2021’s1 The Mask of Mirrors is the first volume in M. A. Carrick’s2 Rook & Rose secondary-universe fantasy trilogy.
Sisters of circumstance Ren and Tess have not set foot in Nadežra since that day, years before, when Ren poisoned sadistic gang-leader Ondrakja. Now, however, they see a prize too precious to resist, one that will require the pair to return to the city of their childhood.
Step one: Ren must inveigle her way into the confidence of paranoid House Traementis.
Ren presents herself to the Traementis household as Letilia Traementis’ daughter. Letilia spurned her family years ago; the family returned the favour, striking Letilia from the family rolls. The estrangement is crucial to the con, as there is no way for the family to doublecheck Ren’s story with Letilia.
Ren is not related to Letilia. Her knowledge of the family comes from the five years Ren spent as Letilia’s maid. Ren hopes to use what she knows of the family to find her way into it, thus winning the wealth and security she has never known.
Her choice of target has been forced on Ren by circumstance. Were she able to choose her victims, Traementis wouldn’t be her first choice. The family seems to be under a curse, suffering setback after setback. The family is weak enough that they may not be able to resist rival Mettore Indestor’s scheme to annihilate them.
Ren’s first step must be save House Traementis before she bilks it. That means mastering the city’s cut-throat politics and destroying Mettore Indestor before he destroys Traementis. A nigh impossible task.
I couldn’t fit Sedge (Ren and Tess’ found-brother, who turns out to be only mostly dead3) into my synopsis. Nor could I touch upon the Rook, a dashing masked man of action (Batman with a jigger of Tuxedo Mask). He could also be described as the Scarlet Pimpernel’s antithesis, determined to bring the aristocrats to justice rather than saving them from it.
Some of the plot twists can be seen coming but that may be due to the fact that there were a limited number of options open to Ren and that many of them were unsatisfactory. Having lied her way into the Traementis household, can she retain her status as sympathetic ethically gray protagonist if she allows a bigger predator to eat the house she hoped to merely parasitize? Probably not.
This was a perfectly competent novel, although perhaps a bit overlong for the plot. (It could be that my tolerance for long books has been tested by this last interminable year – or I that have been spoiled by all the fine novellas recently published). Others may enjoy this found-family caper novel more than I did.
1: The copyright in the book says 2020 but every other source says this was released January 2021.
2: M. A. Carrick is the pen name of co-authors Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms.
3: Only mostly dead is something of a running theme in the book. The lesson here is always take the time to decapitate your foe, just to be sure. About the only person not surprised to find an old foe still alive is the Rook, because the Rook has a Code vs Killing. Presumably he spent the fifteen to twenty points on sword-play.