Series: Masks of Aygrima #1
Published: November 5th 2013 by DAW
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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Disclaimer: I read Masks by E.C. Blake while laying on a beach drinking tonic water that may or may not have also contained a significant amount of gin. This means that I am likely to be substantially less critical than I might otherwise be. My friends also inform me that the title must be pronounced with a dramatic accent, because that makes it more fun.
The land of Aygrima is ruled by an Autarch who seems ageless and is desperate to maintain complete control of his people. Therefore, when people come of age at 15, they become full adults by donning magical masks that reveal to the authorities whether those people are having seditious thoughts. Mara is the daughter of the Autarch’s head maskmaker, and she is eager to follow in her father’s footsteps and join the family business. She begins the book with blind patriotism toward the Autarch, because that’s what she’s been taught. But as her masking day approaches, she becomes increasingly nervous. She sees how her friends have changed after their maskings, and she doesn’t want to lose her sense of self. And then, at the masking ceremony, something goes horribly wrong, and Mara is thrust into a world filled with people who are eager to use her knowledge of masks and magic for their own ends.
So, I’m not actually sure if Masks is intended to be for young adults or grown-ups. I found it in the fantasy section, but it’s a fast-paced fantasy dystopia reads more like YA. Not that it really matters to me, because I love good books no matter what audience they are written for.
The magic system in Masks was fascinating. Magic is a physical thing that is consumed by people who are able to use it. There’s a sense that it’s otherworldly. Being able to use magic is pretty rare. Each child is tested for the ability to see magic at an early age, when they are able to see the full spectrum of magic. As gifted children age, their talent settles and they only see one color. And each color of magic can then be used to do different things. Mara is, of course, a special snowflake, and her magic never settles. This means that she’s more powerful than anybody else on the planet, save perhaps the Autarch himself.
There’s also a little bit of a love triangle, but it wasn’t obnoxious (yet). Mara was too busy trying to stay alive and/or blow up people who were trying to hurt her to be overly concerned about romantic feelings. If she starts settling down a bit, perhaps that will change, but for now, the romance aspect of the story remained in the backdrop instead of overshadowing the actual plot.
I’m curious to see how this series proceeds. Masks had a satisfactory ending; it wasn’t terribly cliffhanger-y (Is that a word? If not, I just made it up), and yet left a very clear direction for the second book to pick up. I already purchased Book 2, and am looking forward to reading it.