Review: Masks

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: MasksMasks by E.C. Blake
Series: Masks of Aygrima #1
Published by DAW on November 5, 2013
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy
Pages: 372
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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four-stars

MASKS is the first novel in the thrilling new Masks of Aygrima fantasy trilogy from E.C. Blake. Brimming with magic, evil empires and rebellion, it’s a young adult-friendly, classic coming-of-age tale starring a strong teen heroine and is sure to appeal to fans of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

On their fifteenth birthday, teenagers in Aygrima are given magic-infused that denote their Gifts and profession—and are crafted to reveal any treasonous thoughts or actions against the ruling Autarch. Mara Holdfast, daughter of the Autarch’s Master Maskmaker, is ready to claim her rightful place as apprentice to her father. But on the day of her Masking, something goes terribly wrong and Mara instead finds herself relegated to the mines where she will work until she dies. However Mara’s Gift holds many surprises and there may be another future that awaits her: a transformation into a force more dangerous than the legendary, long-vanquished Lady of Pain and Fire—the only one to successfully challenge Autarch’s rule.

When I received a review request for Masks, I was a bit hesitant. The cover’s not all that appealing and I’m pretty busy right now. However, the blurb had enough to make me curious. The fantasy world sounded unique in the way that Brandon Sanderson’s tend to be, and that’s something I couldn’t pass up. The comparisons to The Hunger Games and His Dark Materials were also intriguing, in that the two are almost entirely distinct. In point of fact, I really don’t see a comparison to either of those, but I’m glad I accepted because Masks has that delightfully original and dark fantasy world for which I was hoping.

First, let’s talk about the world. Aygrima is a magical place, literally. Only some people can see and use magic, which pools like water. The Autarch rules over Aygrima, maintaining order. At his order, at the age of fifteen, every citizen receives a mask. For those with the ability to see magic, the mask indicates which of the magical abilities they have, as a person generally can only see one color of magic. The masks also allow the Watchers, who have a particular kind of magic, to read people’s faces and see whether they’re plotting against the Autarch; the masking system was put in place to quell any chance of rebellion.

As you might suspect, the heroine, Mara, falls into the exceedingly rare camp of people who can see and use all the colors of magic. She is unbelievably powerful, but she’s also fifteen, scared, and not sure what to do about this ability she shouldn’t have. Smartly, she keeps her powers a secret, planning to live a quiet life, masked and working as a Maskmaker like her father. Of course, it’s not that simple. Being spurned by a best friend, a chance encounter with an unMasked boy determined to escape the city, and the failure of her own Masking combine to make Mara question the only life she’s ever known.

Now, Mara, having more power that just about anyone else ever, might seem too powerful to be realistic, however Blake tempers that nicely. On the one hand, using magic pains Mara greatly, making it less of a boon to her. Even more than that, she fears the magic is corrupting her. Darkness seeps into her as she embarks on her journey, and it’s very easy to imagine that she could end up a tyrant in her own right. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and all that. Some of the things Mara does come across as rather silly, View Spoiler » but she is only fifteen.

In addition to loving the world building and really liking Mara’s character, I’m enjoying the romance dynamics at the moment. They’re pretty minor, as the people involved are still young and also kind of busy with surviving. There are two boys, Keltan and Hyram, who are crushing on Mara, and so far it’s a totally non-obnoxious love triangle. She doesn’t know who she likes at this point and isn’t too worried about it. No declarations of love or playing them off of one another for kicks.

Not much has been done with the Autarch at the end of book one, but he makes for a fascinating villain. I can only hope that Blake will really delve into his character within the trilogy, rather than making him merely evil. The plot arc of this book is somewhat lacking, more the first part of a journey than completing an arc of some sort within this book.

There was one thing that makes me nervous about Masks and a bit afraid that the series might anger me later. It’s just a comment said by someone about the history of Aygrima, so it doesn’t have to have anything to do with the author’s opinion, but I would still like to see the homophobia in this comment counteracted in the later books: “‘Others, though neither trending toward badness, were just…odd. Withdrawn, perhaps. A little slow. Developing a romantic interest in others of their own sex. Different.'” These are the people whose masks would reject them, and they’re being ranked along side psychopaths. THIS IS NOT OKAY. I’m not really rating down for this, because it is just one comment, but I’m noting it, and if I see anything more like this later, I will be severely put out.

E.C. Blake’s Masks is a fantastic debut, set in a chilling and magical world. I’m very excited to read more of the series, with hope of an even tighter plot and more open-mindedness.

Favorite Quote:

“Believe me,” Keltan said under his breath as Edrik turned away to organize the rest of the group, “you’re better off walking. I gave it a try. Better sore feet than a sore…” He grimaced. “Well, never mind. Let’s just say I’d show you my bruises, but we don’t know each other that well.”

18 responses to “Review: Masks”

  1. Jenni says:

    Of course Mara can see them all! It’s funny that as soon as you were describing the plot I thought “I bet we get to be someone who can see the whole rainbow!” Despite that being pretty cookie cutter of the books that are put out I am happy that you were able to enjoy this one so much. The cover scares the crap out of me and I think it’s a bit too fantastical for my taste but yay that it worked for you!
    Jenni recently posted…Cold Spell ReviewMy Profile

  2. Christina Franke says:

    Well, duh, she has to be the specialest snowflake. It’s fiction law. Haha, I mean, whatever. The MC in fantasy usually is.

    Really? This cover scares you? I think it looks rather cheesy.

  3. Alessandra says:

    I find this cover actually very pretty. The plot sounds interesting, too.
    Alessandra recently posted…Blog Tour: Nightmare City by Andrew KlavanMy Profile

  4. The cover would have had me second guessing the inside but you make it sound pretty interesting. A 4 star read is really good.
    Dana (Little Lovely Books) recently posted…Adding to the Stacks #8My Profile

  5. Angie F. says:

    This one sounds really interesting! My fondness for magic has been steadily growing, so I’ll need to add this one to my wishlist.

    Of course the MC has all of the magic ever! She wouldn’t be interesting otherwise. 😛

    I can see why that quote is bothersome. If it’s just that one mention, it seems kind of unnecessary to add it in at all.
    Angie F. recently posted…Review: Contagion (Toxic City, #3) by Tim LebbonMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      For some reason, I really enjoy books with tangible magic. Skylark had that, and so did another that I’m blanking on the name of atm. INDIGO SPRINGS. Thanks, brain!

      It’s super overdone for her to be the special one, but oh well.

      WHY PUT THAT IN?

  6. Meg says:

    The seeing all the colors thing does sound Mistborn-ish (and anything else where there are multiple powers up for grabs if you want to be all technical about it) I am now picturing a rainbow Power Ranger…I think I need to start drinking less coffee because my brain is all over the place.

    I’m glad you liked it! I’m intrigued and hadn’t heard a thing about this book until now.
    Meg recently posted…Review: Horde by Ann AguirreMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      I mean, it’s not like Sanderson in a lot of ways, but I thought the rather unique functioning of the magic was pretty Sandersonian. Although the image of a power ranger is hilarious. Definitely if they had full body suits instead of just masks!

  7. Nikki says:

    I don’t normally find that “adult” Sci-Fi/Fantasy books really appeal to me much anymore (other than Sanderson because… well, obviously), but this one sounds SO GOOD. *_*

    I really do not like that one sentence you quoted though… that’s NOT okay, and it seems like if it was just a one-time, unexplained, “throw-away” statement, it should have never been included. Hopefully things get cleared up for the better in later books. =/
    Nikki recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday (#26)My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      This one could just as easily have been marketed as YA, I think, since it’s following a fifteen year old girl.

      I REALLY don’t know why they put that in, but it upsets me. 🙁

  8. Dragana M. says:

    I haven’t heard about this book or author before, but it got my attention because YABC listed in in similar books section for ‘Crown of Midnight’.
    After reading your review I am definitely adding Masks to my tbr. I like the idea of masks/colors it sounds very original.
    I hope that homophobic comments turns out to be pointer to something that is wrong with system. Always the optimist. 🙂
    Dragana M. recently posted…Book Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. MaasMy Profile

  9. Christina Franke says:

    Ha, that’s because I review for YABC. :-p I’d never heard of it either until I got the review request for it. Almost turned it down, too, but I’m glad I didn’t.

    I really liked the concept, and I know you’re all about fantasy worlds, so I definitely think you should give it a shot.

    The person who said that was a really old woman, not the MC, so maybe she’s just narrow-minded and old, but I want to see that overthrown, because it so didn’t need to be in there.

    • Dragana M. says:

      Haha yeah that must be it. 😀

      Yeah fantasy is definitely my favorite genre and as you said concept is really interesting so I am definitely reading it some time in the future. Hopefully soon although I have so many books I already own that are unread. But you never know…

      Well, sadly there are people with that kind of thinking in every culture, so maybe writer added it to the book to make it more realistic?
      Dragana M. recently posted…Book Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. MaasMy Profile

  10. E.C. Blake says:

    Thanks so much for the review! I’m glad you enjoyed the book. I do just want to reassure you that the comment you objected to you were supposed to object to: an example of how the Autarch couldn’t stand anything outside of the norm. You should object just as much to the Masks being designed to single out those feeling same-sex attraction as you object to the Masks being designed to single out those feeling oppressed by the system. While it’s true the Masks also weed out the true sociopaths, they’re also weeding out people whose only crime is being a little bit different–which is one reason they need to be done away with.

    I really appreciate the thoughtful comments!
    E.C. Blake recently posted…Author’s copies of Masks arrive!My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Thanks for commenting to let me know that! It seemed out of place, and I just wasn’t sure what it meant. They were aligned with psychopaths, who were being (rightly) judged by both the Autarch and the unmasked. When she listed the others, I wasn’t sure if it was just a summation or a correlation that being gay was just as bad. Very glad to hear that that is just an example of the Autarch’s diseased mind. Puts my mind at ease for the rest of the trilogy, for which I’m very excited. 🙂

  11. Ellis says:

    Yes. The mine thing immediately reminded me of Kelsier. Hahaha, GMTA. Wow, the colour magic thing IS straight-up Sanderson. Apparently it plays a role in Warbreaker (you know, the zombie book). My cousin has already read them. We are IRL Sanderson buddies.

    I’m glad that her age makes that she fails at some of the things. Finally. No June/Day scenarios here, because they are a disgrace. I like that Mara seems to screw up every now and then or does silly things with her power. This is realistic.

    Oh god, the homophobic comment. Okay, I don’t think this is a bad thing itself. A lot of it depends on how the character(s) will react to it. Many fictional universes are extremely sexist, racist, homophobic, misogynist, ableist, etc. but so is the real world. Especially if it’s about the history of a place, it’s crucial how characters counteract this bigotry. So, not a bad thing in itself, but, as you said, something to keep an eye on.

    This sounds interesting. I’m adding it to my TBR.
    Ellis recently posted…Rewind Review – Every Which WayMy Profile

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