E.C. Blake, Masks. DAW, 2013. Review copy courtesy of DAW Books.
Masks is the first novel in a series. In the Autarchy of Aygrima, everyone wears a mask. The mask’s magic tells the Watchers if a person has broken a law, or if they are disloyal to the Autarch. Not wearing a mask is punishable by death.
Mara is the daughter of the master mask-maker. But at her coming-of-age at fifteen, at her masking ceremony, her mask rejects her. Sentenced to labour in the Autarch’s mines, she’s rescued by a small band of rebels – before falling into the hands of the Autarch’s enforcers once more. She discovers that the magic she has is powerful enough to kill, and one way or another, people want to make her into their tool.
The tone and style of this book seem to aim it at the Young Adult audience, but it doesn’t turn up the emotional pitch the way most good YA does. This may, in part, be due to how much time Mara spends following other people’s leads. At no point does she ever choose a direction that someone else hasn’t pointed her in: she never tries to escape anywhere on her own, nor is she intelligent about using the leverage she does have. This makes for an unevenly paced and somewhat disappointing novel. On the other hand, things blow up, it’s easy to read, and sufficiently entertaining to finish: perhaps the forthcoming sequel will have more of Mara doing things, rather than being done unto.
Warning for offscreen sexual violence, not done to our protagonists, but not treated with any particular depth.