I had the privilege of receiving an ARC of Linsey Miller’s debut novel, a YA fantasy adventure, “Mask of Shadows.” The book has been getting a lot of buzz, especially as we ramp up to its release in F I V E DAYS!

“Mask of Shadows” follows a fairly standard YA format — a sassy and surprisingly skilled young person competes for glory and revenge in a nation locked in political turmoil and class struggle — but, in an epic victory for representation, features a gender fluid protagonist. Sal is well-rounded and interesting; they are adamant about the proper pronoun usage, some days he/him and others she/her, and demand respect from those around them.

Though it was overall a win, there were times I felt like the author used Sal’s gender as a bit of a ploy, to make the story “different,” because it was somewhat heavy handed. I understand that it is not reflective of Miller’s own experiences, and I also have no personal experience and therefore cannot judge definitively, but I felt like Sal’s gender was addressed too often and too explicitly for first-person narration.

They establish their identity, and the fact that they won’t take anyone else’s pronoun errors lightly, but also that they are comfortable with who they are and don’t care what others think. Yet pronoun usage comes up again and again in Sal’s thoughts, as if to remind the reader about their gender, a point that is essential to the character, of course, but not necessarily the plot.

But, again, representation, representation, representation. I’m proud of Miller for choosing to take this path with her debut, and of my little YA community for supporting the book. We need more like it.

The lowest point of “Mask of Shadows” for me, was the romance. For most of the story, the development between Sal and their love interest just seemed like an unnecessary side plot, like Miller simply threw it in to fulfill the checklist of YA cliches. I understand the pull for that, and especially the need for representation, but the relationship didn’t develop either of the characters involved. And, as a reader, every step of the relationship was easily predictable from the moment the two characters met.

Not all of the story was cliche as I’m making it sound; I had my fair share of gasps and squeals. The action is fast paced and incredibly entertaining, and the politics are surprisingly well thought out, though slightly confusing. I really enjoyed the interactions between the characters, especially the various masks, they’re a wonderfully human take of the classic team of badasses. The plot is also well-paced, not too absorbed in one element over the other, and not wholly consisting of the competition that kicks off the plot.

“Mask of Shadows” is a debut with incredible potential, and I’m confident that it will firmly secure Linsey Miller along the many YA greats working right now. I highly recommend the book to fans of Victoria Aveyard, Marissa Meyer, Kiersten White, and the like.

Be sure to pre-order “Mask of Shadows” from Amazon, so your copy will be in your hands August 29th!

XX. Shelby Jo

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