Title: The Mask of Mirrors
Series Title: Rook & Rose
Author: M. A. Carrick
Publication Date: January 21, 2021
Genre: Fantasy, Adult Fantasy, High Fantasy
Tropes & Themes: Found Family, LGBTQ+, Political Drama, Deep Cons
Features: Character Index, Glossary of Terms
My Rating: 4.5/ 5
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.
It’s been ten days since I finished reading this book and I am still struggling to put my thoughts for it into words. For those of you that know me, words are not often a problem, but it was just… so amazing?
This darkly magical high fantasy will transport you to another world, wrap you up in it’s many layers of political intrigue and deep deceptions, and then spit you out the other side craving more. It’s got a fantastic blend of deep world building, strong character development, and nail-biting action. Oh, and to top it off, it also has some incredible on-page diversity rep!
The thing that I loved the most about this book is that even though it’s a high fantasy and the world is big, the story itself takes place within in a single, many-layer setting. I would much rather read a book where you get to know one place painfully well – taking in everything from the canals to the plazas, to the societal fabric and petty undercurrent of curses and grudges – than to read a book with many places that you get to know only superficially. I was so sad to leave Nadežra when the book was over because I’m in love with the slums and the magic and the fashion. It’s steeped in history, and subtly discusses some big topics like the long tail of imperialism, class stratified society, and poverty. And because everything is so nuanced, this book comes with the warning to take it slow and savour every detail – you’ll get so much more out of it than if you rush through looking for action.
Now, there are a lot of characters to keep track of, so don’t be afraid to use the index at the back! But, once you start to get a feel for everyone and all of their idiosyncrasies, all of the subplots begin to take on a vibrant life of their own. And while I fond Ren to be fascinating, the true beauty of this book lies in how no supporting character is wasted. Everyone has a purpose, everyone has a story, and all of the threads come together magnificently. I adored Tess, especially how she was strong and resourceful without compromising her femininity. I was immediately invested in Grey’s quest to discover who’s stealing the children’s sleep. And I love how morally grey every single character is – there’s a broad spectrum of heroes with compelling and defined backstories, and it’s up to the reader to decide for themselves where they stand.
All together this is a magical gem of a book. It’s twists and turns, competing magic systems, and intricate plot were exactly what I needed to start the reading year off right. I can’t wait for the second book to come out so that I can dive back into Nadežra and spend more time with Ren, Grey, Tess, and the crew. Epic and High Fantasy lovers, I can’t recommend The Mask of Mirrors highly enough.
About the Authors
M.A. Carrick is the joint pen name of Marie Brennan (author of the Memoirs of Lady Trent) and Alyc Helms (author of the Adventures of Mr. Mystic). The two met in 2000 on an archaeological dig in Wales and Ireland — including a stint in the town of Carrickmacross — and have built their friendship through two decades of anthropology, writing, and gaming. They live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Many thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to participate in the blog tour, and to Orbit books for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.