by M.A. Carrick
Publication: January 19, 2021
Series: Rook & Rose #1
**I was provided a copy of the book by publisher through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**
Along with her sister Tess, Ren returns to the city she was born in to work a long con. Pretending to be a long lost cousin, Ren shows up at House Traementis, hoping to be added onto the family registrar so she and Tess can live off the fortunes of the family and never want for anything again. However, living among the elite is nearly as dangerous as being a river rat. Ren isn’t the only one living underneath a mask, nor is she likely the most dangerous.
The world is complex, making for a rich experience with well rounded characters. Political intrigue is core to the story, with players wearing multiple faces. The noble families play nice with each other but many are trying to undermine the other to ensure the success of their individual houses. With the noble families controlling the wealth, social unrest is also rampant due both to racism and classism. There are LGBTQIA+ characters. The head of houses can be male or female so heirs can be sons or daughters. The first half establishes a solid foundation and hints at the events of the second half of the book but it’s also a painfully slow burn. The initial focus is on Ren’s insertion into noble society, establishing and cultivating the relationships necessary for her to be included in House Traementis’s family registrar. It takes a long time for much to happen beyond this. I grew frustrated and impatient because of the promise of “nightmare magic weaving through the city” and “Ren at its heart” yet there was not much related to these, or the connections were at first unclear until I got to the second half of the book. The second half is more eventful but it takes patience to get there.
Religion and the magic system are crucial to the story but were confusing to me. While magic is mentioned in the book description, I kept wondering if it would show up at all or if it was outlawed since it took a while to appear. When it does, Carrick tries to be as detailed as possible but it’s still difficult to understand, especially numinatria. Numinatria required a more extensive explanation than what the book provided. Visuals would have been especially helpful here. The best I could do was picture it being similar to a pentagram but more complicated–more lines, more symbols, more connections, more meanings. In addition, I wasn’t really sure about the actual importance of the actual masks even though duality and masks were running themes. The purpose of the masks were not clear to me and how they fit into the Vraszenian religion.
Ren is a likeable heroine and can even seem too perfect, but I didn’t mind. She is smart and calculating, both qualities needed to successfully pull off this con. Her decisions are always strategic, motivated by securing her family’s future and possibly more. While Ren is the character we get to know best, there are multiple viewpoints from a slew of characters including Ren’s sister Tess, the head of House Traementis Donaia Traementis, heir Leato Traementis, hawk captain Grey Serrado, crime lord Derossi Vargo, and additional side characters. It can be a bit difficult to keep track of them all.
The Mask of Mirrors is a good book if you have patience and have the glossary bookmarked–you’ll need to flip back and forth until you’ve familiarized yourself with the world Carrick has built. After I finished reading it, I needed time to think about whether I really liked it. Because the first half didn’t meet expectations with its uneventful and slow pace, I was still on the fence but working through the details helped. I realized I liked it a lot more than I thought I did. Swiping back through the pages and reviewing the pieces helped me to make more sense of certain things. To fully appreciate the intricacies, I think the book warrants another reading–yes, all 600+ pages of it. I’ll probably do it again soon.