Title: Mask of Shadows
Well I was blown away by this book. I had heard a lot of very poor reviews on it and gotta say I think it's quite good. The writing is wonderfully compelling and readable. It's fast-paced, has a unique fantasy world set-up and the main character does not identify with one gender over the other (it depends on the day). I love that the gender fluidity isn't the primary motivation of the story or even for our lead Sal. Instead it's just a part of Sals overall personality.
Why don't others like this book?
There are some problematic areas and what doesn't help is most of them are near the beginning of the book. There are strong comparisons to Hunger Games at the beginning with the competition, but there's not much past that.
Not unlike The Gilded Cage I think there are improvements to be made but overall for a debut YA author, in an over saturated market of dystopian-fantasy, Linsey Miller has made Mask of Shadows a more than decent read. I also think it's written for teens and sometimes I think us non-teens or older teens forget that to a 14 or 15 this could be their first foray into stories like this. And we all know that you never forget your first book love that opens the doors to a whole new realm of fiction. This book could be that for some people and unlike some books (ahem, Twilight) I think it has interesting morals and motivations to help someone start thinking about themselves in different ways. For me that creative thinking and self identity meant a lot when I was a teen (ie: I didn't have a self identity at all) and so I like that Mask of Shadows encourages this thinking and promotes individuality.
Numbers as names
I know a lot of people had issues with the naming being numbers, so let's talk about that for a minute. When the competition starts the players are all given numbers and do-away with their names and (presumably) their old identities. I know a lot of people struggled with this.
I'm not good with names on an amazing day. I tend to remember people by association but rarely by their name (in real and book life). Because the number names are written out like Four, Five, etc. It was just a name to me and not a number. Funny enough the numbering system helped me remember that low numbers were invitees and high numbers auditioned to be in the competition. I think for many people you have to immediately dispel thoughts that the word Five means 5. And instead the word Five means a boy whose an arrogant jerk. The same way that you think of any other character with a 'proper' name.
There are some cute comparisons to be drawn between Four in Divergent series and Four in this story. In the end I appreciated it as it didn't feel stolen but more an homage to stories that came before; but you might not get that until you finish the book which I think promotes a negative impression on readers quite quickly near the beginning. This doesn't help people feel confidence in the story and could result in DNFs. I get that.
The romance in Mask of Shadows is adorable!! While I know our lead character is gender fluid I felt like they were more feminine than masculine. I think it's very individual (and shows how well Miller wrote the gender discussions into the story) that many people come away from the book with a different perception of Sals possible anatomy and identity. I hope we learn more about why Sal distinctly chooses to be male or female on any given day and I'm really hoping her anatomy makes sense to it. Ie: castrated male, born with no distinct genitals or both exist, etc. If Miller chooses not to get into the anatomy of Sal however I won't be disappointed because honestly there is sooo much more to love about this book than just Sals gender choices both for identifying herself and whom she finds attractive and desirable.
I cannot wait for the next book in this series as the ending was awesome! I actually think book 2 is likely to be better because this one only improved as it went. I've read a lot of teen/YA books in my life and I gotta say that while Linsey Miller didn't write the best ever, she has done a stand-up job in a very difficult market. Her and Vic James should discuss their woes of trying to break into this market as I think they'd say a lot of the same things!
I guess my point is if you've heard bad thing and have been avoiding Mask of Shadows that you should give it a chance. A 40% chance. If you still hate it after 40% then fair go on and DNF it. But I think you might find that by 40% you can't put it down and walk away as easily as you might have at 20% mark.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.