Review: Masks by E.C. Blake

November 4, 2013 4 stars, Book Review 24 ★★★★

Masks E.C. Blake

Masks, the first novel in a mesmerizing new fantasy series, draws readers into a world in which cataclysmic events have left the Autarchy of Aygrima—the one land blessed with magical resources—cut off from its former trading partners across the waters, not knowing if any of those distant peoples still live. Yet under the rule of the Autarch, Aygrima survives. And thanks to the creation of the Masks and the vigilance of the Autarch’s Watchers, no one can threaten the security of the empire.

In Aygrima, magic is a Gift possessed from birth by a very small percentage of the population, with the Autarch himself the most powerful magic worker of all. Only the long-vanquished Lady of Pain and Fire had been able to challenge his rule.

At the age of fifteen, citizens are recognized as adults and must don the spell-infused Masks—which denote both status and profession—whenever they are in public. To maintain the secure rule of the kingdom, the Masks are magically crafted to reveal any treasonous thoughts or actions. And once such betrayals are exposed, the Watchers are there to enforce the law.

Mara Holdfast, daughter of the Autarch’s Master Maskmaker, is fast approaching her fifteenth birthday and her all-important Masking ceremony. Her father himself has been working behind closed doors to create Mara’s Mask. Once the ceremony is done, she will take her place as an adult, and Gifted with the same magical abilities as her father, she will also claim her rightful place as his apprentice.

But on the day of her Masking something goes horribly wrong…

​​​​​​Tension building that will curl your toes and amazing world building!​

In Masks the reader will discover a unique magic system where the gifted that are able to work with magic are few and yet each person’s life seems to be ruled by it. This is because the ruler of this country is a of course someone very strong in the use of magic and by his decree all citizens at the age of 15 must don a mask that will essentially reveal any treasonous thoughts that they have.

What makes the magic system unique compared to others I have read is that magic must be gathered before it is used. So one of the gifted couldn’t just cast a spell or conjure something – they literally must have the physical magical element/resource before they are able to begin their work. That makes magic a physical resource, because even if you are one of the gifted what good would your gift be if you didn’t have the magic to put your gift to use?  I haven’t seen magic treated in this way before and admit I really found it fascinating.

The main character Mara is the young daughter of the master mask maker and has wanted nothing more her whole life than to follow in her father’s footsteps. But on her 15th birthday, the day of her masking, her mask rejects her and she is cast out of the city and sent off to what is meant to be a lifetime of slavery.

Her journey is a long and enlightening one. Fraught with peril at every turn, Mara must learn what it really means to become an adult and hardships all people face under the weight of the masks – whether they wear one or not. I can tell there are some trying times ahead for Mara in the next book and likely an even stronger presence from the main villain the Autarch of Aygrima. This guy is one evil dictator, though we really didn’t see him much in Masks I think that will change in the upcoming books. Instead there were other villains to contend with in this first volume.

My only concern with the story is that the main character Mara may have fallen into the “safe zone.” This is in no way a criticism of this book, merely an observation and a thought that kept tickling my brain. What I mean by this is sometimes I see a trend in the books I read where an author will write in some very strong themes (I’m referring to traumatizing events) – and yet these things do not directly happen to the main character. There are close calls, near misses, the almost-but-didn’t-quite-happen scenes, you know what I mean. What I then see instead is that the awful things happen to a side character, one that I assume most readers are not as, or at all, attached to. Not that I want bad things to happen to anyone but I think that it loses a smidge or realism when a character doesn’t experience some of these things. It didn’t lessen the amazing story at all, it was just something that I noted while reading, only because I had encountered it in several other books recently as well.

I applaud the author for creating such a world and character that I am already aching to learn more about. Those that love reading about worlds other than our own and rich magical systems will surely want to give Masks a read.  I am most certainly looking forward to reading more.

Be sure to read E.C. Blake’s guest post with us on Writing Masks


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• A copy was provided by the publisher for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own. Please note that this post also contains affiliate links. To view our full Blog Policy, click here.

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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24 Responses to “Review: Masks by E.C. Blake”

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      It did have a YA feel in the beginning but I definitely think as the book progressed it left YA behind. It had some very adult themes. What I wonder is it meets all those “YA standards” but because of some of the content it wouldn’t be shelved in the YA section, aside from it being marketed by an adult imprint. If you read it I’d love to have a discussion on the latter content. Especially if you’d think most parents would want their teenager to read a book that has the harshest realities of life. I think you would like this one.

  1. kimbacaffeinate

    I know exactly what you mean about the safe zone. The magic almost feels like witchcraft where you need eye of newt, snails trails and an eyelash from a fair maiden to make the spell work, although I know its not. I received this in the mail and was curious about it. It sounds interesting, and I am hoping to try it in the new year. Wonderful review
    kimbacaffeinate recently posted…Autumn in the Vineyard by Marina AdairMy Profile

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Yes, I get what you are saying about the magical ingredients. I guess I didn’t even think about the whole spell ingredients thing – but yes – its like that except there is just one ingredient – the magic itself. I will look forward to hearing what you think about it!!

  2. Silvia

    This sounds so great! I skipped the spoiler part because I’m planning on reading it but I’ll come back to it once I’m done.

  3. Pamela D

    The premise to Masks sounds really neat. I hear you about protagonists being in the “safe zone.” I get frustrated when I see the main character seem to be able to glide through awful situations and everyone else pays the price. At the same time, I get frustrated when authors will decide to make the protagonist a strong female, and apparently she has had to experience every horrible situation ever. *shrugs* I guess it is a delicate balance to write a real character. 🙂
    Pamela D recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Sequels I Can’t Wait To Get My Hands OnMy Profile

    • Pabkins

      She definitely experienced some really awful stuff, don’t get me wrong, there was just one particular horror she didn’t suffer. I don’t mean my comment to be a criticism of this book but just something I’m noticing a lot in all of the books I’ve been reading.
      Pabkins recently posted…Review: Starhawk by Jack McDevittMy Profile

  4. Megan @ The Book Babe's Reads

    Not gonna lie, that cover slightly freaks me out. LOL. It does sound really fascinating, though. I love the idea that magic has to be ‘gathered’ in order to be used! I’ve never seen that done before. I read your slight spoiler… and I agree. It’s sometimes ridiculous when they do that, and yes it does take away some of the realism. Awesome review, girly!
    Megan @ The Book Babe’s Reads recently posted…Top Ten Sequels I Can’t Wait to Get My Hands OnMy Profile

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Haha – the mask freaks you out a bit? Imagine if everyone you saw in public were wearing a different kind of mask! I thought it was a really neat magic system. As for my slight spoiler I didn’t mean it as a criticism just something I have been noticing in a few of the books I’ve read lately. Especially when it comes to things done to women you know?

      • Megan @ The Book Babe's Reads

        It stands to reason that I’d be terrified! 😛 Yes, I definitely know. Every main character is spared a lot of pain – just because. I can say that there have been a couple of books that broke that mode recently! 😉

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      I loved Mara too! Really you think she has a weak stomach? I guess I didn’t notice her bouts of getting sick so much…but now that you mention it haha. That’s kind of funny!

  5. Jeanne

    Wow!! The cover of this book is really captivating. Sounds like a exciting first read in a series. Thanks for the review.

  6. Jaime Lester

    I saw this one at the library and the cover immediately sucked me in. And then the premise continued the sucking me in. It sounds like a great, unique story. I love the idea behind the magic and how it is used. The masks, the rejection…. it all sounds so fantastical and I love that. I will definitely have to read this one. Next time I hit the library, it is coming home with me.

  1. My Shelf Confessions lauds “amazing world-building” » E.C. Blake

    […] “Tension building that will curl your toes and amazing world building!…I applaud the author for creating such a world and character that I am already aching to learn more about. Those that love reading about worlds other than our own and rich magical systems will surely want to give Masks a read.  I am most certainly looking forward to reading more.” – Tabitha the Pabkins, My Shelf Confessions […]