyed this book – especially considering that I dnf’d one of the co-author’s other books. I really enjoyed the entire premise of this – especially when it went in completely a different direction than I expected.
About the book:
Ren is a con artist who has come to the sparkling city of Nadežra with one goal: to trick her way into a noble house, securing her fortune and her sister’s future.
But as she’s drawn into the elite world of House Traementis, she realizes her masquerade is just one of many surrounding her. And as nightmare magic begins to weave its way through the City of Dreams, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled…with Ren at their heart.
What did I think?
I listened to the audiobook of this, and I had to listen to it in smaller chunks. As much as I enjoyed it, I think it would have been overwhelming to read it in one long sitting. That’s because THE MASK OF MIRRORS is a very complicated political fantasy, set in a gorgeous Venetian-esque world. It’s heavy on the politics, complex and nuanced, and light on fantasy and while I personally thought this balance was fantastic and found it really enjoyable, I can understand why this wouldn’t be for everyone. Even if I do want to force all my friends to read it.
The setting was really interesting. The worldbuilding wasn’t spoon-fed to me, but I managed to keep up fairly easily. The magic itself was really interesting. The main ways we saw that happen were the patterns, and through circles. Patterns are very much like Tarot, but inspired by the ‘masks’ of this universe, and I liked that we got to see Ren using them to con her marks and using them in as a legitimate form of future telling. It was really interesting to see this dual effect, and highlighted the duality of Ren’s character. It also made for a really clever way for Ren to manipulate her marks. The circles are more complicated, and I almost definitely don’t fully understand them, but I find them fascinating anyway. They were an intricate form of magic, but still fairly subtle. We didn’t get wand-battles and flashy spells in this book, and I really enjoyed it as a refreshingly different sort of fantasy. The world is also incredibly queer-normative, which is something I always like to see.
Ren’s characters (yes plural) are a real highlight in this book. She’s come to the city to impersonate a member of House Traementis, a long-lost cousin, with the intention of stealing enough riches to set her and her sister up for life. We get to see several cons from Ren throughout the novel, both long-term cons to secure her position and short-term cons to earn Ren and Tess enough coin to support their lifestyle until their main con is complete. This frugality was actually really interesting to see. It showed how fragile their lifestyle was, and their creativity was really enjoyable – especially as Tess created endless fashion options from the same fabric, which the amateur sewer in my heart absolutely loved. I liked all of the characters Ren had created for herself, and the way that she used each to different effects to manage her marks. One of my favourite facets of this book is that Ren’s arc didn’t go anywhere near what I expected. She came to the city to con the Traementis family, and instead ended up with a found family she wanted to protect.
I loved the Rook mystery. The book took so long to tell us who the Rook was, and I had about eight different suspects over the course of the book. I loved the Robin-Hood-esque character, using incredible swordsmanship and a magical mask to stay anonymous while acting as a vigilante against the ruling families. It was a really fun addition to the story, and I especially enjoyed the way that the Rook and Ren kept encountering each other in their different identities. So convoluted and so fun.
The last thing I want to say is that I absolutely love Vargo, and I will always convince myself that an openly asshole character will somehow not be an asshole, then feel betrayed when they’re still an asshole. Why did this surprise me? I wish I knew. I can’t wait to see what else Vargo and Ren get up to in the second book, which I very luckily received for my birthday.
Release Date: January 21st 2021