Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

masks and shadowsMasks and Shadows is an enjoyable and fast paced read that succeeds in combining historical facts and fantasy fiction into a carefully woven story of espionage and dark magic.

Charlotte von Steinbeck is a visitor at the Eszterháza Palace.  Still in mourning following her husband’s death Charlotte accepted an invitation to the Palace from her sister Sophie, mistress to Prince Nikolaus.  Charlotte isn’t the only visitor. She’s joined by a famous singer called Carlo Morelli, a Prussian spy and an alchemist!  In spite of the wealth and opulence of the palace however it appears that dark plans are being plotted, blackmail is being wrought and occult style magic is creating a sinister atmosphere that fortunately most of the privileged guests are blissfully unaware of.

The story gets off to a very quick start with the death of two opera singers who have eloped together only to be quite viciously murdered.  This certainly arouses the curiosity and fear around the Palace as people speculate about how the two met their untimely and grisly end. Meanwhile, this leaves the Kapellmeister, Haydn, short of two singers for his forthcoming performance for the Prince and in this respect we get to also follow in the footsteps of Anna, previously maid to Charlotte now elevated to singer following the discovery of her own musical ability.

What I enjoyed about Masks and Shadows was the combination of intrigue, dark and hidden corridors, mysterious secret societies and occult like magic blended with plenty of characters that it was easy to either like, suspect or dislike.  To be honest the story feels almost like an elaborate production which fits perfectly with the musical theme that runs throughout.  There is a strong cast of characters each with their own particular sequence of events and motives.  Charlotte, whilst the older sister, is also the more sheltered of the two.  Her younger sister Sophie is something of a spoilt brat to be honest and on more than one occasion I wished that Charlotte had used a firmer tone with her (or just slapped her!).  I really couldn’t like Sophie at all – or the Prince for that matter – so in that respect the two of them were perfectly matched and deserving of each other.  Charlotte  and Carlo on the other hand, after a rather disastrous first meeting during which both of them manage to display an equal amount of pride and prejudice, eventually begin to develop more romantic feelings towards each other.  I wouldn’t class this as a romantic story at all but there is definitely a love story taking place in the wings.  Carlo is a famous singer – a castrato to be precise.  I can’t profess to have known what a castrato is to be honest although the name is a little bit of a giveaway.  Basically a few hundred years ago, and until the practice was outlawed, certain young men, who displayed a talent for singing and were yet to go through puberty, were castrated in order to retain a high singing voice.  Of course this had other side effects and castratos, although in one respect were revered for their singing abilities were also the subject of much prejudice and ridicule.

So, what else.  Well, this is a sumptuous production and yet Burgis manages to rein in the prose which leaves us with just enough detail to tantalise without being overburdened with weighty descriptions.  The setting is of course the Eszterháza Palace which is actually one of the residences owned by the Eszterhazy family.  Actually built by Prince Nikolaus it was incredibly isolated – a fact that adds to the fear factor in this particular story.  Labyrinth style corridors make it easy for the characters to become lost and secret passageways make it even easier for those that would plot to hide away.

On the whole a very enjoyable read.  Well written, fast paced, characters that you can like and dislike in fairly equal measure.  No quick fix solutions or instantaneous attractions and a dark plot with creepy ghostlike manifestations.

I would certainly read more.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher through Edelweiss for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.





11 Responses to “Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis”

  1. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I’m so happy to see great reviews of this one all around the blogosphere today, I think it deserves the attention! And oh my goodness tell me about it, I wanted to reach into the book and throttle Sophie – heck if Charlotte can’t see her for the manipulative brat she is, I’d happily take care of it 😛

    • @lynnsbooks

      Sophie – OMG don’t even get me started – I could have punched her! I can’t believe the way she acted when.. well, I won’t go there for spoilers but I wanted to knock her out! (I’m actually really not a violent person!)
      It was a really entertaining book – did you think there might be more, I was kind of hoping we might have more coming but I couldn’t see anything to that effect??
      Lynn 😀

  2. jessicabookworm

    This sounds exactly my cup of tea 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I thought of you when I was reading this one. I think you would enjoy it.
      Lynn 😀

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    I just started it today and I can see, from the very beginning, that this will be a great book, and an engrossing one: I almost missed my subway stop because of it! 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I love it and hate it when that happens! It does get off to a very easy start doesn’t it and has a really sort of gothic creepy castle feel – like The Mysteries of Udolpho but much easier to read!
      Lynn 😀

  4. Grace

    I liked this one a lot! And I really liked that it was a standalone; you don’t see nearly enough of that in fantasy anymore.

    There’s another book by Stephanie Burgis that’s going to be coming out next year, Congress of Secrets, that I’m pretty excited to read. Similar premise, but the setting is the 1814 Congress of Vienna.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Grace – thanks for the heads up, I will definitely look out for Congress of Secrets given how good this one was.
      Lynn 😀

  5. I got you under my skin… | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis – this book is based around a number of historical events.  The story really intrigued me and I did go and look up some of the detail – I was also really curious about one of the characters, who was a castrato – and I also went and read up a little about that too. […]

  6. April: My Month in Review | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis […]

  7. Delighted and Enchanted | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] – A double whammy from Ms Burgis.  She burst onto my radar with the highly entertaining Masks and Shadows and then totally out did herself again with Congress of Secrets.  Both period/fantasty dramas that […]

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