The Mask of Mirrors (Rook and Rose #1) by M.A. Carrick

My Five word TL:DR Review : This was absolutely my catnip or I can’t wait for more

MaskofI absolutely loved this, it’s a sumptuous novel that took me places I really didn’t anticipate.  I couldn’t help thinking of The Gentleman Bastard series whilst reading it but this is the female version of Locke that I hadn’t realised I needed in my life.

At a whopping (almost) 700 pages this might not be for everyone but it worked perfectly for me.  A fantastic combination of solid worldbuilding, captivating characters and intriguing plot I just loved it  Fast paced this may not be but nonetheless it won me over with ease.

Mask of Mirrors is a slow burn story that takes its own sweet time to build up the people and place before turning into a fairly dramatic and jaw dropping finale.  And, there’s a reason for that.  This is a story with plenty of characters, all with complicated names and in fact nicknames and an intricate plot that turns into a spider’s web of tangled threads and both these elements take time to become firmly rooted.

At the centre of the story is a character known as Ren (at least for the purpose of this review that’s the name I’m going to use) who, at the start of the story is embarking on her opening  gambit to become part of one of the noble families of the city of Nadežra.  Aided by Tess the two have planned a long con with much at stake.  Ren’s beauty coupled with the stylish concoctions that Tess can whip up on a budget will not be enough though.  Ren needs to make herself invaluable to the family.  Unfortunately, in doing so not only does she become more deeply involved with surrounding characters, each with their own political or financial motivations but she also runs the risk of forming attachments.  Basically, without giving too much away or going into the plot any further I can say that Ren is not the only person with something to gain and in fact her con is, relatively speaking, only a small fish in a larger pond.

I’m not sure if I have the right end of things with my assumptions about the setting but for me this story played out in an alternate Venice (maybe during the late renaissance although tbh I’m not a history buff so that could be completely off the mark) with nobles vying for power whilst the poor struggle against oppression.  There is much talk about charters and merchants, skiffs, elaborate masks and fashion and all the names sound Italian.  In terms of history.  Following war between Vraszan and Nadežra, a peace treaty was signed pretty much leaving the Nadežra nobility in control.  Five ruling families make up the Cinquerat (a controlling Council) with each family having a specific responsibility, for example Caerulet is responsible for anything relating to the military and also oversee the Vigil (known as the Hawks – the Vigil keep law and order).  As you can imagine keeping in favour with these families is highly desirable for the other noble families.  Magic is used in two ways.  Items can be imbued, so for example, Ren’s make-up is imbued to make her disguises seem more polished and to last longer without smudging or wearing off.  Numinatria is a form of geometry based magic whereby Inscriptors channel power using numbers and gods (this is greatly over-simplified on my part).  There is a long history here and suspicion and unrest runs rife between the Vraszenians and the Nadežra, particularly surrounding different religions and traditions not to mention the Nadežra nobility ultimately controlling everything.  I think you can see that there’s a lot to take on board and I’ve only barely scratched the surface here to be honest – but, I think the length of the book lends itself well to getting all the different clans and factions across and, just be aware there is both a glossary of often used terms and a very useful list of ‘Dramatis Personae’ which would be useful to check out before reading (can’t help thinking this would be more useful sitting at the start of the story though).

The key characters here are Ren and her two associates, the members of House Traementis (the family that Ren is hoping to infiltrate), the Rook, an unknown outlaw and hero of the poor folk, Grey Serrado, a captain of the Vigil who is investigating not only the continuing disappearance of a number of street children but also an explosion that caused the death of his brother and finally Derossi Vargo, a businessman keen to leave his dodgy past behind.  Did I mention that this is a complex web.

What I really loved about this.  Well, the attention to detail that gives a very strong sense of place.  The writing flows well and dealing with such a lot of ideas, strange names, customs, etc, without the need to constantly dump huge swathes of information is impressive.  I loved a number of the characters, including ones that are maybe a bit dodgy.  It’s an impressive concept that is very well executed and managed to create for me, not only a jaw dropping moment of surprise about half way through but then went on to make my eyes pop out as things went from ‘what the hell’ to ‘all out crazy’.  There is tension and intrigue, politics and backstabbing and it’s all played out against a fabulous backdrop with a degree of thought that is awe inspiring.

In terms of criticisms.  Okay, I didn’t really have any but that doesn’t leave me immune to certain aspects that I would mention here.  Firstly, this is not a book that you can rush through.  I found myself rereading some chapters and that’s not a fault of the authors but lies at my own door because I was trying to read too fast without really absorbing the information I was being given.  I can’t deny that sometimes the need to read quickly becomes very real when other review books are sitting in judgement of you but this is a book that needs your full attention and, no two ways about it, it isn’t a speedy read.  Secondly, this is complicated and highly detailed.  This is personally an aspect that I love but feel it deserves a mention because some people are not fond of this particular style so be aware.

This book is positively sumptuous and given the ending I can’t wait to see what the second instalment brings.  The Mask of Mirrors is a book that lived up to my expectations in every way, in fact I think it surpassed them by throwing in a couple of surprises that I didn’t see coming at all.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publishers, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 stars

24 Responses to “The Mask of Mirrors (Rook and Rose #1) by M.A. Carrick”

  1. Oliver Bowdoin

    700 pages! That’s a bigun for sure, but from your thoughts, totally worth it. Thanks for bringing us such a detailed review.

    • @lynnsbooks

      It is a chunkster for sure but it really worked its magic on me.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    You liked this one quite a bit more than I did, but I agree the world building was stellar and I also loved the Lies of Locke Lamora vibes. The slow first half really hurt it for me though, but the second half was better and I probably will continue the series!

    • @lynnsbooks

      This was definitely a story of two parts wasn’t it. That 50% change in tack blew my mind tbh and for a moment I felt like i’d accidentally missed something. Good to hear that you want to continue with it though.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Jen | Book Den

    You had me at Locke Lamora!! *adds to TBR*

    • @lynnsbooks

      I know, right? I think that particular comparison is inevitable in some respects.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Tammy

    Now I’m so excited to read this, even though I’ve seen some mixed reviews, I’m hoping it will work for me too:-)

    • @lynnsbooks

      I’ve seen the mixed reviews for this one and I think it probably comes down to personal taste in terms of levels of detail and how this extends the length of the book. I loved all the detail. it just pulled me into the place completely
      Lynn 😀

  5. evelynreads1

    This book sounds so good! I really want to check it out!
    Great review!

    (www.evelynreads.com)

  6. Louise

    I added this to my tbr last week after seeing a few good reviews! I hadn’t realised it was 700 pages though, wow! What a beast!

    • @lynnsbooks

      It is a beast, but it was the sort of beast that I love.
      Lynn 😀

  7. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    I’m in the middle of this one right now and totally loving it! You are right about the Venice-like flavor of the setting – although there are many names that point to an eastern-European origin, stressing the mixed components of the society – and the convoluted layers of politics and intrigue are nothing short of fascinating. I also agree on the fact that this is a book to be read at a leisurely pace, to savor all its intricate nuances 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, I think the differences in name are to reflect the differences between the Vraszan and Nadežra, there’s probably some parallels to the history of Venice but I’m no expert in that regard. I just really loved this, I know it’s had mixed reviews and I can totally understand why but I love the richness of it (which is the very thing that naffs some people off, especially as it adds to the weight) I think the only real criticism I had was I would have preferred the glossary at the front so that I came across it before starting the read. It is actually interesting reading just in itself and would have been very useful to know before setting off.
      Lynn 😀

  8. sjhigbee

    A fantastic review, Lynn. And you have certainly whetted my appetite. Though I’m probably going to get hold of an audiobook of this one – it’s what I tend to do with the doorstoppers these days, as it is far better value as each book is a credit, no matter what length it is.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, I try to use my audio credits for doorstoppers too – although sometimes it doesn’t work because the number of hours then distracts me (Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer is sat waiting for me for example – at about 50 hours).
      Lynn 😀

  9. waytoofantasy

    In the end I pretty much loved everything about this book. It was such a slow start but it was worth it! The characters, the world building, the plot–everything was great in this one. I am sooooo excited for the sequel. I think it comes out later this year? Luckily we don’t have to wait forever for it. 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      TBF it had to be a slow build really, there’s such a lot to fit in here and it’s the depth that I love so I ain’t complaining about a bit of build up. Fingers crossed it isn’t a long wait.
      Lynn 😀

      • waytoofantasy

        Yes, exactly! I really appreciated the build up in the end.

  10. Rebecca

    EEE!!!! I’m so glad you loved this too!! It was glorious as far as setting, fashion, intrigue… everything was awesome!

  11. Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Mask of Mirrors by MA Carrick […]

  12. bkfrgr

    *immediately adds to tbr list*

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