Book Reviews, Part 2: The Dark Side…

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I thought this story was a little contrived, though I liked the concept a lot. It’s pitched as “Jane Austen meets the X-men,” which should be right up my alley, but I was underwhelmed.

First of all, I listened to the audiobook, where the narrator had a tough time distinguishing between thoughts, narration, and the spoken voice of the main character. It’s a book that has a strong character voice, as it should be with first person, but I was sometimes very confused as to what was said out loud and what was meant as a commentary on what was happening. So. Perhaps I would have liked it better had I read it instead of having it read to me.

But then we get to the pitch. “Jane Austen”. Well, about 80 years too late. And the authors did very little research into their time period. For example, Evelyn, the main character, leaps in and out of her dresses with little to no assistance (once in a hospital room!). No mention is made of the corsetry of the period, which would have done something to hamper her movements.

I think the “Jane Austen” bit was because we were supposed to identify the hero as a “Mr. Darcy” type. Mr. Darcy is an arrogant prick for 75% of Pride and Prejudice. He learns a hard lesson and turns his behavior around. Your hero is not a “Mr. Darcy” simply by standing around silent and brooding and having a mysterious backstory.

Now to the “X-men” side of things. This was actually very interesting. I loved the different powers and dynamics with they created within the story line. However, with every single character having a power (with one or maybe two exceptions), the surprise Evelyn kept feeling was beyond repetitious.

Now onto the plot line itself. Unfortunately, here, too, it fell flat. The villain, while dastardly, has a motive that is so overused that I was prepared to be surprised by a late book reveal. Alas, no. It looked like the authors were trying to set up a love triangle, but I was so underwhelmed by both candidates that I could care less which one actually ends up with the girl. It, of course, is not resolved in this book. I saw the power reveal at the end coming from about the middle of the first part of the book. The only reason that the characters themselves did not realize it themselves was, apparently, that they just didn’t think about it. I really don’t like plot twists brought on because the characters don’t think.

There are some good things about this book. I did like the main character’s voice, and her commentary on the world, though it seemed a little overly privileged at times. The banter between Evelyn and Mr. Kent was fun, especially when he was trying to comfort her on the kidnapping of her sister. However, banter and voice are not enough to carry a book, and especially not a series. I will not be reading the next book.

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


So, this one starts off intriguing. A murder mystery with an unreliable narrator and a nonlinear story line. A queer couple in positions of power and world building that combines traditional fantasy tropes with sci fi elements. It’s all ingredients that make for a very good story line for me.

And, with a few glaring exceptions, the book was good. I really really enjoyed the non-linear story line, especial when the specifics were revealed. It made for a twist that I really wasn’t expecting, turning the book from a kind of ho hum read to a book that was much more interesting. It is rare that I am completely surprised by a plot twist, and this book had a couple of them.

I also really enjoyed the world-building. Well, it was a world that seemed designed to be overthrown or changed by the end, but not in the typical “evil meglomaniac” or “Grand Cavern between the classes” type way. Queenly Law was given a good reason for it’s existence and its restrictions, though it seemed to be a system designed to isolate the Queens to the point of uselessness. I also liked that is bucked the trope a bit by NOT having its main character determined to overthrow everything.

And then we get to the other side.

Remember that queer couple in power? It’s against the law. (Weird restrictive Queenly Law, but still, against the law.) The lesbian couple is a forbidden love, and then they die. Where have I heard that before? Oh, yes, literally everywhere. I am so tired of tragic queer love. Let people be happy for once!

Also, four quadrants in the country, all focused on entirely different things? Seems weird and unsustainable, but I’ll go with it for the sake of a good story with good reasoning. One quadrant dedicated to eugenics and provided with “death dates” when their government kills them, that change if you don’t do your job properly or you lose your job? Ooo-kaaay, I’ve seen it in sci fi before, gives you something to rebel against. Not the case here. Well, the main character Karalie is horrified, and Varin comes to see that his own death date is unfair, but there is only a gentle hint at the end that the system will change. Varin is given hope that he will be ok, because he will be cured, not because he will learn to live with his new life.

I would have really liked this book, and would have read it again and again, except for those two major things. I might read more from the author, but I will read the reviews first.


View all my reviews

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