The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick
Orbit, pb, £7.99
Reviewed by Mikaela Silk
Street urchin turned gang member, turned maid, and now con-woman, Ren is halfway to ingratiating herself into the noble Traementis family when the entire city begins to unravel into a plot greater than anything Ren has ever seen before. As Alta Renata, the long-lost cousin of the Traementis family, Ren learns much about the conflicts and complexities of the upper classes. As Arenza, the mysterious street pattern reader, she learns how her home city has changed in her absence and manipulates the constantly changing currents of the underworld to her own purposes. The Rook knows them both, but nobody knows who he is. Or do they? Only the loyal Tess knows the real Ren. Because when the plot thickens, and Ren’s personalities begin to overlap, even Ren might begin to doubt who she really is. In the end, will it be Ren, Arenza or Renata who saves the day? Or will it be someone else entirely?
This book had an enormous cast of characters, some of which were really important and others that seemed to fade into the background. I liked Ren as the main character. She had a lot of depth, and despite being a con-woman, her morals were not as questionable as you would expect. Similarly, Tess worked very well as a supporting character. Yet, she didn’t seem to do anything outside of her supporting role, and I would love to learn more about Tess and see her have a bit more of her own life. The same could be said for Giuna and Donaia, who I expected to have more central roles, but their parts seemed to diminish more and more as the book went on. However, I didn’t mind this too much as their characters were quite bland compared to the likes of Vargo and the Rook. My opinion of Vargo changed throughout the book, and I finished it feeling very unsure of his goals and motivations and much more curious about his back-story than when the book started. The main focus on the Rook was the question over his real identity, which added such intrigue that I was almost disappointed when it was revealed at the end of the book. However, now that we know who he is, I hope that the next book in the series gives us more opportunity to explore his character and mission’s deeper aspects.
The world-building in this novel is hugely in-depth and complicated with multiple different cultures, gangs and social classes, high intrigue politics, some heart-wrenching back-stories and interweaving characters, and a deeply ingrained custom of magic. At times the inclusion of this world-building made for infuriatingly slow progress in the plot, whereas other times, I found that there were things left unexplained that allowed a bit too much room for confusion and ambiguity. I loved the pattern reading, but the elements of astrology seemed a bit of an afterthought, and the numinata were not explained as well as I would have liked. It also took me a while to build a full picture of the various social constructs, although I was impressed by how this level of complexity did work well later in the novel.
Overall it took me slightly longer to read this book than average as I preferred to read it in smaller chunks, but by the end, it was worth the extra time that I put in. I probably won’t rush out for the next book, but if it happens to pass through my hands, I will happily read it.