Reviews tagging 'Body horror'

The Mask of Mirrors, by M.A. Carrick

4 reviews

18soft_green's review

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adventurous challenging dark emotional mysterious tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

4.75

4.75/5 This book is soo good!!

The writing itself is consistent, practical, funny, and rhythmic. It’s very rare that I read/find a book where the writing style is so well done that it’s flow offers yet another layer of information about the story and characters. I loved how the authors know the characters so well that while the style of writing stayed the same, the tone of the story would change depending on whose POV it was.

The world the story is set in is enchanting and complex but not in a confusing way. It has rules that make sense. I loved that we never stopped learning about the magic system and cultures of the world. I liked the creepiness of the monsters and the streets, the way the grossness was handled.

The characters, oh my god, the characters are so peoplie!! Vargo has my heart, I love his narrative so much! I have so many questions about who he is, what his story is, what he REALLY wants. He’s so good at hiding even from himself! And who the fuck is that guy in his head?! I love Ren! I wasn’t expecting to love her so much. She has a lot of growing to do and I love how we can see, even through the trauma, that she has child-like notions. I love how her loyalty is above all to her siblings. I love how even though her attachment to them is clearly a trauma bond it’s love as well. And not smothering toxic love, but love for who they are as people. I love that that love is returned. And the familiarity they have with each other that is so sibling-like. It reminds me actually of my own relationships with my siblings. We have the shared trauma but we chose to have each other in our lives still and our link to each other is because we care for one another and know each other. Tess, Sedge, and Ren love each other deeply and their attachment to one another is consistent and pure. They lean on each other hard and it hurts and strains them but they still love and hold fast to one another. I love that we got to know Tess and Sedge instead of just having to assume that they were worth something because Ren said so or because they had some nice dialogue with Ren. I like Donaia but I don’t like Guina. And Leato, my heart. I thought he might end up wrong and weird but no. He is so sweet! I’m torn about Grey. I hate the police so fucking much and this bitch is out here saying they actually care about people?! Absolutely not. Nope. You can’t,, and the Rook?! The authors are going to have to explain a lot in the sequel because though I expected that reveal it makes NO SENSE! 
I loved the villain too. I don’t like the message of nonviolence the authors tried to send at the end. They brushed over a lot of nuance to send that message and also,, like honeys, you’re two white women, is this your place to say?
I also dislike how few MCs are actually queer. And how limited the gender systems are. They gave us, like, five MCs and only ONE(1) is queer? And they’re pretending that’s enough? And they also coded him as a villain?! That ice is pretty slippery for them to marching so confidently. And Guina doesn’t count, she almost never got a real POV and she is such a limp character rn. I don’t like her. And then after her ALL the queer characters are suspicious.
4.75/5 stars. I’d recommend this book to anyone that likes fantasy or adventure stories.

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maryellen's review against another edition

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adventurous challenging dark emotional mysterious tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0


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tachyondecay's review against another edition

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adventurous challenging emotional mysterious tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

You all know how much I love me a good confidence story, as much as I love a good heist story. Throughout the years, fantasy has handed us many such wonderful stories and lovable rogues—some of which I have read, some of which I haven’t. The Mask of Mirrors will doubtless be compared to the most popular and celebrated of these, with merit and good reason. I’ll eschew such comparisons as de rigeur then, and get right into why this book is my first 5-star read of 2021. Under the pen name M.A. Carrick, authors Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms have created a stunning work of storytelling, characterization, and world-building.

After losing her mother at an early age, Ren grows up as a member of a gang of street thieves overseen by a ruthless crime boss. The novel opens with a whirlwind flashback to this life, in which Ren poisons the crime boss to allow her and her chosen sister, Tess, to flee the city of Nadežra for a better life. Fast forward to the present day: Ren has returned to her home city as Renata, playing the role of the daughter of an estranged branch of House Traementis. She plans to get into the good graces of Donaia, the head of the house, and in this way, scam and take the nobility of Nadežra for all she and Tess (who takes on the role of her long-suffering but seamstressly-gifted maid) possibly can. However, Ren/Renata is not the only one with plans upon plans for this city. Soon, magic and mischief collide to result in twists, turns, and tragedies that I didn’t see coming.
The Mask of Mirrors is what I can only describe as a sumptuous book. If it were a room, it would be decorated lavishly, extravagantly, yet it would contain cozy nooks and comfortable furniture. As every chapter unfolds, Carrick adds new layers—to the mysteries at the heart of the plot, and to the city of Nadežra. Like any good fantasy novel, Nadežra takes on a kind of character of its own—although, lest I get too far drawn into fantasy review tropes, let me emphasize that this is mostly about the cultures that clash within this metropolis.

Though some of the language reminds me of Venice, Nadežra itself feels like Istanbul/Constantinople. Ren belongs to an ethnic group known as the Vrazenians, who view Nadežra as a holy city, even though it was conquered centuries ago. Now the Vrazenians are a minority, oppressed by the ruling Liganti, mostly shunned to live in the most impoverished areas of the city. Ren’s heritage is at the forefront of the story: she conceals it as Renata; brings it to the fore when playing Arenza, a card-reading fortune-teller; and her connections to her people and her birthright influence how magic interacts with her. From the beginning, it’s clear that Ren might indeed be able to get into the good graces of House Traementis, but she can never be one of them. This is an anti-assimilationist narrative, one that Carrick leaves tantalizingly unresolved at the end of the book, and I am so intrigued to see what happens next. Similarly, I appreciate that while Carrick has been influenced by various real-world cultures in creating the Vrazenians, Liganti, and others, they are also careful not to create cookiecutter fantasy countercultures as seen in the works of, say, Jacqueline Carey. In so avoiding that, Carrick can explore ideas of ethnic strife and oppression without inadvertently making inappropriate comparisons to what has happened in actual history. The result is a complex tapestry of society that feels a bit like ours yet has a rich and complex history all its own.

Ren herself is such a great protagonist. She’s clever, but she isn’t a Mary Sue. Carrick deals her plenty of setbacks—some that I thought would surely sink her con—and much of the fun of this story is watching Ren and Tess adapt to the cards they get dealt. There are several intense climaxes to the early and middle acts of the book that result in sharp turns for the plot. (As I transition, I now better appreciate the pleasures of more than one climax!) Ren must pivot her con, somehow preserving its central purpose while also adapting to the new threat posed by House Indestor’s machinations. Along the way, she makes mistakes that ultimately contribute to people losing their lives, and this is something she is going to have to live with.

Some other great tropes here—“unlikely/reluctant allies” abound, from Ren’s interactions with the Rook to Renata’s flirtatious partnership with Derossi Vargo. (As an aside, figuring out the Rook’s secret identity is pretty much the only thing in this book I saw coming—although I like that Carrick implies there is some supernatural force powering the Rook’s crusade.) As the book winds down towards its resolution, Carrick sets up the board for the next chess game. I love the ambiguity of certain relationships and the calculated coldness of others. (I am being deliberately vague here to avoid spoilers.) Let’s just say that while flirtation and romance exist in The Mask of Mirrors, it was not particularly important to the story. Also, lots of normative queerness going on, which I appreciate!

As far as magic and worldbuilding goes, Carrick’s approach is refreshing. (I like this word better than “original,” because I agree that originality is a fraught concept in fantasy literature—but “refreshing” indicates that the approach, if not novel, is a welcome departure from the ideas and tropes currently in vogue.) Light on exposition, we’re left to fill in a lot of the blanks or understand that anything mentioned merely hints at a richer history and collection of cultures and nations, which I love. They don’t even really care to explain much of the rules of numinatria either—we get some really basic concepts, but so much is left to be guessed or inferred. In particular, the nature of Vargo’s relationship with Alsius is so intriguing yet never quite made explicit, and I adore this ambiguity.

The Mask of Mirrors is a book that lives up to its title. The story itself feels like many layers of masks reflected in the mirrors that are the characters Carrick creates. Everyone in this book has an agenda, is out for themselves, has a goal, and the conflicts are so compelling right from page one. If you like refreshing fantasy, if you like confidence games, if you like stories of tough-as-nails women rising above inequities created by class and ethnicity, then do yourself a favour and pick up this book. Reading this over a weekend made me feel so energized, and the fact that the book is thicc reminded me of my youth spent reading doorstopper fantasy.

Finally, Carrick manage the difficult feat of wrapping up the loose ends of this book’s plot while setting up for the sequel in a way that leaves me both satisfied and wanting more.

Kara like. Kara like a lot.

Originally published at Kara.Reviews.

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lindenei's review

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challenging dark mysterious slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.75

the first 40 % are quite slow-paced but the wonderful world and character buidling makes up for it. The last 60 % are just outstanding! Very intriguing magic system, morally grey characters that feel so real and the LGBT presentation was phenomenal! Can't wait for the next book!

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