Book: “The Mask of Mirrors” by M. A. Carrick
Publishing Info: Orbit, January 2021
Where Did I Get this Book: copy from the author!
Book Description: Renata Viraudax is a con artist who has come to the sparkling city of Nadezra — the city of dreams — with one goal: to trick her way into a noble house and secure 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 corrupt magic begins to weave its way through Nadezra, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled — with Ren at their heart.
Review: M. A. Carrick is the pen name for two authors, Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms. I’m not familiar with any of Helms’ work, but I’ve enjoyed the books by Brennan that I’ve read. Both are anthropologists as well, which I think often adds an extra layer of detail and attention to the world-building in original fantasy novels. Like so many before it, this book has been hyped with comparisons to “Six of Crows,” and based on the description alone, I can see where that would come from: any fantasy novel that features cons and has multiple POVs MUST be compared to “Six of Crows!” We all know what my record has been with those so far…
Renata is not who she claims to be, the lost cousin of a down-and-out noble family who nonetheless hold power at their finger tips. No, Renata is truly Ren, a former street urchin who has always had an eye for a con. But the plan that she and her sister conjured up, for Ren to ingratiate herself with a noble family as a long lost cousin and hence secure a future for them both, quickly goes sideways and Ren soon finds herself caught up in events that are greater than she had prepared for. What’s worse, she’s beginning to feel a bit too much like Renata, caring about and for things and people she shouldn’t.
Not only do the comparisons to “Six of Crows” feel accurate in this case, this book escapes the curse of being a massive let-down that has struck so many “wanna-be ‘Six of Crows'” imitations in the past. In a lot of ways, it’s like the adult version of that. It definitely goes to some darker places than the YA novel is allowed to, and its character more fully exist in the shades of grey between good and bad. Good people doing bad things for good reasons. Bad people doing good things for horrible reasons. It’s all deliciously complicated and prickly, making you both love and despise characters at various times and question how you, yourself, would handle certain situations.
I also liked many of the characters introduced, especially Ren. It’s always important to like the main character, and it can be especially hard to write a realistic character such as this without having her become a caricature con artist, constantly quipping and not founded in any deeper human emotion beneath it all. Not here. Through Ren’s perspective, we see the challenges she faces, trying to become part of a group of society that she also despises. And slowly grows to appreciate. And then equally begins to struggle with her own feelings towards these people and the balance between her original goals and the individual connections she’s made.
There were also a lot of twists and turns throughout the story. For much of it, the identity of the mysterious Robin Hood-like character is unknown, and it was a constant challenge trying to figure out the identity of this enigmatic force to be reckoned with. The end of the book also really kicked things up and left the story in a very primed state for the sequel.
My one ding is in regards to the length and pacing of this book. It’s over 600 pages long, which is just a lot to ask of readers taking on a new fantasy world such as this. The story did fairly well supporting this page length, but the pacing did stutter at times, and I think the entire thing would have been more approachable if it had been edited down a bit. But, in the end, I think most fantasy fans will enjoy this book, and I’m definitely curious about the sequel!
Rating 8: A complex new fantasy world bites off a bit more than it can chew in length, but makes up for it with strong characters and compelling mysteries.
“The Mask of Mirrors” is on, funnily enough, this Goodreads lists: The Best Random Genre List Of Books…Ever.
Find “The Mask of Mirrors” at the library using WorldCat!