Once upon a time, Sallot Leon had a country, people and a family until a mass genocide took place in Nacea, all because the country happened to be caught in the middle of warring countries. Sal is now a thief, who finds out about a competition to become one of the Queen's deadly assassins. In doing so, Sal may just be able to find out what exactly was behind the obliteration of their country. When you have nothing left to lose and your deadly skills are being honed, who can you trust, what can you uncover and how do you stop yourself from becoming the very monster you hate?
I needed to read a book with a genderfluid main character for one of the challenges in the AusYa Bloggers Challenge 2018. I had never read a book with a genderfluid character before and in doing my research, I came across this YA fantasy. A street thief who is on a mission to seek revenge on their family? A deadly assassin competition? Yes, please and thank you.
Sal is one of those characters that tries to talk tough but is still hurting from being the sole survivor of Nacea. With Sal is the language and culture of their people and the terrible knowledge of these horrifying dark magical spectres of sorts that Sal witnessed tear apart their people.
The Queen has assassins named after the rings she wears on her left hand, hence the nickname 'The Queen's Left Hand' - Ruby, Emerald, Opal and Amethyst. Each of these assassins dresses in the colour of their stone and wear masks, never revealing who they really are to anyone. Unfortunately, the last Opal didn't make it so a tournament takes place to determine who will be the next assassin to take the Opal Mask. This tournament is similar to the Hunger Games in which the contestants are given numbers instead of names and you know, the brutal killing that is taking place. There are quite a number of rules and training that takes place, courtesy of the Left Hand but training is not off limits as Sal soon discovers. Do you train to hone your skills, making yourself vulnerable to others? In doing so, you tire yourself out and don't have time to work on a plan to take out the other assassins. Every action in the tournament has consequences, causes and effects and I enjoyed reading through Sal's thought processes, trying to piece together who was responsible for what, what Sal was going to do next and what the Left Hand would or would not tolerate as a part of the tournament and what constitutes as following the rules in a dirty game of murder.
Sal needs to make it through the rounds, not only so Sal can stay alive, but so that they can find out clues on the suspects responsible for the murder of their people so Sal can take their revenge. Sal is also plagued with terrible visions of the magical shadows that tore their people apart and is falling in love with the noblewoman who Sal once robbed. Everything is complicated and the stakes are high.
I loved reading how resourceful Sal was and the different things they would do to survive, even just to make it through the night alive. I liked finding out information on the Left Hand and how they interacted with each other and contestants throughout the tournament. As a reader, you want to like them but you can never quite trust them. I enjoyed seeing Sal treat their servant with respect and be vulnerable to the noblewoman teaching Sal to read and write. Sal talks tough but deep down is quite caring. Sal has been shaped by their environment and likes to give people the benefit of doubt before disposing of their life and seeing Sal's different values conflict and how they figured out clues that were hidden to the readers until the last minute was one of my favourite parts to read.
I read Mask of Shadows during the 24in48 readathon and it was such as a fun book to read in a readathon. I was intrigued enough by the story and loved the characters enough to want to keep reading to find out what happened next.
Have you read Mask of Shadows? Or do you have any other recommendations with a genderfluid main character? I would love to know your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below.