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.
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.
Hi and welcome to my review of The Mask of Mirrors! Although I found the premise intriguing, it was without a doubt the cover that drew me in and convinced me I had to read this book. Ah cover love, it’s a dangerous thing, so I can’t tell you how happy I was to find myself falling in love with the story behind the cover as well.
Ren is a con artist returning home to the city of Nadežra where she used to live as city scum, a river rat, a thief. She did unforgivable things and as there is no going back to her old life, the only way forward she can see is to trade up and become part of the nobility instead, thus getting her hands on enough money to start anew elsewhere. Back in the city and dressed in the finest garments, her goal is to trick a wealthy family into accepting her into their fold as the daughter of an estranged family member. However, House Traementis is not as well off as it used to be, and the woman in charge is no fool. Thus begins the epic tale that is The Mask of Mirrors.
The Mask of Mirrors jumps right in and as usually with fantasy, I needed a minute to catch up. Luckily the book not only includes a glossary, but also a Dramatis Personae and a map (I do love me a good map!) to help me along until I got things straight. In that respect, The Mask of Mirrors doesn’t feel like the first instalment of a trilogy at all. There’s little to no worldbuilding before the story kicks off and the action begins, the reader finds out about the world through the action and the characters, and that’s always the way I prefer it.
Speaking of characters, well, there are quite a lot of them, and a large majority are fully fleshed out. Protagonist Ren steals the show with her subtle manipulations and many faces, but what of Vargo, the crime lord who carries a vibrant spider on his collar, or Grey Serrado, captain of the Vigil, respected by the noble houses, loathed by his people for being a turncoat, and of course the Rook, a Robin Hood-esque character, shrouded in mystery, despised by the wealthy, revered by the poor.
I loved the Italian vibe throughout the story, what with the masks and the canals, The Mask of Mirrors practically screams Venice but it whispers of other influences as well: Romani, Eastern European and Slavic. I also loved how it’s embedded with magic, at first in rather subtle ways. No one stands about waving wands, yet there is magic in a plethora of smaller and bigger story elements.
At 630 pages (not including the extras), my copy of The Mask of Mirrors felt like quite the behemoth. About twice the size of my average read, I found it more than a little intimidating. I can’t honestly say I flew through it, but what I can tell you is that I didn’t give a hoot how fast or how slow my progress was. Which is kind of a big deal for me: usually when it takes me a while I get bored. But there was never a dull moment with The Mask of Mirrors, it was just such a treat every time I got to go back to Nadežra.
By the end of the book most loose ends are sufficiently wrapped up – as one might hope after reading over 600 pages – but naturally the door is cracked open for the next instalment in this trilogy, and I, for one, will be waiting!
The Mask of Mirrors weaves an intricate web of intrigue, suspense, politics and magic that caught me and held me effortlessly. Every little element weighted and measured meticulously so that there is never too much of a good thing, nor never too little. It’s a complex tale – seriously guys, M.A. Carrick could give George R.R. Martin a run for his money – but in my humble opinion well worth investing your time in.
Huge thanks to Nazia and Orbit Books for the gorgeous paperback! All opinions are still my own.