Monday, November 4, 2013

Early Review: Masks (The Masks of Aygrima #1) by E.C. Blake

Release Date: Nov. 5, 2013
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Published by: DAW 
Source: HC Copy provided by publisher
Author Links: Facebook | Twitter | Site
Buy Links: Amazon | Barnes&Noble

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.

A must-follow fantasy series with a new heroine to root for!

Before I start my review, I have a confession to make. I didn't know E.C. Blake was a male author. Why does this matter, you ask? Because I have a tendency to avoid stories told from a female character's point of view when they're not written by a woman. I know it's wrong to judge a story before I've read it, but I've had a couple of bad experiences. Fortunately, this wasn't an issue with Masks. Blake creates a likable, believable teenage girl that you'll want to cheer for until the very end.

Mara's journey throughout the story was exciting and fast-paced as she moved from one predicament to the next. Never knowing who can be trusted or how her secrets may be used against her, she finds herself in the middle of a silent war being waged against a ruler with powerful magic, the Aurtarch.

And since I've mentioned magic, Mara's growing and developing magical powers were one of the main highlights of this story. The magically-gifted are only able to see the presence of one magical color that will represent what skills they will be capable of and become the deciding factor in what path their lives will take. But Mara can see every color. It's a rare talent that has potentially dangerous consequences. She is fearful of what her gift means and attempts to hide it from others, but she isn't truly frightened until she learns just how powerful, and deadly, she really is.

The concept of the masks was unique and their purpose, the history behind them, and the secrets they held were all interesting additions to the story. I was also intrigued by the unMasked and I'm curious to learn how their army will attempt to achieve their goals and the part that Mara will play in their future plans.

Masks was an engaging read that fans of young adult fantasy will enjoy. I'm glad to have a new author to follow and I look forward to seeing where Mara's journey will take her next.


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