Publication Date: 11/05/2013
Publisher: Penguin Group
Imprint: DAW Books
(Received for an honest review from DAW Books)
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound
E.C. Blake on the WEB: Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads
Excerpt from Masks, courtesy of the author's website.
Masks, the first novel in a mesmerizing new fantasy series, draws readers into a world in which cataclysmic events have left the Autarchy of Aygrima—the one land blessed with magical resources—cut off from its former trading partners across the waters, not knowing if any of those distant peoples still live. Yet under the rule of the Autarch, Aygrima survives. And thanks to the creation of the Masks and the vigilance of the Autarch’s Watchers, no one can threaten the security of the empire.
In Aygrima, magic is a Gift possessed from birth by a very small percentage of the population, with the Autarch himself the most powerful magic worker of all. Only the long-vanquished Lady of Pain and Fire had been able to challenge his rule.
At the age of fifteen, citizens are recognized as adults and must don the spell-infused Masks—which denote both status and profession—whenever they are in public. To maintain the secure rule of the kingdom, the Masks are magically crafted to reveal any treasonous thoughts or actions. And once such betrayals are exposed, the Watchers are there to enforce the law.
Mara Holdfast, daughter of the Autarch’s Master Maskmaker, is fast approaching her fifteenth birthday and her all-important Masking ceremony. Her father himself has been working behind closed doors to create Mara’s Mask. Once the ceremony is done, she will take her place as an adult, and Gifted with the same magical abilities as her father, she will also claim her rightful place as his apprentice.
But on the day of her Masking something goes horribly wrong, and instead of celebrating, Mara is torn away from her parents, imprisoned, and consigned to a wagon bound for the mines. Is it because she didn’t turn the unMasked boy she discovered over to the Night Watchers? Or is it because she’s lied about her Gift, claiming she can only see one color of magic, when in truth she can see them all, just as she could when she was a young child?
Whatever the reason, her Mask has labeled her a traitor and now she has lost everything, doomed to slavery in the mines until she dies. And not even her Gift can show Mara the future that awaits her—a future that may see her freed to aid a rebel cause, forced to become a puppet of the Autarch, or transformed into a force as dangerous to her world as the legendary Lady of Pain and Fire.
Masks is the first book in the Masks of Aygrima series by E.C. Blake. This is one of those novels that defies being classified, but it's not the genre that's in question, it's the age group. The heroine Mara Holdfast is fifteen years old during the time of story which would lend it toward being a young adult fantasy novel, but that's not necessarily the case. It has some adult themes and situations that make it very appealing to adult fantasy readers as well. Young and old alike will find the world building and magical concepts intriguing and original. Blake's smooth writing style and use of internal dialogue is riveting in this book and readers will have a hard time putting it down.
The title of this book is Masks, and the concept of masking is very important to the characters of E.C. Blake's magical land of Aygrima. The Autarch is leader of Aygrima and following a rebellion that nearly destroyed the Aygrima society, he has come up with a away to keep it from every happening again. On each person's fifteenth birthday in Aygrima they receive a mask. This mask denotes their profession and magical abilities as well as their unwavering devotion to the Autarch and they must wear it any time they are in public so that Watchers can make sure of their loyalty. The problem is, not everyone passes the test. If the mask rejects a person, that person is a traitor and is cast out.
I thought this was a very original idea for a novel. The masks are ornate and beautiful but they can be deadly. Blake does an amazing job of bringing the world of Aygrima to life and the masking concept. This is a world of magic and Blake brings that to the forefront of the action. The people of Aygrima can usually see one or two colors of magic at most, but our heroine, Mara can see them all, which makes her extremely unique. Her father is the master maskmaker and she wants to follow in his footsteps but her masking fails. I loved the fact that Blake assumes the reader will pick up on things going on behind the scenes. He kind of drops some bread crumbs but he lets readers decide for themselves what is really happening here.
The use of magic in this novel is really interesting. Almost all the people of Aygrima have magic, but it isn't quite as easy to use it as one might think. They can't just cast a spell or wave a wand. Magic requires ingredients and resources and time to use. It almost makes magic like a commodity. Some people have a little ability, some people have a lot. The Autarch is very powerful and has a great use of magic, while those who have been cast out have very little. I thought the way magic is used in this book was extremely unique and original.
Mara is a typical teenager in my opinion. She has her own ideas about how life works and how things are, and trying to convince her otherwise, probably wouldn't work. But when her masking fails, she begins to see her world in a completely different light. What happens to those that are unmasked? Is it fair? It is right? Mara goes through a lot of changes within the book and comes out on the other side with a different view of life and what is important about it. Her internal dialogue throughout the book becomes a little tedious at times, but to be fair, she has been given a lot to digest here.
There is some violence and sexual situations, but they are mostly alluded to and not described in great detail, which is one of the things that make this book good for young readers. But the flow of the book and Blake's descriptions and wording is more along the lines of an adult novel. It's an interesting mix of the two. One of the things I found a bit lacking was the use of secondary characters. We get to know Mara very well, since the book is comprised of her experience and thoughts, but anyone else is kind of one dimensional. We don't find out anything beyond the surface about who they are and how they feel. I wanted to find a great connection with Mara, but was unable to. She's a great character and the story was fascinating, but she didn't grab me like some heroines do. That's not to say this wasn't a good book. It mostly definitely was, very creative and imaginative. I liked it a lot and I rooted for her to the very end. A great first novel by an interesting new face in the fantasy genre!
Masks is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.
I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!
About the Author:
E.C. Blake was born in New Mexico, “Land of Enchantment,” and the state’s nickname seems to have rubbed off: he started writing fantastical stories in elementary school and wrote his first fantasy novel in high school. He’s been a newspaper reporter and editorial cartoonist, a magazine editor, a writing instructor and a professional actor, and has written (under another name) more than 30 works of nonfiction, ranging from biographies to science books to history books, but his first love has always been fantasy. He now lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, with his wife and a daughter whose favorite stories all involve “sword-fighting princesses.” Come to think of it, so do his.
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