*I received a copy of this title from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*
Title: Mask of Shadows
Author: Linsey Miller
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: August 29th, 2017
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 steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand―the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears―Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.
But 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. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.
Review: The premise sounded intriguing, and it was promised to be perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J. Maas. It took me a while to get into the story, and while the concept of gender fluidity sounded promising, I’m not sure I understand how it adds to Sal as a character. While the concept was laid out and easy to understand (Sal likes to be called he/she/they depending on how Sal is dressed), it was definitely lost in the plot. Sal could have been any gender and it probably would not have had any impact on the character as a whole. I really liked the start of the competition because the protagonist was playing it smart and anticipating everyone’s moves. There was also a lot of suspense there because it was hard to know who was going to get killed and when. Towards the second half of the book, it somehow went from being all about becoming an assassin to Sal’s love interest. Although feelings for another do humanize Sal, I wish there were more scenes of her becoming an assassin.
The whole competition almost felt rushed, because a lot of it was Sal hiding away and trying not to get killed. The protagonist needed to be a part of the action more, and this is where Sal fell short. I did find this book enjoyable to read, but there were a lot of things I wish were done differently. I felt like having the other characters identified by numbers was easier than remembering names for them, but it took away from character development a bit, because most of the other competitors were lacking in depth. This made it difficult to connect to any of them besides the protagonist. There was a lack of worldbuilding and a lot of focus placed on characters and places that we don’t even see in the story. Sal’s character requires more background story regarding where she comes from and her family. It is strikingly similar to how tributes killed each other in The Hunger Games, with Sal as Katniss wanting to take down those who ruined her life.