I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis
Published: April 12th 2016 by Pyr
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Format: ARC, Paperback
Source: the publisher
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Masks and Shadows is a historical fantasy novel set in Hungary in the 1770s. The Hapsburgs currently reign, but there is constant court intrigue as scheming courtiers try to shift the balance of power. The novel opens as Charlotte von Steinbeck, the newly widowed sister of Prince Nikolaus’ mistress, arrives at Eszterhaza. Charlotte is prim and proper and very repressed, and she doesn’t approve of her sister’s entanglements with the Prince. But Charlotte soon finds romance of her own as she develops feelings for Carlo Morelli, a castrato singer who has also just arrived at the palace. Charlotte and Carlo slowly unravel a Freemason plot to assassinate the Emperor and Empress, and must do everything in their power to set things right.
While Charlotte and Carlo are at the center of the novel and are ultimately our heroes, there isn’t really one main protagonist, as you would find in most novels. Instead, Masks and Shadows is reminiscent of a symphony, and the story isn’t told through one voice, but rather lots of individual players coming together harmoniously until the crescendo when everyone finally comes together in one room and the most dramatic action unfolds. The story begins slowly, and feels more like historical fiction, but as the intensity builds we see the supernatural influences emerge and weave themselves throughout the narrative.
I was appreciative of this musicality, as music is also what brings many of the actors in the plot together. Carlo is a singer, and Charlotte would be a musician if it weren’t for her social status. At Esterhaza, they meet a young Haydn, and are introduced to his work. Charlotte’s maid Anna rises in rank as she uses her musical talent to fill in for a missing soprano. Meanwhile, there are spies watching the rehearsals, and gossip in the theater helps to reveal who can and cannot be trusted.
I also enjoyed seeing the relationship develop between Charlotte and Carlo. While the two of them immediately connect over their shared interest in music, Charlotte has to let go of her pride and her insecurities in order to admit to her feelings for Carlo, and more importantly, for her to act on them rather than bury them inside. The two of them are so awkward together that it’s cute, and I was rooting for them to find happiness despite the scandal that it would cause.
Masks and Shadows seamlessly blends together two of my favorite genres. And unlike many contemporary fantasy stories, this novel is a standalone rather than the first part in a trilogy or never-ending series. Masks and Shadows is perfect for anyone who loves music, magic, crazed cultists, and courtly intrigue.