The Mask of Mirrors, M.A. Carrick; Nikki Massoud, narrator (Hachette Audio 978-1-54919091-9, $26.98, digital download, 23.25 hr., unabridged) January 2021.
Ren, a former child thief turned con artist, seeks the security that she believes can only be found in large sums of money. So she embarks on her greatest scheme yet, returning to her native city of Nadezra in the guise of Alta Renata Viraudax, a foreign daughter of an exiled member of local family House Traementis, in an attempt to worm her way into their affections and finances. She has her beauty, her wits, and the skillful needle of her adopted sister, Tess, who’s posing as her maid. But there are several complications. To begin with, House Traementis is almost broke and significantly diminished in political and social status. More seriously, Ren becomes a tool in a sinister plot involving kidnapped street children unable to sleep, a dangerous new drug that turns users violent and at the physical mercy of their own fears and nightmares, and unrest between the city’s two ethnic groups, the ruling Liganti and the downtrodden but defiant Vraszenians. Despite her initially self-serving motives, Ren finds herself becoming sympathetic toward her marks and taking an active role in attempting to save the city, despite the growing risk of exposing her true identity… and losing her life.
Massoud has some real challenges here as narrator; the main thing is that she must establish distinct accents in a fantasy environment and deploy them appropriately, given that some characters use more than one accent. Thankfully, she’s more than up to the task, using clues in the text to draw on appropriate real-world equivalents. Ren employs two accents: her own Vraszenian accent (sort of Slavic, which is appropriate to the names and cultural touchpoints in the story) and one as Alta Renata from faraway Seteris (Massoud chooses a very careful British Received Pronunciation). Massoud has the Liganti speak in upper-class Standard American accents, and ensures that Grey Serrado, a Vraszenian working for Liganti law enforcement, code-switches accents as his circumstances require. Finally, Massoud uses an Irish-sounding accent for Ren’s adopted sister Tess, who comes from yet another country, Ganllech.
M.A. Carrick is the pen name for Marie Brennan & Alyc Helms, whose joint pen name reflects how they met on an archaeological dig in Wales and Ireland. And I’m so glad they did meet. This novel hits all of my sweet spots, featuring as it does an elaborate con, secret identities, political machinations, stunning revelations, and three really interesting and well-delineated forms of magic.
This review and more like it in the April 2021 issue of Locus.
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