My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Masques is Patricia Briggs first writing endeavor and she admits it has flaws. I have read a slightly cleaned up version that got rereleased after the success of her shape shifting coyote woman series. A lot of fans of that series reviewed this was screeching ‘don’t judge her by this book,’ and I’m thinking wow, this book isn’t that bad. It’s your standard swords and sorcery style fantasy book. It’s neither great nor horrible. It does have some very rough patches here and there and maybe it has a bit too much romance for the standard fantasy reader (and not enough romance for the romance reader who likes a touch of fantasy). Overall I enjoyed it well enough.
Aralorn is a half-breed spy and mercenary. She is part human and part shape shifter (if there’s a race name for them I missed it). She can use a little human magic (most humans can in this world) and a little of the ‘green’ magic of the shifters. Her predominate forms are a mouse and a goose. The story opens when she rescues a wolf trapped in a pitfall with an injured leg. The wolf is sentient and then the story cuts to a few years down the road. Aralorn is a captive in the ae’magi’s castle. This man is sort of the leader of the mages by proxy of being the best of them. What the ae’Magi doesn’t know is that Aralorn let herself be captured to spy on him.
Once she returns home, learning that not only is the ae’Magi exquisitely cruel, he might have killed Prince Myr’s parents to secure his own power over Reth. However, when she gets home she learns that the ae’Magi has begun his next power grab and everyone has been magically influenced to love him and she is one of the few immune ones.
She finds others just like her holed up in the caves in the Northland, an area where magic works poorly. Now-King Myr is there, accused of murdering his followers and accompanying him is Wolf. Aralorn throws in with her old friend and the displaced king as they try to find out a way to end the ae’Magi cruel reign and to restore order to the world.
As they work on this, Aralorn, a consummate storyteller, learns more of the history and the stories of their world, learns just who and what Wolf is and they slowly fall in love. It is a source of confusion and distress for the misanthropic Wolf but none of them may live long enough to deal with these newfound emotions.
As I said, overall I liked it. Aralorn is a likeable character, as is Myr. Heck we hardly ever see female leads in a fantasy story so that was nice. Yes, she naturally gets captured for real at one point but at least she went down fighting as opposed to just standing there waiting for it. Wolf is interesting, if a bit harder to like.
Problems, yes there were a few. Sometimes the writing is a bit choppy and occasionally confusing. For instance, I had no idea Wolf had a human form and when it happened that Aralorn encounters him in that form several chapters in, it’s like huh? He’s human…oh he’s an advanced shape shifter. Okay, a little warning might have been nice but in retrospect I should have known. There were a couple places like that where I had to go back and reread to see if I missed something. The ending is rushed. It’s a bit obvious Briggs isn’t comfortable (at least at this early point in her career) writing fight scenes. They weren’t all they could be especially the final battle. Still, if you like fantasy, you’ll probably like this.
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