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Sunday, May 13, 2018

GIVEAWAY + Review: Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis @stephanieburgis

Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis
Pages: 300
Publisher: Pyr
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Source: Copy provided for review
The year is 1779, and Carlo Morelli, the most renowned castrato singer in Europe, has been invited as an honored guest to Eszterháza Palace. With Carlo in Prince Nikolaus Esterházy's carriage, ride a Prussian spy and one of the most notorious alchemists in the Habsburg Empire. Already at Eszterháza is Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper sister of Prince Nikolaus's mistress. Charlotte has retreated to the countryside to mourn her husband's death. Now, she must overcome the ingrained rules of her society in order to uncover the dangerous secrets lurking within the palace's golden walls. Music, magic, and blackmail mingle in a plot to assassinate the Habsburg Emperor and Empress--a plot that can only be stopped if Carlo and Charlotte can see through the masks worn by everyone they meet.

I am quite possibly the world's largest fan of The Phantom of the Opera, so when I received Masks and Shadows a couple years ago from PYR for review, I was ecstatic. A novel set in a true historical setting, revolving around an opera singer and a Baroness who must shuck the constraints of "proper" society off to be happy–oh, and there's a darker undertone of evil alchemists who are threatening the safety of everyone in the palace. What's not to love?

Now that I've finished reading Masks and Shadows, I admit that I'm not quite as satisfied as I'd hoped I would be. The idea for this novel never came together in the way it could have. I'll break down my thoughts my section:

The Plot
Masks and Shadows really had so much potential to be a seat-gripping historical fantasy. Instead, it felt pulled in too many directions to find its rhythm. The beginning is slow going, with lots of the "historical" scenes of court life and meaningless chatter with royals, etc... And while the tone of intrigue is set early in the novel with vague snippets of a mysterious "Brotherhood" being shown through several points of view, I never felt the urgency in the plot that should have accompanied the revelation of a secret Brotherhood looking to unseat the monarchy.

Perhaps the reason for that lack of urgency was the constant POV change. We get to see into the minds of multiple characters in the novel: the main heroine Charlotte, the main hero Carlo, Charlotte's maid-turned-actress Anna, an actor named Franz, a soldier named Friedrich, a spy, etc... After several switches within the same chapter, the narrative loses the sense of tight coherency, and becomes the reader working to keep the strings of story tethered together.

The Characters
I really would've loved more romance. Also as a result of the constant POV change, I felt the two MCs didn't receive the in depth treatment they could have. I really did like their romance, and an exploration of those feelings together was what I was missing to really immerse myself into it.

In terms of the villains, I love the idea of an evil alchemist society that wants to usurp the government, but it felt very small scale. The villainy honestly left me a little disappointed.

I feel as though I've highlighted too many of the things that didn't work for me, and not enough of the things that did. So, here goes the things I really enjoyed:

The Writing
Burgis' writing style was crisp and perfectly descriptive, and to her absolute credit she was able to differentiate the many POVs she created so that the voices did not blend into one. The prose were fluid and matched the time period well, helping the world-building feel incredibly real and vivid.

Charlotte and Carlo
My two favs of the novel, which is good because they're the mains! Charlotte was a character I was cheering on from the start. She's a widow, her late husband having been decades older than her and sickly for their entire marriage. As a young woman, she never really got to enjoy herself which I sympathized with. After meeting Carlo, she begins to imagine what it would be like if she ignored the expectations placed on her by her family and by society, and did things that made her genuinely happy. Carlo is a societal outcast in that he's seen as a "freak", since he's a castrato–but he's the most famous singer in Europe, so he still gets to rub elbows with royalty and the aristocracy, in a precarious understanding that he's not on their level, but his artistry is loved. He feels disillusioned with that charade, and wants to settle down in life. I really loved their slow burning romance.

Overall, Masks and Shadows was a good read, and certainly helped me pass the time on the subway rides to work every morning. If I had to give it a star rating, I'd rate it 3 out of 5. If this is a genre you're very interested in, I do recommend you give it a shot!

You can purchase Masks and Shadows on Amazon, $9.99 for the Kindle version, and $17 for the paperback.

About the Author
Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Wales with her husband and two sons, surrounded by mountains, castles and coffee shops. She is the author of four MG fantasy adventures, including The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (Bloomsbury 2017) and the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy (published in the UK as The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson). She has also published two historical fantasy novels for adults, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets (Pyr Books 2016) and nearly forty short stories for adults and teens in various magazines and anthologies. Her first book, A Most Improper Magick (a.k.a. Kat, Incorrigible in the US), won the 2011 Waverton Good Read Children’s Award for the Best Début Children’s Novel by a British Author.
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As part of my bookshelf clean out, I'm passing along my paperback copy of Masks and Shadows to a lucky reader in the US! 
Must be 18 or older. 
US only. 

This review copy was provided for free in exchange for an honest review. All views expressed above are solely my own.


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