About the authors!
M.A. Carrick is the joint pen name of Marie Brennan(author of the Memoirs of Lady Trent) and Alyc Helms (author of the Adventures of Mr. Mystic). The two met in 2000 on an archaeological dig in Wales and Ireland — including a stint in the town of Carrickmacross — and have built their friendship through two decades of anthropology, writing, and gaming. They live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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.
It has been an age since I’ve read a high-fantasy book with as much depth and brilliantly written characters as this, and I forgot just how much I loved them. The Mask of Mirrors has everything I love from a unique, diverse and well developed cast of characters, regency romance, swashbuckling sword fights, rogues and dresses… lots and lots of dresses. I was a little overwhelmed when my kindle informed me it would take over 11 hours to read, but the more I read, the more I didn’t want it to finish. Thank you to Orbit books and Tracy over at Compulsive Readers for having me on this blog tour.
When Alta Renata turns up on the front door of house Traementis claiming to be their long lost niece suspicions are raised, not only because the Alta’s mother left the family years ago and never looked back. But they have no idea who they are letting into their house, Alta Renata is actually Ren a street orphan who is running the biggest con of her life hoping to secure a fortune for her and her sister. But before Ren knows it she is drawn in to the Traementis family drama, even going as far as to say she liked them, and with their problems becoming her problems she gets dragged into the political heart of Nadežra. The more she tries to help them, the more she discovers; a new magic weaving it’s way through the city causing nightmares and death to those who take it and the inner conflicts and feuds of Nadežra’s nobility. Ren has no idea how she becomes entwined in it all, but before long she will see the ties that bind them all together the biggest of which reaching for Ren herself.
Ren is such a brilliant perspective to read from, though not the only POV we get. Skilled in the art of deception, she blends into the nobility with ease, making herself seem at home in the opulent lifestyle. But her life as a street orphan has taught her to keep her friends close and her enemies closer. She is incredibly resilient, even in the bleakest of circumstances and I adored seeing her in action, whether it be the Ren of the street, lock picking and tailing leads, or Alta Renata sharp tongued and witty enough to charm Nadežra’s nobility. She just wants enough money to secure a life for herself and her sister Tess, but she can’t help but get dragged into House Traementis’ problems, especially when she finds herself so fond of Alta Donaia’s children Leato and Guina. It will take Ren accepting both sides of her if she is to make it out of what is to come unscathed.
We are also treated to one of the best developed cast’s of side characters I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. There are so many of them and, except for the start when you’re trying to work out who belongs to which house etc, it is incredibly easy to remember who is who. Some of my favourites, and a few of the other POV’s were Tess, Ren’s sister and Alta Renata’s maid. She may seem shy and helpless but just let anyone try and stop her from looking after the only sister she’s ever had. Leato and Guina from house Treamentis, both readily accept Renata into their family, far faster than their mother Alta Donaia. Leato is kind and charming and Guina is shy but strong, both so desperate for family they covet Renata like the cousin she aims to be. Grey Serrado a Captain in the Vigil ( Nadežra’s police force) and a Vrazenian, a people who are looked down on by the nobility. He looks out for the ‘little people’ and uses his status as Captain to help the more vulnerable. He is initially wary of Renata but comes to see her as a sort of ally before the end. Derossi Vargo, a man who is trying to raise his status in whatever way he can. He see’s the Alta Renata as the perfect solution to his problem and as the two become unlikely allies uses her status to help with his business. Finally The Rook, a masked vigilante (think Robin Hood) who stalks the nobility, I had my guess through most of this book as to who he was, but with Ren’s constant shifting opinion it was hard to keep one person in mind. Another unlikely ally and one of the few people with the knowledge to destroy Ren. There were are so many more characters we get introduced to and they are all brilliantly developed.
The world building in this book is just *chefs kiss*. One of the benefits of this being such a chunky read is the fact we get introduced to the different social castes, as well as the other Countries (though the book does just take place in Nadežra) talked about in a really organic way. There are no large info dumps, instead we are introduced to them all through Ren’s and the other POV’s actions. The ruling caste are the Liganti; in typical fashion fair skinned and rich. And then we have the Vrazenian, the original people of Nadežra with multiple ‘cultures’ of their own. They have been in constant battle with the Liganti since they rose to power, their dark skin marking them as lesser, and even worse if you are born of both. The main conflict stems from their religious beliefs, as well as their magic styles, but they tend to agree on very little.
If you love heist style stories, but also love a bit of political scheming then seriously look no further because The Mask of Mirrors has both in spades. The benefit of having a MC who has her foot in two world means that we as the reader get treated to it as well. Ren the thief and orphan takes us to the criminal underworld of Nadežra filled with gangs, magic and rebels. Alta Renata the socialite and noble get’s us into the fanciest parties, the political capitol of Nadežra, filled with cunning and calculating nobles, dancing and dubious connections. We as the reader don’t know how the two worlds are tied together, but we soon realise that Ren, the common element, could easily be the saviour or the destroyer of Nadežra. One of the things I loved about this book was, although it is a series, the main plot of this book was wrapped up by the end. Don’t get me wrong, we still get treated to some shocking reveals and plot twists, but I liked that the main story line wasn’t dragged on for too long.
When I say this book is a chunk, I’m not lying. At around 700 pages ( pages with teeny tiny writing on them) the authors manage to weave together an incredible amount of plot lines. We have multiple mysteries laid throughout; who is making and distributing ‘Ash’ the drug that is causing hallucinations and even death in those who take it, who is the voice in Vargo’s head, who can Ren and Alta Renata truly trust and the one that had my the most intrigued… Who is the Rook. We get the answers to most, but not all of these by the end of the book and by the end I was screaming I KNEW IT very loudly (whilst at work) They give you plenty of hints as to people’s true motives and I loved seeing it all come together at the end.
With it having an almost regency like setting we get treated to romantic glances and touches, extravagant balls and festivals and descriptions of some of the most brilliant dresses and outfits I’ve ever read. Whist romance may not play a large part, I did like seeing all the characters interactions with each other. We get to see Ren flirting with multiple partners, which I loved, as well as multiple liasons between other characters, some above board and some not. But the best thing about the romance in this book is it was incredibly diverse. There were a multitude of same sex couples, something that was neither looked down on or treated as different, as well as trans characters stemming from the fact if a family has no sons, the girls are able to transition to men to be able to continue the line (through adoption) and name of the family. It was so brilliant seeing a world where this was all accepted as the norm, and I enjoyed seeing some relationships bloom that I’m sure will be followed up in the sequel.
Well I think I’ve rattled on for long enough now, but narrowing down this nearly 700 page book to a review was incredibly hard. So much happens in this book, and it is incredibly hard to talk about it without giving away spoilers, but if you enjoy high fantasy, diverse and well developed characters, a fresh and wholly immersive magic system and world building that drags you into the pages… then look no further. Don’t let yourself be put off by the length, or the fact it takes a little while to get your bearings, because I can guarantee you will be quickly hooked and find yourself flying through the pages. An easy 4.5 * and I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.