ARC Review: Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young
ARC Review: The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion (Danielle Cain #1) by Margaret Killjoy
ARC Review: Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
ARC Review: The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross
When her seventeenth summer solstice arrives, Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron.
Growing up in the southern Kingdom of Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her for such a life. While some are born with an innate talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she belatedly chose to study knowledge. However, despite all her preparations, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true—the solstice does not go according to plan and she is left without a patron.
Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, and with no other choices, she accepts. But there is much more to his story, and Brienna soon discovers that he has sought her out for his own vengeful gain. For there is a dangerous plot being planned to overthrow the king of Maevana—the archrival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the northern throne. And others are involved—some closer to Brienna than she realizes.
With war brewing between the two lands, Brienna must choose whose side she will remain loyal to—passion or blood. Because a queen is destined to rise and lead the battle to reclaim the crown. The ultimate decision Brienna must determine is: Who will be that queen?
**** Huge thank you to HarperTeen for sending me an ARC via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review ****
This was kind of disappointing because I felt it had a lot of potential to be amazing but it was just….extremely slow. It wasn’t terrible by any means but I just felt it was boring.
Essentially the plot revolves around Brienna who is studying to be a passion of knowledge at Magnalia house with 5 other girls who are studying each passion as well-arts, drama, music, wit, and knowledge. She is left without a patron though and is swept up in a plot to overthrow a king! That’s the story! There’s also a kind of subplot where we are left wondering who Brienna’s father/family history is the entire book too, but this is literally given away by the family tree at the beginning of the book! Why would they do this? You want us to sit in suspense and make it a big mystery throughout the story and yet reveal it in the family tree at the beginning of the book? Needless to say I DO NOT recommend reading those before you read the book.
The plot was extremely slow paced and at times very boring. Brienna’s time at Magnalia house is spent gossiping with the other girls and they talk about their passions and such. It was tedious, so very tedious. From there I usually love the whole “rebellion” side of plots but this was very underwhelming, it completely lacked any action or twists. What twists there were, were completely predictable and in no way surprised me. That was probably one of the things that disappointed me the most since it took away any suspense from the story for me.
I also felt a lot of things were a little too convenient in order to move the plot forward and the ending felt rushed.
I DID like the family dynamics and lineages though, they were fun to keep track of especially with all of the political intrigue.
Also I really loved the idea of the passions and what little world building there was, was really interesting. However, I felt that there could have been a lot more world building and what there was could have been expanded on. I liked the magic system too, in which magic passes woman to woman and not to men whatsoever. Very feminist, which I loved.
The writing did flow well and was very descriptive, I think it’s one of the few reasons I managed to push through the entire 464 pages.
Overall the characters were kind of “meh”, they were all likable enough but I definitely felt like they could have used a little more complexity.
Brienna was an okay protagonist, I didn’t love her and I didn’t hate her. I did like that she was very brave and bound and determined to help aid the “rebels” and that she didn’t make a bunch of stupid decisions either.
There were quite a few side characters such as Brienna’s peers who were all fine, but I really liked the rebel characters the most such as Alderic, Luc, and Yseult. But as I already mentioned I thought everyone could have been developed a bit more.
The romance was definitely my least favorite thing about “The Queen’s Rising” right up there next to the painfully slow pacing. There is a developing romance throughout the book between Brienna and her teacher, Master Cartier. It was extremely awkward, lacked chemistry, and not to mention completely inappropriate. Sorry but I do not enjoy teacher/student relationships and that’s just my opinion.
Plus the romance became too much of a focus at times and was completely unnecessary.
Overall, this book just fell really short for me and I’m left feeling kind of disappointed with it. I expected a lot more action, suspense, and build up.
What I Loved:
- Liked keeping track of the families and politics
- World building was okay
- Writing was good
What I Didn’t Love:
- Complete lack of tension and suspense
- No action
- Extremely slow paced
- Family tree provided at beginning RUINS a plot twist
- Plot twists were predictable
- Characters could have been more complex
- The romance was unnecessary
Sorry, but I can’t really say I recommend this book as it wasn’t anything new to the YA Fantasy genre at all and was slow an predictable.
Links: Goodreads / Amazon / Book Depository / Barnes & Noble
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ARC Review: No Saints in Kansas by Amy Brashear
A gripping reimagining of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and the brutal murders that inspired it
November is usually quiet in Holcomb, Kansas, but in 1959, the town is shattered by the quadruple murder of the Clutter family. Suspicion falls on Nancy Clutter’s boyfriend, Bobby Rupp, the last one to see them alive.
New Yorker Carly Fleming, new to the small Midwestern town, is an outsider. She tutored Nancy, and (in private, at least) they were close. Carly and Bobby were the only ones who saw that Nancy was always performing, and that she was cracking under the pressure of being Holcomb’s golden girl. The secret connected Carly and Bobby. Now that Bobby is an outsider, too, they’re bound closer than ever.
Determined to clear Bobby’s name, Carly dives into the murder investigation and ends up in trouble with the local authorities. But that’s nothing compared to the wrath she faces from Holcomb once the real perpetrators are caught. When her father is appointed to defend the killers of the Clutter family, the entire town labels the Flemings as traitors. Now Carly must fight for what she knows is right.
**** Huge thank you to Soho Teen for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!****
Well I’m disappointed because I thought the idea of a retelling of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood sounds extremely creative, however, the execution just wasn’t on. It wasn’t as gripping and suspenseful as I would have liked.
The story starts out right after the Clutter family was murdered and the main character, Carly, tries to come to terms with what happened. There are also multiple flashbacks to when Nancy Clutter was alive and the time Carly spent with her. I didn’t like the flashbacks because they weren’t distinguishable enough from the current timeline (aside from Nancy being alive) and just felt messy and confusing at times.
The pacing is also pretty slow throughout the story, as I mentioned already there really wasn’t a lot of suspense. So the pacing was off the entire time and the plotting wasn’t much better, it just felt like there wasn’t a point to the entire story. Carly spends the entirety of the story trying to “solve” the murders by making a series of bad decisions such as breaking and entering as well as contaminating a crime scene. Does that seem smart? No. Does that seem like it’s “helping” anything at all? No. And why? What was the point? She also managed to pull all of this off herself and with the aid of other teens and it was all extremely unrealistic.
On top of all of the bad decision making it just felt like Carly’s reasons behind her “investigating” were selfish. She was extremely focused on making the murders about herself and her friendship with Nancy, which was kind of annoying because it’s not all about you Carly!
Then the ending just felt very rushed and too convenient as well, like the author had to hurry up and finish the story in the last two pages and try and tidy it up. Which in the end just made it feel unsatisfying.
However, I did find the writing pretty enjoyable it kept me interested enough to finish the book after all. I also liked that the chapters were very, very short which also helped keep my attention. I do think Amy Brashear has a lot of potential though!
As I already briefly mentioned I thought Carly’s character was a bit selfish and besides that she also has talent for making stupid decisions. There were times where I felt other characters treated her very poorly in which case she had some of my pity but overall I just didn’t care all that much about her. She was very underdeveloped and remained the same throughout the story, no character arc whatsoever.
There were quite a few other characters but no one was developed at all and everyone just felt very plain and one dimensional. I didn’t really care for any of them either. As for some of Carly’s “friends” such as Landry and Mary Claire they seemed to only show up when it was convenient for the plot and then just disappeared and ignored Carly afterwards. It was odd.
One thing about the characters that I did enjoy was the occasional historical figures that would pop up here and there, of course Truman Capote was one but also JFK as well.
There was sort of some romance in the story and also kind of a love triangle? It, like many other parts of this book, was very underdeveloped. Carly seemed to have fallen for two different boys but it also never really seemed like she cared about either especially by the end of the story since she didn’t really end up with anyone. It was all sort of pointless.
Overall the writing and story were okay but mostly forgettable. As I mentioned earlier the premise sounded great but the execution just didn’t cut it.
What I Liked:
- Decent writing and short chapters
- Historical figures added into the book
What I Didn’t Like:
- Plot and pacing were off
- Carly constantly makes bad decisions
- Underdeveloped characters
- Rushed, abrupt ending
- Friends conveniently showed up and then disappeared
- Romance was underdeveloped as well
I can’t really say I’d recommend this one, unfortunately since the premise sounded really interesting but the story itself was not.
Links: Goodreads / Amazon / Book Depository
ARC Review: The Devils You Know by M.C. Atwood
Plenty of legends surround the infamous Boulder House in Whispering Bluffs, Wisconsin, but nobody takes them seriously. Certainly nobody believes that the original owner, Maxwell Cartwright Jr., cursed its construction—or that a murder of crows died upon its completion, their carcasses turning the land black. If anyone did believe it all, there’s no way River Red High would offer a field trip there for the senior class.
Five very different seniors on the trip—Violet, Paul, Ashley, Dylan, and Gretchen—have reasons beyond school spirit for not ditching the trip. When they’re separated from the group, they discover that what lies within Boulder House is far more horrifying than any local folklore. To survive, they’ll have to band together in ways they never could have imagined and ultimately confront the truths of their darkest selves.
**** Huge thank you to Soho Teen for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! ****
Trigger Warnings: Racism, Homophobia, Victim Blaming, and Statutory Rape
Sadly I was more than a little disappointed with this book especially since I’m always up for YA Horror books! Unfortunately this isn’t really a horror book, in my opinion it’s exactly like “Night at the Museum” with slightly creepier things running around. I was expecting to be creeped out and scared a lot more than I was but it still managed to hold my attention for the most part, so there is something to be said for that.
The story starts out pretty slow with the set up since we are introduced to each character through their own perspective, which got to be too much to keep track of at times but they did have their own unique voices so it was manageable. After the characters are FINALLY in the Boulder House things start to get a little more fast-paced and a little more interesting as well. They must all now work together in order to escape this house of horrors but may not be able to manage it since they are all harboring secrets they wish to remain hidden.
I thought the “secret” aspect to the plot was pretty interesting since a lot of these kids had some pretty odd secrets but this is where a lot of the trigger warnings I mentioned come into play: racism, homophobia, and the victim blaming/statutory rape (which was the worst one) and that’s why the kids chose to keep their secrets. I won’t spoil any of it but just know that the majority of the plot twists have these triggers in them and they can be a bit over whelming.
As far as the rest of the plot went I just felt like it was a mess, honestly what the heck was even going on? These kids went from room to room and everything got weirder and weirder as they progressed through the house! There’s whales, unicorns, centaurs, vicious angels, and all kinds of odd things that they come across. It just felt like the plot was “trying too hard” to be entertaining and it just came off being strange and messy.
Then there’s the writing….it felt really immature. Granted it is told from the perspectives of high schoolers and I’m sure Atwood was aiming for a younger crowd but it was just too much for me. The phrases “douchemunch”, “asstroll”, and “fuck-a-doodle-doo” show up way more times than I’d like to count, do people actually talk like this? It really got on my nerves while reading.
The characters are all high school students and all fit into various tropes: shy girl, popular/mean girl, goth girl and her boyfriend, and the jock. They all act accordingly as well, aside from their secrets but as I said I’m not spoiling them! Aside from the fact that they all couldn’t be more different they do try to stick and work together, which I liked since it would have been very infuriating for them NOT to in the situation.
I also liked the dash of diversity among the characters since we do have a lesbian character, bisexual character, and African-American character.
Other than that I didn’t really care about any of them and their dialogue and actions could get really annoying at times, as I mentioned when discussing the writing.
Another really messy aspect of the story: the romance. Every character got in on this too which is why it got to be too messy and too much overall.
There’s a couple that starts out a couple but one is bisexual and doesn’t care for their significant other anymore, one is secretly gay and has a crush on another character, one is head over heels for their significant other, and two other characters secretly have crushes on each other but won’t admit it.
Too messy, right? I thought so.
My thoughts on this book overall were that it was way too messy and I was very disappointed. However, I did finish reading it so points for that.
What I Liked:
- Managed to hold my attention
- Relatively fast paced
- Bit of diversity in the cast of characters
What I Didn’t Like:
- Plot was very messy and over the top
- The writing and dialogue were very immature
- Overly complicated romantic sub-plot
This just wasn’t my cup of tea and that disappointed me. There just weren’t enough horror elements for me to seriously consider this a horror book and everything was too messy and downright weird.
Links: Goodreads / Amazon / Book Depository
ARC Review: Gray Wolf Island by Tracey Neithercott
Right before Sadie died, she begged her sister, Ruby, to do the one thing she could never do herself: Find the treasure on Gray Wolf Island.
With just a mysterious treasure map as a guide, Ruby reluctantly allows some friends to join her on the hunt, each of whom is touched by magic: a boy allegedly born to a virgin, a girl who never sleeps, a boy who can foresee his own death, and a boy with deep ties to the island. Each of them is also keeping a secret—something they’ll have to reveal in order to reach the treasure.
As the secrets come to light, Ruby will have to decide: Can she make peace with her friends’ troubled pasts and continue to trust them? Can she forgive herself for doing the unspeakable? Deep in the wilderness of Gray Wolf Island, Ruby’s choices will determine if they make it out with the treasure—or merely with their lives.
**** Thank you to Random House Children’s for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review ****
I was absolutely blown away by how much I ended up enjoying this book, it was not what I was expecting at all in the best way! I’ll be giving it an odd rating at 4.5 stars because I loved it but for some reason it still isn’t a five star read for me.
“Gray Wolf Island” is so much more than a tale of friends going to find a long, lost buried treasure, so, so, so much more! This is a very character driven book that focuses on the character’s self discovery, forgiveness, and coming to terms with their problems but still has a strong plot as well full of twists and adventure. It also has a very magical realism feel to it, there are certain elements of the story that are..well… magical. I loved it I thought it added so much atmosphere to the story and overall made it so much more fun.
The pacing should have been slower considering, as I mentioned, it’s more of a character driven book but it never felt like it was slow or dragging on at all. There was always something happening and always something to look forward too, plus there are some fantastic twists at the end of the story that you will not see coming at all!
The story is also told in two different perspectives one being Ruby the main character and the other being a strange boy who woke up on Gray Wolf Island with amnesia. I really enjoyed reading through both POVs as they were both interesting and important to the plot, I also thought the boy’s perspective added a lot of mystery to the overall atmosphere too.
One thing about the plot that bothered me slightly is that I felt the conclusion was a bit confusing and not really explained, which since it’s magical realism I can see why leaving it a mystery makes sense though. There were also a couple of plot holes with the character’s backstories but that’s all that bothered me.
Neithercott’s writing is also another amazing part of reading “Gray Wolf Island” it’s beautiful and lyrical which is perfect for the type of atmosphere she created for this story. Pretty writing and magical realism go hand in hand in my opinion. This felt similar to “The Raven Boys” and “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” so I would say if you enjoy Steifvater and Taylor’s writings you may enjoy this one as well.
It really is such a beautiful, heart-breaking story and prepare to get emotional!
As I mentioned the characters are the most important part of this book and they were all wonderful, seriously all of them! Every character was complex and well developed, they overcame many things and changed over the course of the story. They were all truly fantastic and I loved all of them.
Ruby is the main character and one of the POVs, the whole reason she is undertaking this quest to find the treasure is that it was her sister’s dying wish. She keeps her secrets and feelings close to home and is trying to find herself as she moves on from her sister’s death. I really adored Ruby I thought she was a very complex protagonist and she was actually pretty witty at times as well.
Elliot is a part of an old family that has been hunting the Gray Wolf Island treasure for generations and insists on helping Ruby find it. He’s very intelligent but tries playing “the bad boy”. He’s also a love interest for Ruby and I honestly shipped them so hard! Elliot was a great character, I adored him.
Then we have Gabe (Gabriel) who is the son of a virgin mother and the townspeople think him either a demon or divine claiming he has cursed them or helped heal them on different occasions. He’s very suave but there’s a lot more to him than he shows on the outside.
Charlie is the daredevil, fun loving character who likes to live every day as if it’s his last, which it may very well be since Charlie had a premonition of his own death when he was younger.
Lastly there’s Anne who doesn’t sleep, ever. She’s a very dreamy, eccentric girl but is more than excited to go on an adventure and make some friends.
All of these characters bond and create some very lasting friendships as they quest for their treasure. I loved how positive the friendships were portrayed as well.
There is a bit of a side romance between Elliot and Ruby but I was secretly rooting for it the entire time, they were adorable! I also liked that it was slow burn and didn’t take over the plot whatsoever.
Overall I really did love this book so much, the plot was engaging, and I was 100% invested in the characters.
What I Loved:
- The atmosphere with underlying bits of magical realism
- Dual POVs that really added to the mystery of the plot
- Good pacing
- Fantastic plot twists
- Beautiful, lyrical writing
- Absolutely fantastic, complex cast of characters
- I shipped the romance and it was slow burn!
What I Didn’t Love:
- Some confusing elements of the story
- Couple of plot holes with the character’s back stories
I highly recommend checking this book out, I thought it was just beautiful and very well done. If you want a good adventure/coming of age type of story then check this one out! I also recommend checking it out if you’re a fan of “The Raven Boys”.
Links: Goodreads / Amazon / Book Depository
ARC Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber in this feminist fantasy reimagining of the Snow White fairytale.
At sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.
Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.
Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.
****Big thank you to Flatiron Books for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!****
This was a very unique and creative take on Snow White and one that I really did enjoy especially with the minor F/F romance and feminist themes! However, there was just something not there for me to rate this any higher than 3.5 unfortunately.
My biggest complaint about this book is the extremely uneven pacing because it would have me turning pages eager to know more or I’d set the book down and not pick it up for days it was so slow. This is a problem for me since it’s harder for me to want to finish a book when it gets super slow after being so good! I have to say the end and the middle is where it slowed down significantly for me and thought the first 40%-50% was much better.
The story is told in two different POVs one is Mina, the Queen and stepmother, and Lynet, the princess. In this way Mina is the “evil Queen” and Lynet is “Snow White”. The story revolves around Mina wanting to keep her power as Queen so she can be loved even though her heart is made of glass and Lynet is supposed to take her place but would rather spend her time climbing the castle walls and spending time with the new surgeon. Personally I found Mina’s chapters to be much more interesting.
As I already mentioned this book is a little slower with the pacing since it’s a very character driven story and doesn’t have an action packed plot by any means. I really loved the overall themes of feminism, family not being only blood, and being accepted for you who are and not who you “should” be. I also thought the general retelling of the Snow White fairy tale was done very well here, very creative and unique, and I loved seeing the twists on certain elements such as the enchanted mirror, huntsman, and poison apple!
The writing was also very well done and compelling…just saying. It really was wonderfully written and helped set the atmosphere for a fairy tale retelling.
I kind of stated already that I loved the themes in this book and I really appreciated that this is a book that focuses on female empowerment and women helping and supporting other women. Instead of Mina and Lynet fighting each other for the sake of power and the whims of oppressive men they stood against that and helped and supported each other. And that’s awesome.
Now to the characters which were the best part and what drove the story forward!
Mina was by far my favorite character, I really thought her chapters and flashbacks were the most interesting parts of this story. Her character had so much depth and development throughout the book and we really see so many layers to her. She was raised motherless and by a father who constantly tells her that with her glass heart she cannot love or be loved. In her desperation for love she makes some bad choices but ultimately she is a very sympathetic character.
Lynet is the main character overall but she wasn’t as interesting to me as Mina, probably since she’s younger and there isn’t as much complexity to her character. She is constantly being compared to her late mother and instead of allowing herself to be groomed for the throne she would rather spend her time climbing and getting into mischief. I found myself really sympathizing with her though since she just wants to be her own person and not be a version of her mother like everyone wants. Lynet does grow over the course of the story significantly though as she learns she can use her power as queen to help people and help her kingdom.
The only other characters of any importance in the story would be King Nicholas, Mina’s father Gregory, Nadia the surgeon, and Felix the huntsman. King Nicholas and Gregory the magician were probably my least favorite characters since they’re both men trying to rule over and pressure our female characters Lynet and Mina (their daughters respectively). Sure King Nicholas doesn’t go about ruling over his daughter Lynet in an abusive way like Gregory rules over Mina, but he still tries to force her mother’s image on her. As for Gregory….he is straight up an asshole….just saying.
Nadia’s character was very interesting and she does play the love interest for Lynet which was a very slow-burn and sweet romance. Nadia actually develops quite a bit over the story even though she doesn’t play a huge role in it.
Felix plays the role of the huntsman and he is….adorable. I thought the take on his character was very, very creative and he actually grew a lot considering he’s more of a minor character.
The romance does not play a central role in this book at all but it is there! It’s an F/F romance between Lynet, our Snow White character, and Nadia. I really loved the romance here since it didn’t overtake the main plot line and it was a nice slow burn romance, it was also very adorable!
I did really enjoy this book and think it’s a very creative take on the Snow White fairy tale but the pacing was something I had a hard time looking past while reading. There wasn’t much action which I understand but it would have been nice to have a little more and a few more complex side characters as well! Minor complaints those last two though.
What I Loved:
- F/F, slow burn romance
- Great feminist themes
- Fantastic characters that were well developed
- The writing was done well
- Creative take on Snow White
What I Didn’t Love:
- Not a whole lot of action
- Very uneven pacing (most of the time a little on the slow side)
- Would have liked a few more complex characters
I do recommend checking this book out especially if you’re looking for a good Snow White retelling or even just a book that has some great feminist themes!
Links: Goodreads / Amazon / Book Depository
ARC Review: Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class and the nobles who destroyed their home.
When Sal Leon steals a poster announcing open auditions for the Left Hand, a powerful collection of the Queen’s personal assassins named for the rings she wears — Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, and Opal — their world changes. They know it’s a chance for a new life.
Except the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. But Sal must survive to put their real reason for auditioning into play: revenge.
****Huge thank you to Sourcebooks Fire for sending me an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review!****
There seem to be a lot of mixed feelings on this book with people either DNF’ing their ARCs or loving them, fortunately I was one of the people who LOVED it! I was very pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed “Mask of Shadows” everything about it was entertaining and it really blew away all of my expectations!
Trigger Warnings: Misgendering and Much Violence (gets pretty brutal at times)
As you can see in the descriptions right away this is being compared to books by both Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo but let me tell you I thought this book was so much better than those! You can see the similarities to the plot of this book and that of “Throne of Glass” right away, which I did, but trust me when I tell you I thought this was far better than “Throne of Glass”. “Mask of Shadows” was essentially everything I had wanted “Throne of Glass” to actually be: full of action, brutal violence, and a main character who isn’t all talk! So I personally thought the descriptions didn’t do this book justice, or it did in case you’re a big fan of either of those authors I suppose.
I really loved how we are tossed into some action immediately at the beginning of the story and we don’t waste anytime getting into all the action the synopsis promised! Of course considering the fact that Sal is auditioning to become part of the Left Hand there is quite a bit of training in many various areas so those parts can become a bit tedious, I personally found them enjoyable though. I also liked how none of the contestants were messing around either, they were hardcore! I actually really liked how brutal and violent the lot of them were because this means the author wasn’t sugar coating the fact that these people are trying out to be ASSASSINS. That’s what they do.
While the pacing wasn’t necessarily fast and went kind of back and forth a little bit, I still never got bored while reading since there was always something going on. The action definitely wasn’t lacking here! But as I said the pacing did go back and forth pretty erratically.
The plot was very entertaining, even though it seems it could be a run of the mill YA fantasy plot. Sal’s thirst for revenge and the lengths they go to achieve the revenge was interesting to read about and definitely had me rooting for them.
Another thing that was very well done was the world building but I could have used a little more of it as well. I thought one of the most interesting points were the “shadows” which I won’t go into detail about but the descriptions honestly terrified me! I personally never felt like I was being “info dumped” on but I could see some people getting annoyed with the amount of info being spilled all at once throughout reading.
There were quite a few shocking plot twists and that ending definitely has me dying to read the sequel!
One of the best things about “Mask of Shadows” is the fact that the main character, Sal, is gender fluid, that’s right we have a gender fluid main character in a YA fantasy! While I personally cannot say whether this was represented well or not I read a review from an amazing blogger I follow (Avery @ The Book Deviant) who has an own voices review up that I will link for you to check out!
It’s stated in the book that Sal prefers to use the she/her pronouns when dressed as a woman, the he/his pronouns when dressed as a man, and they/their pronouns when dressed as neither. Since this is just a book review I will refer to Sal using the they/their pronouns.
Sal was a fantastic character and I really adored them, they just had so much spunk and spirit. However, they also came with their flaws as well from the rough past that they’ve had and what they’re willing to do to get their revenge as well. I LOVED that Sal came into the competition with a realistic set of skills and admitted that they didn’t know everything and did their best to learn other skills worthy of an assassin. That is so unbelievable refreshing, a main character that doesn’t magically have ALL the skills!
I’d also like to take a moment here to discuss the cases of misgendering Sal that occurred in the book. This happens in one instance at the beginning of the story and Sal corrects them right away explaining how they liked to be addressed according to what they are wearing and it doesn’t happen again. However, there is a more villainous character that misgenders Sal more than a few times and Sal challenges it immediately, which I loved. There is just one thing that goes along with this that I wanted to mention was that Sal states they like to be addressed as they dress: dresses for she/her and trousers/tunics/leggings for he/him. Now I KNOW this is just a fantasy and most clothing is gendered and that’s accepted but when Sal is misgendered by what they are wearing they state that “clearly” they are a woman/man by how they are dressed and would get very angry (which is understandable of course). I just kind of didn’t like this considering the fact that women and men can dress in whatever clothes they like and not have to identify as that gender based off of the clothes they are wearing, especially since this is a book about a diverse character.
Food for thought and hopefully that made some sort of sense.
AS for the secondary characters I really enjoyed quite a few of them but mostly I adored the other members of the Queen’s Left Hand: Emerald, Amethyst, and Ruby (MOST OF ALL RUBY!). I didn’t have too hard of a time keeping track of the other contestants but it did get a little annoying at times considering they were only ever referred to by number. Elise was also a pretty great character and I loved that she was diverse as well (either bisexual or pansexual) since she states that she’s interested in more than just men.
There is a romance in this story but it doesn’t take central stage and is more of a minor plot device. It really wasn’t anything special though and was more of your run of the mill YA fantasy romance.
Overall I really did have a great time reading this book and it surpassed ALL of my expectations!
What I Loved:
- Genderfluid and overall fantastic main character
- Stabby plot that doesn’t sugarcoat!
- Interesting world building
- Great secondary characters (mostly Ruby…)
What I Didn’t Love:
- Erratic pacing
- Sal’s outlook (or just the book’s) on gendered clothing
I highly recommend checking out this book whether you’re looking for a fun new YA fantasy or if you’re looking for a great diverse read as well!
Links: Goodreads / Amazon / Book Depository