What impressed me about Masques was not the intricacy of the plot or the superb writing. Neither of those is particularly outstanding. But from the introduction on, a reader can tell that this was a labor of love for Patricia Briggs and that in itself makes the book endearing. Masques was Briggs’s first book. It was published in 1993 and the first printing was obviously the work of a new author stumbling to figure out the frustrating writing process. Briggs states in her introduction to the 2010 reprinting of Maques that, “I knew nothing about writing a book when I started it. So I took those things I did know and suck with them … The important thing to me was that I’d actually finished the book. It shocked and amazed me when the book actually sold.” Patricia Briggs has written so many excellent books that it is hard to fault the publishing system for their confidence in her career after her first attempt slipped through with less than impressive sales. Masques opened doors for her as an author, and it is certainly an entertaining read.
Aralorn is a mercenary turned spy. With her refined fighting skills and a magical ability to shapeshift into various animals, she is the best at what she does. On a particularly hairy mission, Aralorn discovers that the most powerful and respected magician in Sianim is an evil human being who lusts over achieving complete power and adoration. He will do anything to obtain his purposes – including sacrificing children to gain more magical ability. Aralorn and her extremely powerful and mysterious cohort, Wolf, must figure out a way to stop him before he kills the king and has the country completely in the palm of his hand.
But even though it is obvious that Briggs re-vamped Masques, it is still fraught with jarring flaws that pull the reader from his or her engrossment in the plot. Perhaps the biggest problem with this book is that it tries to be more than it is. Without enough world-building explanations, the book includes a vast array of fantasy elements – zombie-like creatures, dragons, ghosts, as well as various castes of magic and magic holders. While I am not against creating world big enough to hold all of these distinct fantastical elements, it has to be done with enough care to build a background around all of them – and this book simply doesn’t. Many of the biggest and most important explanations are said in passing. A distracted reader could miss them entirely. For instance, readers know that Aralorn, has the power of green magic. But we don’t find out what that really means until about halfway through the book. Is there blue or yellow or red magic? No. Green magic refers to magic taken from the world around the user. Human magic is magic that comes from the magician himself. It seems awkward that even Aralorn doesn’t realize this until halfway through when we see magic being utilized by her as well the other main characters right from the beginning.
Similarly, I never really figured out what a Uriah was (I think it’s like a zombie?) and the dragon part of the plot just seems to come out of nowhere (and a dragon is a big thing to be coming out of nowhere!) Here Briggs might face a conundrum were she to try to further work out these flaws. This book would require about 100 more pages of world building effort were she to really hone in on the culture of Sianim, where this story takes place. But part of the entertaining element of the book is the fast pace and constant moving from one successful tense moment to the next. The difficulty would arise in attempting to build the one without losing the other.
Since reading, I have found out that Masques and its recently published sequel Wolfsbane are not the only two books set in the world of Sianim. Two other books, Steal the Dragon and When Demons Walk also take place in this same world. Judging just by the titles alone, it seems that having knowledge of these other two books might clarify my questions concerning the appearance of dragons and dead-like creatures.
To be clear, I do not discommend this book. It was engaging enough that the one night when I realized that I had accidentally left the book at the office I was aptly disappointed that I could not open it up and continue my reading. The characters are well constructed. I adored the bond between Aralorn and her co-protagonist Wolf. He is the typical brooding hero with a dark past and she is my favorite kind of independent butt-kicking female. I also liked that she was described as not being the most beautiful woman in the world and he had the hots for her anyway.
Reviewed by Jackie Krah