Welcome, welcome, to the first installment since the rebirth of Fab Book Friday!!!
Basically, more than a year ago I started this thing where I picked a book and raved about it every Friday. And by "started this thing" I mean I did it, like, twice, and then stopped. But I'm trying to get back into it! So basically, every Friday you can expect a new post with me raving (never ranting) about a book I've read recently. Because I believe in uplifting the things I love.
So I recently received an ARC (advance reader copy) of MASK OF SHADOWS by Linsey Miller, which I didn't remember requesting but was excited to receive because I'd been hearing buzz about it. The premise is that Sal Leon is a gender fluid thief who wants revenge upon people for reasons that will be explained in the book. They find their opportunity when Auditions open for a spot on The Left Hand, this super elite group of assassins that are the Queen's closest confidantes and whom I kinda wanna be besties with. Shenanigans ensue.
I was intrigued by the premise and by the fact that Sal is gender fluid, an identity many people I know claim but that I haven't really seen in books. In MASK OF SHADOWS, this fluidity is presented by the fact that Sal chooses to dress either as a girl (and go by female pronouns), a boy (and male pronouns) or androgynously (in which they go by gender-neutral pronouns).
I honestly thought it was going to be confusing, but as it turned out, Sal's gender identity was the least interesting thing about them. It was just a state of being, an accepted fact.
Which I kind of loved?
I mean, we live in a time period where the way we choose to identify ourselves is one of our defining characteristics. And I'm not blaming this on anyone, but it is true that from all sides of the spectrum, our identity, be it gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or whatnot, is huge.
But there are things about us that are more or equally important, just as there are things about Sal that are just as important as their gender fluidity. Some of these things include:
- They are a very good thief-turned-assessin. This is v. important and we should honestly focus on it. Sal is quick and quiet and ruthless. They are bent on revenge and willing to do whatever it takes to get it. This leads to the next thing, which is:
- They are angry. I won't tell you why, but Sal is very angry. They have a beef with a lot of people, and are willing to do whatever it takes to even the slate. I feel that. I don't live in a fantasy world and the same things that happened to Sal didn't happen to me, but I have a lot of anger. It was interesting to see a character who represented that part of myself, especially because of the next point, which is also true of me:
- They are hurting. Sal was wounded as a child and they carry their hurt, masking it as anger. Again — wow. Could be me. I relate so hard. And yet, despite their assassin-ness and anger and hurt, it's also true that:
- They are somehow naive. I know, this seems odd, right? That an assassin could be naive. But it makes sense. MASK OF SHADOWS is, after all, a young-adult novel, and Sal is meant to be about 16 or 17, I believe. They fiercely love and believe in a certain thing, to the point of naivete, and it's...so truthful.
And that's what I loved about MASK OF SHADOWS. It is true that there were parts of the book that were hard to follow (the world-building is complicated and kind of rushed in places), but I related hard to Sal and actually believed them as a teenage character. Which can be hard to find in YA fantasy, because a lot of times the characters are 16-going-on-45. And of course Sal had to grow up fast because of their situation, but they still act like a teenager. That was refreshingly real.
All in all, this book is in "Fab Book" Friday for a reason. Because I loved it. I honestly felt my heart race at the end of every chapter, and wanted to keep going. But I was buddy-reading it with a friend and we'd promised to read 50 pages a day so, alas, I often had to stop. Of course, now I'm anxious for book two, and whatever other books Linsey has up her sleeve.