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 an ambitious adult fantasy, with rich description and a compelling concept, unfortunately it just didn’t hit the mark for me. I really wanted to like this book and for the first half I was totally into it, but gradually it became more and more convoluted and I found myself forcing myself to get through it because I was initially so invested in the story. A big thank you to Nazia at Orbit Books for sending me a copy – rest assured I always give my honest opinion!
I’ll start with the things I did like about this book; the plot itself starts off interesting, I liked how smart and cunning Ren is and how she has a knack for figuring people out and staying one step ahead. I also enjoyed learning more about her backstory, an orphan who becomes inducted into the vicious Fingers gang run by Ondrakja, an unpredictable and cruel mistress. The whole con relies on Ren being mistaken for a long lost relative of the reclusive Traementis family whose fortune has been in decline for years, with Ren’s arrival however, their fortunes may be about to change.
I also liked the writing style and how rich and descriptive it was, especially when it came to the settings, clothing and various events. It’s all very decadent and sets up the privileged world that the upper classes in Nadezran society inhabit. On the flip side, the authors also don’t shy away from showing how the less privileged Vraszenians live, after being ruled by the Nadezrans for years after a bloody war. The book has shades of Six of Crows and The Court of Miracles, but while those are Y/A this is adult fiction so don’t expect the same fast paced sort of story.
The biggest problem I had with this book was the pacing. I feel like I was waiting and waiting for things to happen and get going and then I was about 200+ pages in and such little had happened I was genuinely shocked. I get that with adult fantasy the expectations are a little different and a slow build is more common but there’s slow build and then there’s this. It was absolutely draining and I couldn’t wait for it to be over because of how ridiculously boring and convoluted it got after a point. All the political machinations, con artistry and beautiful ballgowns couldn’t make up for how the plot plodded along at a snails pace, I was crying out for some action but it was so lacklustre even when it did happen that I was actually happy when I could put this book down.
As well as the pacing being off, I thought the world building and magic system was confusing and unnecessarily complicated. Initially I liked the introduction of the different families and the charter system and how the power balance between the different houses was explored but pretty quickly it got so convoluted. Names and terms were just continually being thrown at the reader, and even with an index / glossary at the end it was just overly perplexing. I’m the kind of reader who loves some good world building and sad to say it was just so poorly done here. Don’t even get me started on the magic system; it felt clunky and added on for the sake of it rather than feeling like an organic part of the world. I felt like this thread was only included to add another dimension to the novel, but again, it was so confusing and patched together it may as well have been left out altogether.
Taking those two big no-no’s, I could have enjoyed this novel if I at least felt some connection or was invested in the character arcs but I literally didn’t feel anything for any of them, with the exception of one who was given hardly enough page time. Ren was intriguing to begin with, then quickly became boring, her actions through the novel felt very repetitive; finds out information, dons a disguise, finds out more information and rinse and repeat. With a dense novel like this you kind of need to like the main character or even the other pov’s but I just felt so ambivalent about all of them that this couldn’t even be the saving grace.
Overall, The Mask of Mirrors is a book that had so much promise but sadly it just got kind of tiresome and while this is the first in a trilogy so I’m sure the second book may work better in regards to pacing and setting up the storylines – I don’t think I’ll be returning for the sequel.
Until next time,