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From the Mask of Shadows series , Vol. 1

Gory, well-plotted, suspenseful on every page, and poised for the sequel.

A scarred street thief competes to become an elite assassin.

Sal comes from Nacea, a country and people obliterated in a war between other countries. After years living under an unsavory gang leader, robbing and fighting just to survive, Sal—who’s genderfluid and signals by that day’s clothing whether they want to be called “he,” “she,” or “they”—sees the perfect chance to get revenge for Nacea. The Queen’s Left Hand, which is “her collection of assassins and personal guards named for the rings she w[ears]—Ruby, Emerald, Opal, and Amethyst,” needs a new Opal. As Opal, Sal would have access to the wealthy lords responsible for the Nacean genocide. The trials for the new Opal unfold bloodily, with three rules: kill the competition, don’t harm anyone else, and don’t get caught. Both Auditioners and the Left Hand wear masks throughout. Sal has brown skin, trauma, a set of skills, and a heady crush on a noblewoman. Political exposition reads messily, and some microflaws in the logic feel sloppy (for example, Sal bathes and eats in their room before nailing the door shut against the other murderous aspirants). However, the killing games and court intrigue—which may or may not involve magical specters previously used for torturing and killing Naceans—are breathless and terrifying.

Gory, well-plotted, suspenseful on every page, and poised for the sequel. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4926-4749-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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From the Powerless Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes.

The Plague has left a population divided between Elites and Ordinaries—those who have powers and those who don’t; now, an Ordinary teen fights for her life.

Paedyn Gray witnessed the king kill her father five years ago, and she’s been thieving and sleeping rough ever since, all while faking Psychic abilities. When she inadvertently saves the life of Prince Kai, she becomes embroiled in the Purging Trials, a competition to commemorate the sickness that killed most of the kingdom’s Ordinaries. Kai’s duties as the future Enforcer include eradicating any remaining Ordinaries, and these Trials are his chance to prove that he’s internalized his brutal training. But Kai can’t help but find Pae’s blue eyes, silver hair, and unabashed attitude enchanting. She likewise struggles to resist his stormy gray eyes, dark hair, and rakish behavior, even as they’re pitted against each other in the Trials and by the king himself. Scenes and concepts that are strongly reminiscent of the Hunger Games fall flat: They aren’t bolstered by the original’s heart or worldbuilding logic that would have justified a few extreme story elements. Illogical leaps and inconsistent characterizations abound, with lighthearted romantic interludes juxtaposed against genocide, child abuse, and sadism. These elements, which are not sufficiently addressed, combined with the use of ableist language, cannot be erased by any amount of romantic banter. Main characters are cued white; the supporting cast has some brown-skinned characters.

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9798987380406

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2023

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A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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