Author: E.C. Blake
Genre: YA Fantasy
Series: Masks of Aygrima (Book 1)
Publication Date: November 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 372 Pages
ISBN-10: 0756407591 (DAW/Penguin)
ISBN-13: 978-0756407599 (DAW/Penguin)
Reviewed by: Steph
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.
Quick & Dirty: For years, every adult has been required to wear a mask when outside of their house in order to prevent another rebellion. When 15-year-old Mara’s Masking fails, her life is changed forever…
Opening Sentence: From atop a nameless mountain, the Autarch of Aygrima watched another of his villages burn.
Young adult books can sometimes be hit or miss with me, depending on how I feel about the protagonist. Luckily, this book was a big hit. From the first page, it had me hooked. While it wasn’t a five star read, it was still a thrilling ride from beginning to end.
When the Autarch began his rule over the land of Aygrima, he instituted a new rule: once a child reaches the age of 15, they are considered an adult. On their 15th birthday, children attend a masking ceremony, where they are fitted for their mask, which they will wear from that point on anytime they are outside of their house. The masks have the capability of revealing the wearer’s innermost thoughts, so the Autarch will always know if someone is plotting against him. In this way, the Autarch can assure that there will never be another rebellion like the one that occurred right before he came to power.
Mara has wanted to be a Maskmaker like her father ever since she was a small child. When she takes her first test at the age of 6 to see if she’s Gifted, she’s overjoyed to learn that she can see magic, which means there’s a chance she can see the type of magic that would allow her to be a Maskmaker. She becomes concerned, however, at her next test years later when, instead of only seeing one color of magic, she still sees a multitude of colors. Scared, she only mentions one color to her tester so that no one knows. Now, it is time for her masking, and her every dream is about to come true. Then, something horrible happens: her Masking fails. Now, she’s consigned to a life as an Unmasked in the mines, never to see her family again. What went wrong? Will Mara’s continued ability to see magic despite her Unmasking aid her in her new life? Will she ever find a way out of the mines?
What I love about Mara is that she’s very believable as a 15-year-old without the air of immaturity that is sometimes seen in other young adult novels. She’s very unsure of herself at first, but as the book continues, you can see her begin to become more confident, getting an idea of the adult she could be one day. I also like that she’s not perfect. Throughout the book, you can see her occasionally be tempted by the concept of the power she could one day have, whether it’s right to use it or not. This is a very believable reaction to me, which made me connect to her a little bit more than I would if she always made the right decisions.
My one complaint would be that some of the side characters aren’t too well developed yet. There’s a love triangle, but we don’t see enough of either guy to really side with one or the other. Both guys seem like nice, good guys, but they don’t go much deeper than that. Hopefully, the second book will let us see more of them.
It should be mentioned that while this is technically a young adult book because of Mara’s age, there is some very serious subject matter here, including repeated references to rape. It’s not for the faint of heart, but those who are looking for a serious fantasy read set in an interesting and well developed world are in for a treat. I’m very much looking forward to book 2!
The earth shuddered, again and yet again…and then all was still.
The Autarch, breathing heavily, fell to his knees on the snow- and blood-covered rocks. It’s over, he thought. She’s gone. Fierce satisfaction swelled within him. I promised you, Lady Arilla. I promised you pain and fire.
And I always keep my promises.
After a long moment, the Autarch climbed heavily to his feet. Without a backward glance at the sprawled bodies of his erstwhile bodyguards, he began trudging back to Starbright. Perhaps he would come across one of the spooked horses of his slain escort. Perhaps not.
It did not matter.
The last threat to his power had been eliminated. He was young, he was powerful, he was the Autarch of Aygrima, and he had nothing to fear: not here, and not back in Tamita, the city where his throne awaited him.
With Arilla out of the way, no one remains who can threaten me. And once I return to Tamita, I will proclaim the Masking. From that moment on, no one will ever threaten me again. I will not die like my father.
Holding that thought in his mind like a good-luck charm, the Autarch of Aygrima trudged southward.
I will not die!
Masks of Aygrima Series:
2. Shadows (August 5, 2014)
FTC Advisory: DAW/Penguin provided me with a copy of Masks. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
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