Saturday, 27 December 2014

City of Masks by Ashley Capes

City of Masks by Ashley Capes is the first in an epic fantasy series and the author's debut novel. Before I get to the review part, I'd like to draw your attention to the cover. I did not notice the city in the eye and nose holes until just now. How cool does that look? It's also more pertinent to the story since the skull (/mask) by itself struck me as horror or dark fantasy, which is not what the book is, in my opinion.
Waking in Anaskar Prison, covered in blood and accused of murder, nobody will listen to Notch’s claims of innocence until he meets the future Protector of the Monarchy, Sofia Falco.

But Sofia has her own burdens. The first female Protector in a hundred years, her House is under threat from enemies within, the prince has made it clear he does not want her services and worst of all, she cannot communicate with her father’s sentient mask of bone, the centuries-old Argeon. Without the bone mask she cannot help anyone — not herself, and certainly not a mercenary with no powerful House to protect him.

Meanwhile, far across the western desert, Ain, a young Pathfinder, is thrust into the role of Seeker. Before winter storms close the way, he must leave his home on a quest to locate the Sea Shrine and take revenge on the people who drove his ancestors from Anaskar, the city ruled by the prince Sofia and Notch are sworn to protect, whether he wants their help or not.
I tend to approach fantasy books by new authors (and new to me authors) with some degree of trepidation. I'm very particular about what kind of fantasy I enjoy and there are a lot of ways in which a fantasy book can disappoint me. Luckily, I need not have worried when it came to City of Masks. It's an entertaining read which kept me interested and turning pages. I would go so far as to say that it's the best début fantasy I read this year.

There are two and a half storylines running through City of Masks. There are the events in the titular city including a youngish noblewoman on the run after a coup and a group of (ex-) mercenaries (sort of). Sofia, the noblewoman, was a strong character who kept fighting back as much as she could and didn't make any stupid mistakes (a pet peeve of mine). Notch and Flir, two of the mercenary types were enjoyable to read about. Flir particularly struck me as a good character. I suspect we're going to learn more about her in future books, but for now an almost inhumanly strong female character was sufficiently interesting to really add something to the group dynamic of the mercenaries. For example, she was always the one to do the heavy lifting etc. There are other elements of city life which are a bit unusual, like monsters appearing in the sewers, and which are only partially addressed in this first book. Again, I think this is something which will be explored further in sequels which I look forward to reading.

The other, almost entirely separate, storyline is about the desert people and, specifically, Ain a "Pathfinder" who can sense paths where other people have been before (a useful skill in the desert with shifting sands). He is sent on a mission to find a sacred temple outside of the desert. His story is quite separate from the other characters' until the very end when they converge amusingly and a bit unusually. Quite where his story is going in future books I'm not sure, but I look forward to finding out.

City of Masks was an entertaining read that I would recommend to all fantasy readers. Unfortunately it's only available in paper and Kindle formats from Amazon at the moment (the author sent me a special version for review), but if that doesn't present a problem to you, I would definitely recommend giving it a go. Hopefully this will change soon and, in any case, I look forward to reading the second book when it becomes available.

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2014, Snapping Turtle Books
Series: The Bone Mask Trilogy book 1
Format read: ebook
Source: Courtesy of the author
Disclaimer: The author is a friend, but I have, as always, endeavoured to write an unbiased review

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