Book Review: The Mask Of Mirrors (Rook And Rose #1), by M. A. Carrick

A Beautiful and Clever Fantasy | Netgalley eARC | Publisher: Orbit (Little Brown Books UK) | Publishing: 21st January 2021 | Kindle Pages: 672

May you see the Face, not the Mask

quotes may not be exact, and are from an eARC so may change/differ in published copy.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

4.5 GLORIOUS STARS!


Synopsis: Ren, orphan, skilled con artist and thief, has set her sights on the Treamentis Household. Assuming the identity of Alta Renata, niece to the head of House Treamentis, Ren intends to con her way into the family securing saftey and wealth for her and her sister, Tess. But High Society comes with risks of its own, and every Household seems to have its secrets. When children start going missing and deadly plots begin to emerge, Ren finds herself right in the middle of this dangerous web. If that wasn’t enough vigilante, The Rook, prowls the streets, targeting the rich, bringing the justice their wealth protects them from. Ren must fight for survival and maintain her cover, but when everyone is wearing their own masks of deceit, navigating High Society has never been more dangerous.

CW/TW: Death/abuse/passing mentions of rape/grief/imprisonment/murder/others may also be presence that I have missed.


The Mask Of Mirrors, by M.A. Carrick (The pseudonym for the pair of authors Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms) is a beautiful, clever and thrilling read. To add to the discourse surrounding this book I should say that this is an ADULT fantasy novel NOT YA – people have asked about this, and I have seen it mis-categorised, so I thought I’d point this out because it is, conventionally, Adult Fantasy. To draw comparisons, I would liken this book to The Lies Of Locke Lamora, in terms of the elaborate cons and clever plots, though that is where my comparison ends because this book is a very unique read and wholly its own – but readers of Lamora will likely enjoy this so that’s the audience I would recommend this to! Also, just to add – I DESPERATELY want the mask that is on the cover of this book, I mean just Look At It 😍 (in fact I also want Renata’s entire wardrobe… because I definitely have places to wear such outfits…)

Anyway let’s get into the review!

The Writing Style/Narrative. So this book is almost 700 pages long, and yet I flew through it. MA Carrick’s writing style is incredibly easy to read and the prose is fluid, and yet the prose maintained its depth and mesmerising descriptions – the balance between easy to read and beautifully descriptive prose is a difficult one to achieve but Carrick does so flawlessly. The writing is beautiful, from the descriptions of the food, to the clothes, to the buildings, it is rich and detailed, truly bringing this world and the character’s to life. Not only are the descriptions captivating, the dialogue is witty and engaging, the character’s thoughts are compelling and realistic, and the information about the world is introduced organically and naturally (no dreaded info-dumps, we learn things in a subtle and realistic way). Moreover, the prose is cleverly crafted, perfectly creating suspense and mystery without becoming confusing – the multiple sub-plots kept up the pace and came together wonderfully to create a bigger more shocking picture. It is atmospheric and emotional – perfectly combining tragedy, wit, comedy, and smarts – allowing you to fully engage with the characters and truly connect and feel for them.

The primary narrative the story is told from is Ren’s. But this book has multiple POV’s, with chapters from most (if not all) of the main cast. The multiple POV’s was incredibly effective for this story, perfectly supporting the multiple subplots and primary plot. Each narrative gave us insight into different aspects of this world – including the difference in positions between the different people, and allowed a significant amount of insight into each of the characters without giving anything away. Ren, the main character, has the most time on her narrative – and with good reason. I actually enjoyed the chapters from every single perspective (which is rare), but Ren’s were some of my favourite as she shifted between her three personas. The multiple POV as also incredibly effective for the con storyline, partly because we could see how easily the other characters did or did not fall for it, and also because we could learn of any hurdles that Ren would face before she did – building tension and maintaining engagement. I only wish we had had more of Grey.

The Plot/Story. The main strand of the story starts with Ren assuming the identity of Alta Renata, niece of Donaia (head of the Treamentis Household). This is an elaborate, long term con and I loved every single minute of it. From the detail of the imbued makeup, to the careful deliberation over outfits, to the controlled responses and tricky maneuvers between threats and hurdles – if you want a complex, elaborate con then this is the book for you because it was brilliant. Ren has three identities; Ren (as close to who she really is as she can be), Renata (noble Alta), and Arenza (Pattern reader) which made her POV very exciting to read as she switched between her identities in order to succeed in her con and secure a fortune to protect her and her sister.

Of course, where is the fun in a con if it all goes perfectly? Ren faces numerous obstacles, and must navigate them. But threats to her identity end up lower down the list than first expected when Vraszen children start going missing, the mystery of Grey’s brother’s death keeps popping up, and the High Society household are keeping deadly secrets, not to mentions the former criminal turned businessman, Vargo, seems to want Renata on his side. I honestly loved all of the subplots that carefully entwined to create a complex overall story. It was engaging and compelling, and the reveals were shocking and surprising. On top of the plots we have the mystery of The Rook, who is the masked vigilant? The only reveal that didn’t overly shock me was the Rook reveal at the end, however, the book has enough twists and turns that enough of them are shocking that you will be surprised and heartbroken (honestly, why are you hurting me like this…)!

The ending did actually shock me, aside from The Rook’s part. The book ends with a handful of reveals carefully uncovered, but also with some secrets still safely kept. Both elements surprised me, and when you read it you will know WHY IT HURTS SO MUCH, and sets up wonderfully for what I can only imagine will be an explosive sequel because a LOT of routes, surprises and secrets await us and the characters in the next installment. I loved every aspect of the plot, from the con, to Grey looking for the children, to the more magical but deadly secrets being kept.

The WorldBuilding. The worldbuilding in this is beautifully done, the world is rich and has a strong history, all of which is explored in a subtle way and organically, almost feeling like the world building is light – until you think about it. This book takes place in the city of Nadezra (though the world is larger with Ren pretending to be Renata from Seterin) and is brilliantly built. The ruling, High Society members, are Liganti – fair skinned, wealthy and oppressive. The Vraszen members of Nadezra are oppressed, left in poverty and are not accepted into the upper ranks of society. Those who have parents from both often end up shunned, and are unlikely to be accepted by the nobility. The conflict between the Vraszen and Liganti is core part of their society and its corruption, the two have different beliefs in Gods and magic and see eye to eye on very little if anything at all. However, despite the racial conflict, the cast is broad with Vraszen MC’s as well as Liganti, and characters with parents from both.

However, despite this divide people who are both Liganti and Vraszen have normalised being LGBTQ+, which was incredibly refreshing – it is simply just another element to a person. Another thing I adored about this was that family and heirs work differently because of it! This is often ignored or a point of conflict in fantasy, when characters are LGBTQ and accepted, it often poses problems about their heirs. But OOOH not here! This book has CHOSEN FAMILY as a crucial element. Blood is important, but family is also made through contracts, if you are added to the house register then you are family. If you are unable to produce a biological heir, guess what – the Houses openly endorse adoption (so long as it is from their ranks). I very rarely, if ever, read fantasy that tackles this in such a way – it was refreshing to see a wide cast of LGBTQ+ characters without their gender/sexuality being a point of conflict. The way chosen family is dealt with was a nice touch to the world, and the inclusivity came across as positive.

Other elements of the world were equally fascinating. Firstly the legal system, the ‘Council’ is the head of the system but the Hawks are the police force, so to speak. The Hawks, mostly Liganti, though our MC Grey is Vraszen and a Hawk, are suppose to enforce order – but, of course, the powerful houses have them at their beck and call. The world is carefully crafted and carefully considers the use of the law/legal systems it has in sustaining the oppression and injustice pervading this city. The Rook is born from this injustice, exacting his own on those too powerful and wealthy to be punished adequately – but he doesn’t kill. Instead The Rook honourably enforces justice on the wealthy and is therefore looked up to by the Vraszen, especially the children on the streets.

The High Society itself is made up of multiple Houses, each prestigious, Alta houses being superior to the Delta nobles. The Houses take family seriously, as well as their wealth, and ally among themselves. This of course leaves lots of Houses against each other and is the perfect breeding ground for the deadly secrets that lie beneath their perfect lives.

Then we have the Gods, the magic and all that is in-between. We get little insights throughout the book that build a big picture of the Religion that exists in this city. The primary thing we learn is the Gods have a duality, represented by the Face and the Mask, Benevolence and Malevolence. This is a complex and rich system that was fascinating and lent itself to some brilliant world-building overall. Duality is such a key feature of this book, and I ADORED it, from the deities to the characters themselves – everything comes down to duality, to the mask we show the world, and the face that lies beneath. – I truly loved this. There is so much more than what I have said from the importance of dreams, to the pattern readings to numinati – there are so many strands and such a rich world of magic that I can’t talk about it all without spoiling the book!

Oh and as a side note!! You will LOVE the duels, because what better way is there to settle disagreements?!! Uniat! Tuat! Ninat!

The Characters. So, as you know, this has a broad and diverse cast! And the characters are just so fantastic, flawed, complex and morally grey! I loved so many of the characters, with Vargo being one of the best in the book. Not only did I love the characters, but I also loved their relationships (apart from the budding romance between Renata and Leato – I know they weren’t actually first cousins but Leato believed they were and I just couldn’t… I was much more for Ren and The Rook – oof the tension! and in reality Renata and Vargo had more chemistry as well… i’m sorry Leato I loved his character though.) But aside from that, the relationships were expertly done, form the found/chosen family, to the friendships, to the flirting and the hatred – all of it was very well crafted. Not only that, the characters themselves all have their own struggles and conflicts to deal with (also going back to the duality of the book) making it feel more real and believable.

The cast is actually quite large… so I’m going to focus on a few characters specifically.

Ren/Renata/Arenza. Our magnificent, ingenious con artist who places her family above all else, specifically Tess – her sister. Ren, having been orphaned, was enticed into a knot (a gang) only to learn of the cruelty of their leader. After escaping Ren and Tess stuck together. Ren, wanting to protect Tess (who is fabulous in her own right and I want her to make my clothes!) by securing a fortune for her – and this is where the con begins. Ren is clever, quick, witty, charming and completely takes on the persona she is playing. However, she is not perfect, she can become self-absorbed in her cons and detached, selfish at times (though it was born from necessity and survival). Ren is a complex character but a brilliant one, perfectly morally grey, and I loved her POV.

Grey. Our Vraszen Hawk, balancing between two worlds, fully accepted by neither. Plagued by the death of his brother, and blaming The Rook, Grey seems cold and distant. But he has a heart of gold and does his best to help his people in the small position of power he clawed his way into. I really loved Grey’s character the more th book went on, and enjoyed his POV, I just wish we had had a bit more of his chapters. Grey is smart, righteous but a tad rigid and set in his ways- but he is loyal and his charm comes through.

Leato. Heir to House Treamentis, he seems aloof and childish, but he will do anything to protect his family. Leato is a sweet character who I loved. He was also, however, charming and clever in his own way – fiercely protective of his sister and loyal. However, he has a bad reputation, but there is more than meets the eye.

Vargo. One of the best characters in the book, this criminal turned legitimate businessman will charm you despite his dark past. A curious character with a voice in his head, and a brain far too clever than it should be. Vargo is intelligent, tricky, and charming – he always has a plan and no-one else ever seems to know what it is. He is a witty character, who is a constant mystery, he seems to want to do good things for the city, and yet he has an air of un-trustworthiness. Vargo is hard to explain, but when you read the book you will know why he is one of the best characters in it! (Ooh and for added charm, his cane, and his companion Peabody was a brilliant touch!) This character has a flair for the dramatic but knows when to lay low.

The Rook. Mysterious Vigilante… need I say more? I LOVED The Rook, from the first encounter The Rook will leave such an impression on that you’ll be craving more of his presence. Honestly, while I was certain of his identity by the end of the book, at first I was frantically guessing and suspicious of everyone! The Rooks scene’s were all brilliant, he comes off as witty, charming, and certain – skilled and intelligent. Another character who is difficult to talk about and explain, but trust me – you will love this vigilante and his impressive sword skills. I cannot wait for book 2 just so I get more of this character!

Overall. This was a brilliant fantasy, with excellent world building, brillian characters and a fantastically complex and mysterious plot. This is one of those books that you will want up on the big screen, cinematic in all its glory (but also do not want because we all know adaptations are often…well…). But oh to see THE BEAUTIFUL costumes, the characters, the magic, the city on screen would be amazing.


*I received an eARC via #Netgalley (#orbitbooks #littlebrownbooksuk) in exchange for an honest review! – Thankyou!!*

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37 comments

  1. Every time I see that mask, my inner craft nerd starts mentally picking apart the details and trying to figure out how to recreate it. So stunning.
    This book is definitely on my list of must reads, that story sounds way too interesting to pass up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That would be AMAZING though – I’d love to see it in reality! It is so beautiful! (I’d love to try and make it but I know it wouldn’t be anywhere near as stunning!) The story is so interesting, and so easy to read – I hope you get to read it soon, i’d love to see your thoughts! (Also from one craft nerd to another, just wait until you read the descriptions of the clothing in the book😍😍 you will be living for it!)

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  2. […] The Mask Of Mirrors, by MA Carrick. So this was a Netgalley eARC that I was super lucky to get! I adored this book, and reviewed it recently. It follows a clever mc carrying out an elaborate con, only to become tangled in deadly secrets and dark plots. An excellent fantasy read, with a super diverse cast! Definitely one to keep your eye out for. […]

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  3. […] Book Review: The Mask Of Mirrors, by MA Carrick – (eARC via Netgalley from Orbit) -⭐⭐⭐⭐🌟 (4.5 Stars) – Ren begins an elaborate con to work her way into an elite house hoping to ensre the safety of her sister through wealth. But dark forces are at work and even darker magic, and the mysterious vigilante, The Rook, keeps appearing in the most unlikely situations. […]

    Like

  4. […] The Mask Of Mirrors, by M.A. Carrick. This book is almost 700 pages but I flew through it because the prose is so easy to fly through and the story is so engaging. This was an incredibly fun read, full of twists and turns, interesting magic and secrets upon secrets. From elaborate cons to masked vigilante’s, this book has everything, not to mention the gorgeous wardrobe that belongs to the cast of characters. […]

    Like

  5. I also loved Mask of Mirrors (same stars, rounded up to 5 on Goodreads). Do you have any book recs for someone who really liked Mask of Mirrors? I’ve never read anything like it before, but would love some recs for others books I might like! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed it too! Hmm I would recommend Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch (con man/thieves group with high stakes), Obsidian Tower, by Melissa Caruso (same fantasy type feel with diverse characters), The Court of Miracles might also interest you (les mis retelling but has the sort of feel you might like! Thieves etc…) For popular/common recs I’d say Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo or The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson. Hope this helps! 💜

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  6. Great review! I saw you also rated the sequel 5 stars so I’m very tempted to give it a go, especially after finding out it is adult and not YA! My only concern was the romance thing you mentioned… is there a big love triangle kind of situation? and just how far does this first-cousin romance thing go?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Yess, definitely Adult not YA! So many fantasy books get mis-categorised 😭. There isn’t a love triangle, the MC shows attraction to more than one character but it isn’t a big love triangle or competition, just general attraction. The cousin romance isn’t too in your face, it is more subtle with some flirting (some of the initial flirting is also part of the mc’s con too) but it doesn’t continue into book 2 😊. I definitely recommend giving the series a go – the romance is really only one element compared to how intricate the rest of the story is! 💜

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      • Ugh yes the other book that always gets miscategorised is The Night Circus?! (The other thing I notice is that it’s usually books with female MCs that get miscategorised as YA….. subconscious sexism perhaps?)

        Anyway that’s great, thanks so much for your help hehe! I love a good romantic subplot in my fantasy, but can’t stand love triangles haha. Definitely added this to my virtual TBR shelf… now to find the time to read it xD

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        • Ahhh yes, it does! (Either that or the authors are women, or at least not cis men, they always get miscategorised even if it is clearly an adult fantasy … definitely subconscious sexism.)

          Aha you’re welcome! I’m with you there, I can’t stand love triangles either! Yay, I hope you enjoy … when you get the time to read it xD. 💜

          Liked by 1 person

          • Haha I’m glad it’s not just me who sees it. And yes, they’re of the devil *blegh*. Thanks, I hope I enjoy it too!! I really struggle to find adult fantasy with a decent amount of romance and female characters sigh. YA fantasy just doesn’t do it for me but it was definitely better for romance, women and representation.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Adult fantasy definitely tends to lack in the department 😭. Though, I would definitely recommend; The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, The Unbroken by CL Clark for female centred fantasy with some romance, all adult! I’d also suggest; The Obsidian Tower series by Melissa Caruso (New Adult/Adult) has romance and great female characters, or The Bone Shard Daughter series (great female characters and some romance as you go through). All of these have great rep too, with PoC casts, LGBTQ+ characters (MC and side) etc…💜

              Liked by 1 person

  7. […] Book Review: The Mask Of Mirrors (Rook And Rose #1), by M. A. Carrick. AND Book Review: The Liar’s Knot (Rook & Rose #2), by M.A. Carrick (I’m not cheating shh) I have to include the two books from the Rook and Rose series that dropped this year! So Both of these books are absolutely amazing and incredibly intricate. The plot is twisty and full of magic and secrets, the characters I LOVE (from Ren to Vargo to Grey) they are complex and clever, and the prose is descriptive and yet flows easily. From pattern to numinat – this queernormative world and it’s magic will utterly captivate you. […]

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