City of Masks by Ashley Capes
“Waking in Anaskar Prison, covered in blood and accused of murder, nobody will listen to Notch’s claims of innocence until he meets the future Protector of the Monarchy, Sofia Falco.
But Sofia has her own burdens. The first female Protector in a hundred years, her House is under threat from enemies within, the prince has made it clear he does not want her services and worst of all, she cannot communicate with her father’s sentient mask of bone, the centuries-old Argeon. Without the bone mask she cannot help anyone — not herself, and certainly not a mercenary with no powerful House to protect him.
Meanwhile, far across the western desert, Ain, a young Pathfinder, is thrust into the role of Seeker. Before winter storms close the way, he must leave his home on a quest to locate the Sea Shrine and take revenge on the people who drove his ancestors from Anaskar, the city ruled by the prince Sofia and Notch are sworn to protect, whether he wants their help or not.” – From Amazon
Story – Engaging
City of Masks is a rousing fantasy that begins when the mercenary, known as Notch, who was falsely accused of murdering the servant, escapes from Anaskar prison. After his escape, he finds himself thrust into a situation in which he protects the Protector, Sofia Falco, from a conspiracy that threatens her as well as her noble house. From there, the situation only gets worse as dissension threatens to consume the city as well as the throne.
Mister Capes has brought us an imaginative and fun world where intrigue and mystery run wild in a city as treacherous as any we have seen before. While Notch comes across a little flat at times, other characters pick up the slack and drive forward a narrative that is as unique as it is interesting. Magic abounds in this story, but it does not distract from the narrative, only serving to enhance the world that Mister Capes has so painstakingly carved for us to enjoy.
“The chill of prison bars against his temple did little to ease Notch’s headache. Decades of dank didn’t help either, nor snoring from another cell, where someone was impersonating a bear. Or dying. In the poor light it was hard to tell.”
Writing – Laconic & Effective
No words are wasted in this novel, creating a style that we find unusual for fantasy, but it fits the narrative perfectly. There are some small errors here and there, but overall they do not distract much from the story, so we consider them negligible. As well, as we find with most indie books, the formatting is a little off in parts, but it does not hurt the work.
The style is stark, without the usual fantasy trappings, and that is fine. Mister Capes has discarded lavish descriptions, and though the writing feels cold at first, it grew on us.
“The day was wearing on when she woke. Sunlight poured through the grass edging the cave mouth, splashing onto the floor. Despite sleeping on stone, Sofia’s limbs weren’t stiff, nor did a single ache trouble her. The cuts on her arm were healed, the blood gone and only thin, white lines remained.”
Literary Value – Promising
Intentional or not, we found the masks to be an intriguing aspect of the story and made us think about human nature itself and the faces we put on for one another, and the people whom may or may not be hiding beneath. From there, it is a prototypical fantasy with brave men and wondrous sights, but that is nothing to scoff at either.
“Notch clutched the knife. Death. It was what Father wanted for Otonos. And Father’s rusty voice was never far when it came to the old King. Nor his face, crumbling in the firelight when Notch first came home.”
Overall – 4.25, A Good Read
City of Masks is a fantastic tale and a pleasure to read. From start to finish, Mister Capes delivers a story that is well paced and imaginative, which is exactly what we look for in recommending a book. His style is original and refreshing, focused on pushing the plot forward. Perhaps the best news of all about City of Masks is that the sequel is already out and available now, and if the first novel is any indication, it will be a heck of a series.
Want to read City of Masks? Find it on Amazon.