Book Review : The Mask of Mirrors

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

Book Review : The Mask of MirrorsThe Mask of Mirrors (Rook & Rose, #1) by M.A. Carrick
Published by Orbit on January 19th 2021
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 688
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The Mask of Mirrors is the unmissable start to the Rook & Rose trilogy, a dazzling and darkly magical fantasy adventure by Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms, writing together as M. A. Carrick.
Fortune favors the bold. Magic favors the liars.
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.
“Utterly captivating.” —S. A. Chakraborty, author of The City of Brass
“This novel will catch hold of your dreams and keep you from sleeping.” —Mary Robinette Kowal, author of The Calculating Stars
“Replete with complex politics, intricate magic, and mysteries that readers will be racing to unravel.” —Andrea Stewart, author of The Bone Shard Daughter
“A fantastically twisty read.” —Fran Wilde, author of the Bone Universe trilogy
“A tightly laced plot dripping with political intrigue. Carrick has built a strong foundation for things to come.”Publishers Weekly

I was absolutely enthralled by The Mask of Mirrors, which I learned was written by a duo author team, consisting of Marie Brennan (author of The Memoirs of Lady Trent)  and author Alyc Hems, under the name of M.A. Carrick. I was completely enchanted by the premise of the story, which involves main character Ren as she poses as a distant relation to a noble family in a quest to gain official entry to their family registrar, gaining her wealth, standing, and security in the process. Unfortunately, this long con is the hardest act she has ever put up, and Ren finds herself in a tangled web of politics reaching from the highest echelons of government in the city to the lowest of the Lower Bank, facing off with uprisings, magical terrorism, and more. And to make matters worse, Ren finds herself developing feelings for the very family she seeks to con, the Traementis family. 


“Because she was not Atla Renata Viradudaux, daughter of Letilia Traementis. She was Arenza Lenskaya, half-Vraszenian river rat, and even with a forged letter of credit to help, pretending to a Seterin noblewoman wasn’t cheap.”


I adored the main character Ren from the very beginning. She is intelligent, cunning, observant, persuasive, beautiful, and unafraid to get her hands dirty. These character traits aren’t limited to when she plays her role as a noble known as Atla Renata either. Ren, who slips into many roles and disguises throughout The Mask of Mirrors, is at her heart the poor street urchin who lost her only family, her mother, to disease, and had to make it on her own for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, she wound up as  “Finger” for a group of child thieves ran by a monstrously abusive woman named Ondrakja. The only good thing that came out of this horrendous childhood, were Ren’s ability to develop and master a unique set of skills and for her to find a new family of her own in other Fingers. Ren forms a family with a brother named Sedge and a sister named Tess, who goes above and beyond pretending to be Ren’s maid and seamstress during her plan. 


“Tess would be happy in that life. But Ren wanted more. This city owed her  more. It had taken everything: her mother, her childhood, Sedge. The rich cuffs of Nadezra got whatever they wanted, then squabbled over what their rivals had grinding everyone else underfoot. In all her days among the Fingers, Ren had never been able to take more than the smallest shreds form the hems of their cloaks.”


If Ren’s con didn’t have high enough stakes, she’s literally sleeping on a kitchen floor on a house she rented beyond her means and will face extreme consequences if found out, she soon becomes entangled with Vargo, a notorious businessman from the Lower Bank, the Rook, a masked vigilante who seeks to right the injustices of the city, a terrorist group, and even more scheming nobles. I have read from many other reviewers that they found the pacing of The Mask of Mirrors to be quite slow, but I did not find that to be true to my own reading experience at all. There was so much going on at all times that I could never be bored. Other readers who are bored with political intrigue might struggle a bit though.


For me though, Ren’s growing feels for the family she originally only wanted to be a part of for security and wealth, combined with the high risk and high reward situation kept me on the edge of my seat the entire novel. I was constantly trying to figure out who was behind what scheme and why, and what they might gain from it. I was also very interested in discovering the identity of the mysterious Rook throughout the entire read, scanning for clues and possible motives. The relationships between all of the characters were fascinating, and the world-building was extremely multi-layered. I felt that I inhabited the very same world as Ren and that her con, and possible downfall or rise, was my own. And as Ren’s conflicted feelings about her con grew, so did mine. I think it was really a feat that the authors were able to make the readers’ feelings change with Ren’s own. At times, I wished Ren wouldn’t succeed in her con and would be found out, and that the family would somehow still love her despite her deception. 


“Atla Renata, I’d far rather have a woman like you as an ally than a competitor.”


But Ren has her hands full with more than just her con and the Traementis family. Street children begin disappearing or dying on the street, claiming lack of sleep. Legend tells of creature known as the zylzen that feed off dreams. And at the same time, a deadly new drug known as Ash pervades the city of Nadezra, killing some of its users. Ren not only becomes caught up in both of these things, but also a Vrasenzian extremist cell. She also begins moonlighting as a potential ally to the Rook, who quite frankly, interests the hell out of me.  I want to know so much more about the position of the Rook, something that always has existed for ages, as a hero to the poor and a menace to the nobles. I was delighted that I was able to finally guess his identity, but the authors did a truly great job of misleading both Ren and their readers from the truth of it. As the series is called The Rook and the Rose, I can only hope that Ren and the Rook will team up again in the future, and I have no idea how I’m going to wait for that to actually happen.


“We don’t kill,” the Rook whispered to the oblivious city. “But we can destroy”


There is literally so much going on in The Mask of Mirrors that I don’t know how Ren keeps all of it, and her many aliases straight. It’s both amazing and makes me feel like I need to reread the novel again in order to grasp all of the many layers of it. Though I did not find the pacing in The Mask of Mirrors slow at all, I honestly had a lot of trouble keeping the entire cast of characters straight. As I received an e-copy of the book, it wasn’t easy for me to flip back to the list of characters and their family tree at the very end of The Mask of Mirrors. If you have the opportunity to buy a physical copy of the novel, I recommend it for the purpose of this list and for that of the appendix, which lists all of those pesky magical terms that I honestly could not for the life of me decipher from the context. Perhaps I missed something extremely important to these magical terms somewhere in my reading, but I felt that the novel just introduced terms such as “numinatra” and “numina” like I should know what they meant, but I certainly didn’t. 


It wasn’t until I got to the end of The Mask of Mirrors  and read the appendix that I learned what these terms were for certain. I was right only in that both terms involved the magic, with the former being the channeling of it and the latter being a series of numbers used in this channeling. And apparently the magic system is sort of a sacred geometry. It pains me to admit that I had no idea what the heck was going on when characters were saying the numina, aka counting. I wrongly assumed that characters were referring to a magic circle or something at times. Seeing as I, a huge fan of the fantasy genre was so confused about the magic system, I think I can safely say it wasn’t as well explained as others fantasy novels. In my opinion though, the spectacular character development and political intrigue more than makes up for this lackluster description of the magic system.


Thankfully, there was plenty besides the magic system to keep me occupied in The Mask of Mirrors. I am honestly so excited to pick up the next entry in the series and it is going to be quite painful waiting for it. I can’t wait to see what trouble Ren will find herself embroiled in during the next novel. Honestly, The Mask of Mirrors is the best novel I’ve read so far this year, even beating out both of the novels I’ve read by one of my favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson, and I’ll certainly be rereading the novel and snapping up future entries in the series. If the rest of the series reads like The Mask of Mirrors, it could easily become one of my all time favorites. 

Book Review : The Mask of Mirrors - Blogging with Dragons

Posted January 25, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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