The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick
Publication date: 21 January 2021
Page count: 672 pages
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
The Mask of Mirrors is a book that seemed like it had my name written all over it: a female con artist worming her way into a wealthy noble family, a magical sickness plaguing the city, and more politics than you can shake a stick at. Despite the fact that there were some fantastic things about this book, I was left feeling a little let down by The Mask of Mirrors.
Renata Virdaux 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 aristocratic world of House Traementis, she realises her masquerade is just one of many surrounding her. And as corrupted 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.
I think the majority of my trouble with The Mask of Mirrors was the unnecessary complexity that led to confusion and poor pacing. This book feels like five different books in one with the number of storylines running at the same time. I love a long book, however sometimes they feel unnecessarily long and this was one such book. I enjoyed the characters so much, but there were so many people with so many names running around that just added bulk to the book and ultimately dragged it down — by the last 100 pages I was still unsure of who certain people were and why I should care about their actions. The authors had some really amazing ideas for these characters and their arcs, however so many of them just weren’t necessary for the main story they were trying to tell. As a result, it felt like the arc of an entire trilogy, plus some companion novellas, crammed into one book. If there was a way to tease out these storylines into separate volumes, I think it would have really benefited the book and could have been an amazing and intricate series. Instead, it just felt bogged down and slow paced — it took more more than a month to read.
The complications with the story were added to by the complications with the magic. There are three different threads of magic in the book. There is a dream world that can be entered via substance use and a kind of tarot magic — these were both fantastic and complimented certain plot elements and characters really well. However there was a third kind of magic — an inscription magic — that was so complex and didn’t make any sense to me. Unfortunately, this was so vital to certain plot points that those bits of the book totally fell apart. When it comes to complicated magic, I prefer the authors to really ensure that the reader understands when things go wrong with said magic, or the characters just shrug and don’t explain it at all and the reader just rolls with it. This felt like it fell somewhere in the middle — the magic was too complicated to understand, but the burden was on the reader to figure out what was going on (or going wrong).
The absolute best aspect of this book was the characters. The huge cast took some serious getting used to, however the main players were truly wonderful. Ren is amazing and an incredibly capable young woman. She’s the perfect person to run her con — she is quick on her feet and totally unshakable. The thing that I really loved about her character was how well the authors established why she is the way she is and how her past impacts her actions. As we meet more characters that knew her in her past or grew up under similar circumstances, the authors establish Ren as such a wonderful and complex character.
Her relationships with other characters is also fabulous. Most notably with her sister Tess, Traementis heir Leato, and the crime lord Vargo. All of these characters are amazing in their own right — although I think Vargo is easily my favourite of the bunch — but they are enhanced by their relationships and interactions with Ren. For me, this web of characters and character interactions is one of the best I’ve ever read.
I think that The Mask of Mirrors is one that you really need to read and get your own opinion on — there are so many complexities that will suit some readers and not others. I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for a complex con story with huge world building and lots of politics and backstabbing.
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