Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The whole premise of this book was that there was a competition of assassins and the last one standing is to become one of the four Queen's assassins that went out and did her biding/dirty work to protect the Kingdom. Haven't we seen this exact storyline before? That's what was bothering me throughout the book but I quite couldn't put my finger on. I've seen this exact trope dozens of times in thinly-veiled YA fantasy novels, and at some point in time they stop becoming interesting to consume.
Not only that, but this was one of the most predictable plot-lines that I had read in a very long time. Meaning that you knew what the outcome was going to be even before you finished Chapter one, or from a mile away. It's not that I've even read some spoilers about what would happen, it's just a cliche that you know is coming, and I wish that the author could have thrown us for some sort of surprise curveball, instead of the plot being so straightforward.
Do you know what else I really expected from this novel? I wanted the political intrigue and worldbuilding to be much more developed. I'm writing this review roughly four hours after finishing this book and I couldn't tell you the name of the main kingdom in which Sal resides. I couldn't tell you the players on the political chessboard. I couldn't tell you much about the world at all, and coming up with these type of major blanks is not supposed to happen in a well-developed fantasy setting.
Further, you know when a character just gets in easy, or learns all of the world's talents in a week? That's how it felt like the author was writing the development of Sal, after they got accepted in the audition, they suddenly had all sorts of fighting skills and physical strengths developed in an instance, which is so utterly ridiculous and unrealistic that I cringed during displays of Sal's talent that weren't practiced enough.
The only side character who I cared about, as the other seemed like stereotypes of assassins, was Maud, who was the servant in Sal's quarters. Maud is very determined get paid so that she could save her triplet siblings from being scattered and sold by the orphanage. In my opinion she is the shining, yet quiet heroine in this novel.
Another thing is that I wasn't on board with the romance at all. Whenever there is a teacher-is-lover-with-student, I feel all icky because a boundary is crossed and in every situation it makes me not want the two characters to end up together at all.
I don't want to discount that this book could mean a lot to someone objectively, because I identify as a non-binary person and this was the first genderfluid characters that I have ever seen represented on page. Even though I don't have the same experiences as Sal did, I still feel like there was adequate emphasis on explaining their pronoun preferences and who they were interacting with. Also as a note there was a bisexual/pansexual love interest, which made me appreciate the various sexuality that was represented in here.
**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**
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