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