I love Linsey Miller’s writing, and especially this world she created, so much. When I recieved my pre-ordered copy of it’s sequel last week, I couldn’t resist re-reading this one in anticipation. And I loved it just as much as the first time.
“Sallot Leon is a theif,” the blurb for this book accurately begins. Sal is working as a highway robber for a gang leader when the book begins. Thievery is just the life of chance though. Sal was orphaned at a young age when their entire country was wiped out, and was easily caught up in gang life. Among the jewels of their latest heist, Sal comes across a poster advertising a competition to chose a new member of The Left Hand, the Queen’s personal guard and assassins. Sal sees the competition as an opportunity not only to escape their current situation, but also get close to the nobles responsible for the massacre of their people.
Sal enters the auditions, which are someone similar to The Hunger Games in that candidates are encouraged to murder each other. At the same time they are also trained in weaponry, medicine, poisons, and other skills they will need if they succeed in gaining the position of Opal. The existing members of The Left Hand (Ruby, Emerald, and Amethyst), put the auditioners through brutal but important tests. Sal’s skills as a thief and fighter come in handy in some parts of the competition, but they struggle through formal weapons training and etiquette lessons. Here Miller’s writing distinguishes Mask of Shadows from comparisons to other “fight to the death” style YA plots. Sallot has no qualms about what they are being asked to do. While they’ve never killed before, they see a necessity in it and never hesitate in the moment. In fact the difficulties Sal experiences in the competition come from their own past trauma more than current events.
As they try to stay alive and win the title of Opal, Sal takes advantage of the opportunity to find out more about who exactly was responsible for the horrific deaths of their people. And Sal also finds themselves forming friendships in unexpected places.
Mask of Shadows is a thoroughly fun book that I definitely recommend to anyone who enjoys competition based YA. But beyond that, the highlight for me was Sal themself. Sal is genderfluid, indicating their preferred pronouns with their choice of clothing each day. I haven’t read much genderfluid representation, but I really enjoyed the way Miller weaved Sal’s gender throughout the book. It is called out subtly but clearly throughout the book, and by the time a competitor purposely misgenders Sal, the incident flows into the narrative so seamlessly that I found myself being offended on Sal’s behalf without even a pause. Reader’s who may not be aware of genderfluidity are able to learn about the identity through several casual conversations between Sal and The Left Hand, as well as a love interest. Both conversations flow easily, teaching while not being obvious about it.
But Sal is a great protagonist for more than just their gender representation. They’re one of the softest antihero’s I’ve ever read. Sal is all of the things you may find in a typical antihero, but Miller manages to integrate some of the most stereotypical anti-hero traits into Sal in such a way that avoids making Sal an over the top trope. The result is a book and a protagonist that are one of my favorites in recent history.
Stay tuned for Friday, when my review of the sequel Ruin of Stars will go up!
Find this book on: Goodreads