Series: Untitled #1 (Just go ahead and announce it’s called Mask of Shadows #1 lol)
Publication: August 29th 2017 by Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, GLBT
Source: I received an ARC copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
My Rating: 3/5 stars
Sallot Leon knows what it’s like to fight for what you want. Growing up on the streets and being forced to rob noblemen and street fight by your gang leader will teach you that very quickly. But Sal isn’t like all of the others forced into this behavior—Sal is the last of their race. After a brutal civil war during their childhood, Sal’s entire country is wiped out by a devastating magical force that becomes banned from the continent by the end of the war. But not before Sal lost everything they ever had. When Sal robs a noble girl who has a flyer stating that the new Queen needs a new member of her inner circle that she keeps to do her bidding—and killing—Sal seizes the opportunity for freedom and the chance at revenge for those who left their country to die. But Sal is tested far beyond what they imagined as they and twenty-two other auditioners are put through a series of tests—and are allowed to discreetly kill each other to eliminate the competition. There can only be one Opal…and Sal has to be it to avenge Nacea. Welcome to the Left Hand Auditions.
First things first—am I the only one who thought “Ha, Sallot. Shallot…They’re an onion. Lol”? Just me? Okay.
As I’m sure is the case for many other readers, I saw this book being compared to Sarah J. Maas’s work and I was sold. Was that an accurate description? Not really. If we’re going to compare this book to another well-known fantasy series, I’d go with Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series and I would anticipate a similar divide in its receipt with some readers loving it and some hating it.
So let’s just jump right in here to the main reason most readers will probably pick this book up: the main character’s genderfluidity. Firstly, if I had read the entirety of the description on Netgalley, I wouldn’t have requested this book. Simply put, I’m still learning about the different gender spectrums and don’t know enough or can identify with the main character’s identity. But from the little that I know, I don’t think this is the best representation. Sal prefers to identify with whatever gender they’re currently dressed as whether it be male or female (“they” is never used after Sal gives this explanation). I know that this is not valid for all genderfluid people and how they want to be addressed isn’t hinged upon how they chose to dress that day. But, okay, if we’re going with this “address me as I’m dressed” concept, then why doesn’t Sal ever select their clothes themselves? They consistently allow their servant to choose their clothes every day and Sal seemingly just runs with whatever Maud chooses and identifies as that gender for the day. I don’t really think that’s how it works. Maybe Sal simply doesn’t hold their gender that closely to their heart? Nope. Sal repeatedly gets angry at another auditioner for referring to them as “she” when they’re dressed as a “he.” So why doesn’t Sal choose their own clothes and gender for the day??? Furthermore, the only detail we get about Sal’s clothes is that they’re mostly all black so the identifying marker that Sal hinges their gender upon is if they’re wearing a dress, and therefore a girl for the day, or pants, and therefore a guy for the day. Great way to reinforce gender norms and basically imply that girls can’t wear pants?? Beyond all of that, the way that Sal’s gender is represented makes it seem as though genderfluidity is commonplace and widely accepted in their world. However, there are scenes where Sal’s gender is assumed (i.e. when Elise states that she isn’t only attracted to men yet doesn’t ask Sal what they identify as) and scenes as aforementioned when Sal becomes upset at another person for assuming the wrong gender, implying that it is not so commonplace or accepted, especially considering no other characters are ever asked what their gender is. It was all just confusing for me and I definitely can’t say I feel any more educated than before reading this which is truly a shame.
Because of the characters all being referred to as numbers rather than by names, I found it quite difficult to keep all of them straight. The main ones that are focused on eventually became separated in my mind but I often found myself thinking “wait, who’s that again?” when an auditioner would die. I do think the number concept was cool and original but with there being so many it was just too difficult to remember them all. Although admittedly I am not the best at keeping large castings of characters straight as I had the same problem in Throne of Glass, The Hunger Games, and every other book along the same lines as this one. And along with a large cast, usually comes little to no character development which is exactly the case here. Sal did have some development along the way but there isn’t much to say about the other characters, including the Left Hand of the Queen which were the only characters I actually cared about the entire book.
I did like the plot and the pacing of the book mostly. I do hope that when this book is printed a map is included of the world as it was difficult to picture all of the places mentioned by the characters. However the world is fairly well-explained and I enjoyed learning about the history of Igna and how it became a country. I also really enjoyed the twists that were thrown in and didn’t connect the dots myself when reading so they were a cool surprise. I do think that some parts of the plot were a bit clunky, such as Sal seemingly being able to read after two lessons and the characters only having to complete one conditioning class the entire time, but overall I did enjoy the plot and it kept me engaged.
Lastly, the romance was just a little too insta-lovey for me. Insta-love is a fine line for me between loving it and thinking it’s too farfetched. This is the latter. I just cannot picture how a character can go from being robbed by someone to falling in love with the person after one tutoring session. The interactions definitely felt genuine between the characters but a few hour tutoring sessions in a week doesn’t exactly add up to I-would-die-for-you feelings in three lessons.
Overall, this isn’t a remarkable book by any means. If you’ve read Red Queen, The Hunger Games, and by some stretch Throne of Glass, then you have read this. With the unique feature of a genderfluid character being written so muddily, I can’t really even recommend this on that level. But I did find myself entertained by the book and I am invested enough in the storyline at this point that I am going to read the next book when it is released.
What do YOU think? If you were the last of your people, would you seek revenge on who was responsible? Would you want to do the bidding of your Queen in a fantasy world? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you.