*Just to be clear, the main character of Mask of Shadows is gender-fluid, and the author would like reviews to use they/them pronouns for continuity, so that’s what I’m doing.*
Sallot Leon is the only survivor of a shadow war that sacrificed their entire nation years ago. More than anything, Sal wants revenge. When one of the Left Hand—the queen’s elite quartet of assassins—dies, Sal decides to stop being a thief and become Opal.
But competition for the spot of Opal is fierce. It’s more than fighting. The competition also includes lessons in healing, poisons, and even reading—where Sal meets Elise, a scribe who’s also frustrated with the status quo at court. Only one apprentice becomes Opal. The rest die. And meals and lessons are the only violence-free times, so Sal must be alert always if they want to stay alive, while trying to find out just who was behind the massacre of their people so they can finally have their revenge. And winning would be nice, too.
There’s been a big deal made about Sal being gender-fluid, and the novel itself shows a dichotomy of sorts. 1) The characters in the novel really don’t make a big deal about this. Sort of Oh, you’re gender fluid? Cool. Whatever. 2) Sal gets emotional when someone treats them like the gender-fluidity is no big deal, as if it has normally been a big deal in the past. Which one of these things is accurate? Because I don’t think they can both be accurate: it’s either a big deal, or it isn’t. I noticed the dichotomy, but it didn’t detract from the story for me.
That issue aside, I enjoyed this book immensely. I’ve also seen a ton of “Oh, this is just like The Hunger Games” comments. Yes, there’s the whole there-can-be-only-one-survivor competition angle that’s the same, and…that’s the only similarity I saw, so I wouldn’t say just like The Hunger Games. The history in the novel wasn’t super clear to me—I did not get a clear picture of the political climate and what happened with the destruction of Sal’s nation—nor did I find out as much as I wanted to about the shadows, but the book was a great read, with plenty of action and conflict, and a unique main character that I liked a lot.
Linsey Miller is a former biology student turned MFA candidate. Mask of Shadows is her debut novel.
(Galley provided by Sourcebooks via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)