Fortune favors the bold. Magic favors the liars.
Ren is a con artist who has come to the sparkling city of Nadežra with one goal: to trick her way into a noble house, securing her fortune and her sister’s future.
But as she’s drawn into the elite world of House Traementis, she realizes her masquerade is just one of many surrounding her. And as nightmare magic begins to weave its way through the City of Dreams, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled…with Ren at their heart.
This is one of those books that made me scream incoherently THIS BOOK AHHHH *THIS BOOK* over and over again because at a certain point it broke me and apparently I love being broken.
The Mask of Mirrors is about a con artist playing a con but the book itself is also a con by the authors. They lure you in telling you it’s one kind of story and just when you’re content BAM!–they shatter your world and everything you believed the story was really about. But, I’m getting ahead of myself–let me rewind a bit. This is the story of Ren, a gutter rat turned con artist. Once part of a children’s street gang, she ran away with her adopted sister and lived a life as a maid for several years before returning to her homeland to pull a dangerous con. She’s smart and resourceful and has a gift of persuasion. Which is good because this con quickly gets very complicated where she’s running all over town pulling strings and doing favors in order to get all the pieces to fall into place just so. She gets involved with everyone from the elite nobles and politicians of the city to the city guard as well as criminal masterminds.
Throughout Ren’s journey we meet all kinds of colorful characters and some of the book is also from their POV’s. I think my favorite is Vargo. He’s a criminal, sort of a mob boss, and he claims he’s trying to go good. But what he really seems to want is a legitimate seat at the table. Whether that means he’s ‘good’ or not remains to be seen. He’s a mystery. He’s got some weird magical knowledge and a voice living inside of his head. What’s up with that? He’s also, not to be shallow (but let’s face it, I’m totally shallow), kind of sexy. Damn this character for having charm that just slides right off the page and into your brain. Or heart. Or maybe your loins, I don’t know. He’s constantly throwing you off balance and even at the end of things I don’t know what to make of him. But I know I want more.
Some of the other characters are the Traementis family, who Ren is trying to con by claiming to be a long lost relative. They’re a noble family, if rather diminished, and Ren’s angle is to work on restoring their power in order to ingratiate herself to them and be officially accepted into the family. For money. Because Ren’s goal is money. (Although also safety and security and maybe even having a home.) The mother, Donaia, is probably the most distrustful of Ren. Her children, however, immediately warm to her. I loved the family dynamics here, it’s clear she cares very much for her children and will do all in her power to protect them with what little she has left to the family name and fortune. Leato is charming and Giuna is a bit innocent but she has a quiet strength to her–she grows a lot throughout the book and I loved watching that. Then you have Ren’s adopted siblings who are both delightful for fellow child gang members all grown up. Tess especially was fun–you can tell that it’s been Tess and Ren against the world for some time based on their relationship with each other. They’re really the only things that matter to each other in the world, at least until Ren starts getting mixed up with all these other people pulling this con.
One other character (whew! there are so many!) that I want to mention is Grey who is one of the guards for the city. He’s worked his way up into a higher position. He’s someone who often straddles two worlds–that of a native of a culture that was colonized and that of someone employed by and working for the government enacted by the colonizers. He’s got his own story and background but we don’t get to dive into it much here, he feels rather in the background at times even though the mystery of his brother’s murder is one of the plot points of the story. I’m hoping we get to know a lot more about him in the next book.
Aside from all the wonderful characters, this book is chock full of world building and I would expect nothing less from the author team writing under M.A. Carrick. The world here feels at once expansive with a huge history behind it while also confined as everything takes place in this one city. You’ve got cultures clashing, colonization issues, oppression, the one-percenters fighting with other one-percenters, politics, lots of criminal elements, magic, gods, etc. Every detail is so thoughtfully written and serves to flesh out this world making it feel like you could step right into it. Even the neighborhoods of the city, including everything from street vendors to shops, are so lovingly rendered.
I will say if this book had one downside for me is that it starts off kind of slow. It’s a long book (over 600 pages) and the first half of it, while not boring, is very steadily paced with not a lot of ups and downs. I did like the first half, it’s a lot of politicking and favors and Ren working on her con while working everyone in the city. But it also dragged a bit for me because the pacing was so steady. But I do think this was intentional on the authors’ part. I feel like they wanted to lure us readers into a false sense of security. Because that second half. Woowee. Let’s put it this way–the first 50% took me a week to read and the last 50% I read in a day and a half.
I don’t want say anymore, as that would give away too much. You’ll just have to experience this for yourselves. But I think, and hope, that you’ll all love this one as much as I did. 4.5/5 stars.