The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick is the first book in the Rook and Rose trilogy. The story takes place in the city of Nadezra. Nadezra is a city filled with magic, mystery, corruption, treachery, and power hungry nobles. The main character is Ren an orphan whose path in life has taken her towards being a formidable pick pocket and con artist. However, certain events lead her and her sister Tess to run away from the gang and break all ties with them.
This doesn’t stop Ren from putting a stop to her life of crime as she plans to pull off the biggest con of her career. Ren has devised a plan to trick her way into the Noble house of the Traementis family. She poses as Renata Viraudax of Setris, the daughter of Letilila. Letilila is the sister of the current head of the Traementis family, Donaia. Along the way, Ren makes formidable allies in the form of brother and sister Leato and Guina Traementis. There’s also Vargo a local kingpin and crime lord and also the mysterious rebel/Zorro figure known as The Rook.
What follows is essentially an extremely complex plot of deceit and treachery as Ren attempts to work her way into the Traementis families good books and gain access to their fortune. But it’s not all plain sailing as Ren finds herself slap in the middle of political plays, investigation from a local police officer, and an old enemy.
Firstly I’m going to go straight in and talk about the world building because that for me was one of many aspects that grabbed me. The city of Nadezra reminded me so much of games such as Dishonoured which on the outside appears to be a beautiful city full of wonder. But on the inside tries to hide the corruption running through its streets and the decline of the city. There is a lot of seedy transactions going around throughout the city with nobles attempting to get one up on another.
Additionally, you have people like the Stadnem Anduske who are a rebellious group trying to cause an uprising. They want things to go back to how they were before the Liganti conquered Vrasnians and it’s clans. The clans feel they aren’t treated as fairly leading to lots of anger and bitterness. This isn’t surprising because the Liganti nobles treat Vrasnians like shit and look down on them. The Liganti obviously want change to occur and more of a say in what goes on. This is something that inevitably implodes towards the end.
I also liked the concept of the Charterhouse having a lot of control in the city . In the simplest terms, the Charterhouse is kinda like the stock market. Each noble has a certain percentage steak within the Charterhouse known as “charters” this gives them the power to make certain decisions/methods of profits. This for me was interesting because it introduces much of the political elements in the story. The more charters you have the more power and influence you and your family have over the Charterhouse. Inevitably we see corrupt nobles in their attempt to sneak their way to the top.
Another aspect I thought was cool was the magic system which was very refreshing as it focused on horoscopes and tarot cards. It felt very original and I don’t think I’ve ever come across any fantasy novels with magic systems such as the one in this.
Now to the characters, I felt almost all of the characters were phenomenal in their own way. We meet so many intriguing and interesting characters who all play a key role to the story.
Although Ren is the central character, we also see the story unfold from the POV of Grey Sarrado and DeRossi Vargo. Grey Serrado, born and bred citizian within Vraszenia has had go go above and beyond to the position he is in today. Somehow he has managed to rise up and become the Captain of the city’s guard, even if it means his fellow people think he’s a snake for working for the wrong side. Grey is also close to the Traementis family through Leato who is his best friend. This friendship leads to Leato’s mother asking Grey to dig into Renata and find out whether she really is who she says she is.
We also have the criminal mastermind DeRossi Vargo, a man no one wants to get on the wrong side of due his ruthless ways. Vargo is also the main supplier of “Ash” which is a drug. Vargo is a very driven individual and realises that getting involved in more legitimate paths will allow him to get further in the pecking order. He uses all of his resources as a criminal and his underground networks to stay a step ahead of his enemies. The coolest thing about Vargo was the voice in his head called Alsius who is able to detect danger and gives Vargo magical abilities. I found Vargo interesting as my view of him changed from thinking he’s a prick to admiring his abilities. I really hope we learn more about him in the sequel.
Saving the best for last we have the Ren who for me was absolutely phenomenal. I found her backstory riveting as we slowly gain more information about her as the story goes on. We learn she is very much street smart having grown up as a thief in Nadezra. Her old boss Ondrakja was was a cruel and ruthless human being who used fear and violence to keep a hold of Ren, Tess, and their friend Sedge. It was also interesting seeing how she is able to stay on her toes and lie her way out of the tightest angles. What made me love her more was her unexpected meetings with The Rook. I can’t say anymore without spoiling so I’ll stop here 🤐.
Finally, in terms of the writing and story, it was very imaginative and so beautiful picturing Nadezra in your mind. There’s this really amazing dream sequence that occurs which for me was just woooow. It absolutely blew me away to smithereens. Also, I loved the political elements as it made things proper spicy.
However, i did feel to certain extent that things slowed down in part 3 of the book. I did struggle a bit to push through this part for some reason. But in part 4 things picked up and ended with a bang. The final few chapters were super intense and that end sets up the next book really well. The reveal was one of the best reveals I’ve come across in soooo long. I also sometimes got a bit confused as to who was who. When I finished the book I realised there was a list of the names of the characters in the book. So yeah my bad 🤣
Overall, a fantastic beginning to The Rook and the Rose trilogy. This book was enjoyable and highly entertaining. The world building has so much depth and I can’t wait to explore more of it! If you want to read a novel inspired by the Vencian time period then this is a must read for 2021.
Thank you so much to Angela and Orbit for sending me this 😊