Acquired Book By: I am a reviewer for Prometheus Books and their imprints starting in  as I contacted them through their Edelweiss catalogues and Twitter. I appreciated the diversity of titles across genre and literary explorations – especially focusing on Historical Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction and Scientific Topics in Non-Fiction. I received a complimentary ARC copy of “Masks and Shadows” direct from the publisher PYR (an imprint of Prometheus Books) in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.
How I came to learn about ‘Masks and Shadows’:
For the fuller story behind my forthcoming reviews on behalf of Prometheus Books, kindly read my story about becoming a reviewer for them on my End of the Year Survey, 2015. I was quite delighted by receiving an email from the publicist I am working with at Prometheus Books, as before I had the proper chance to start my reviews, she instinctively knew how much I love reading Historical Fiction! This title stood out to me for several reasons: it’s the first adult novel by it’s author who has a penchant for writing Middle Grade stories; it’s set during the 18th Century one of my most beloved centuries to explore; there is a Musical Historical backdrop to the evolving story and it’s centred at court!
High society and life at Court are two of my favourite historical veins of interest – the court has a way of enlightening you inside a portion of the historical past where innuendo reigned supreme. I have read a few musical driven plots since I’ve become a book blogger and as I enter into my 3rd Year, I’m appreciating being able to re-examine certain styles of stories which I itch to read more of.
Notation on Cover Art Design: On display in the cover art are all the key marks of the story: from the ethereal smoke snaking it’s way into view to the masquerade mask(s) and the setting for the folly itself: Eszterháza Palace. The colours themselves lend such an enriched cover palette but it’s the fullness of the cover design to evoke out a recognition of the story’s internal elements that struck me as being quite bang-on brilliant as you can foretell a bit from it’s artwork.
Masks and Shadows
The year is 1779, and Carlo Morelli, the most renowned castrato singer in Europe, has been invited as an honored guest to Eszterháza Palace. With Carlo in Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s carriage, ride a Prussian spy and one of the most notorious alchemists in the Habsburg Empire. Already at Eszterháza is Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper sister of Prince Nikolaus’s mistress. Charlotte has retreated to the countryside to mourn her husband’s death. Now, she must overcome the ingrained rules of her society in order to uncover the dangerous secrets lurking within the palace’s golden walls. Music, magic, and blackmail mingle in a plot to assassinate the Habsburg Emperor and Empress—a plot that can only be stopped if Carlo and Charlotte can see through the masks worn by everyone they meet.
Places to find the book:
on 12th April, 2016
Available Formats: Trade Paperback and Ebook
Read the back-story about Masks and Shadows!
Read about the author’s next novel Congress of Secrets publishing November 2016!
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My Review of Masks and Shadows:
Charlotte has decided to visit her younger sister Sophie whilst she’s ensconced in a decidedly different affair than her sister allocated at being proper but evenso, as sister’s go, Sophie has such a spirit about her to charm Charlotte into staying with her even if she’s troubled by the truth of what she’s found out. The differences are a bit great given their time of living, as Charlotte believed Sophie was attached to Court in a proper fashion not as the known mistress to a Prince, especially as she’s married yet her husband has carted off someplace Charlotte couldn’t help but wonder as to where. We enter their conversation as if we’re their long lost friends as they reveal a bit of their personalities whilst trying to sort each other out.
Whilst the sisters prepared for their evening, a rather interestingly unique conversation was being had by the occupants of a carriage en route to Eszterháza Palace where all folly is set to unwind. We meet the man of the hour (Carlo Morelli) whilst he’s entertained by such curious travel mates who itch out his ability to suspect all is not quite as it appears. This is the moment where Burgis shows the dichotomy of differences between the classes in her world – as outside the jostling carriage are the peasants hard at work in the fields who by appearances are not well paid nor compensated for their tireless devotion.
What was most interesting is how Charlotte’s stay at the Palace afforded her a secondary look into the life her sister was affecting – the Princess was not the woman she expected and it’s her solemn sadness of acknowledging her living reality that took to Charlotte’s heart. There is a convergence of minds meeting at the Palace during Charlotte’s stay, wherein more than one of the guests appears to be keeping secret about their intentions or motivations for coming to Eszterháza.
The resident musical director at the Palace brought to mind how difficult it is for musicians and composers to make their mark on the world, as I had read about this previously – where they have to walk the delicate balance between humouring their employer (in this case, the Prince) and owning their own right to continue their work as composers. In this turning of thought, Joseph Haydn erred on the side of caution which Morelli had to concede was his path.
There is an element of Horror ebbing in and out of focus as whilst the stage is being set, there is this foreboding awareness of something not quite right happening just out of sight. An element so cheekily mindful of hiding it’s presence, no one has become the wiser of it’s presence save one who at this junction is a bit of a lost cause as his choices are marred by an impulsive mistake. This man is the husband of Charlotte’s sister, whose irrationality to accept the truth before him adds to the suspense.
Charlotte’s maid had a clever secret – an untrained soprano voice whose spirit to sing and to explore the passion of her gift was a charming addition. I must admit, I loved seeing Anna’s internal struggle to be honest with herself about her voice but also, to encourage her own heart to pursue singing even if for a person of her station, singing was not as commonplace as you’d hoped. Her voice happily found it’s way to shine even under strained circumstances but it’s how her path starts to divert from Charlotte’s that begins Charlotte’s own journey towards growth and healing past her husband’s death.
There is a tightly planned insurrection attempting to overtake the established Court whilst a beguiling ethereal threat continues to play against nerves and rattle minds for it’s presence. Whilst acknowledging the background action, Burgis has enveloped us into 18th Century life by bringing to light how this era is fashioned, outfitted and proportioned through it’s arrangements – the Palace itself is a bit spruced over the top due to the fanciful eye of it’s leader; the rest of the scenery is quite striking for it’s generation.
The darkness of the novel is truly on behalf of how far a person will walk against the light and how vulnerable people can become when they make choices when they are not in a position to understand the consequences. Dark magic and ominous games are afoot inside Masks and Shadows where the intrigue behind the upset of Court is marred by the darker realities of the few who choose to take the innocent down with their conspiracy. Right in the midst of this chaos, is a budding romance by two characters who felt they did not deserve or need love in their lives. Counter-balanced to the suspense are the Princess who is bound by her Prince to remain out of sight and without much of a life whereas Anna is struggling to step outside servitude to make her mark in song. The most heart-wrecking of the story is how Charlotte had to push past expectation and obligation to see that the freedom she sought for herself was well within her reach to acquire. There is so much happening inside the story – the true masks and shadows of the novel are the ones the characters wear themselves.
On the alternative historical styling of Stephanie Burgis:
One grace Burgis granted her new readers (such as I) is a framework of foundation rooted inside our known historical past! She’s taken bits and bobbles of real historical artifact and knitted it up inside an alternative historical setting to where you can juxtaposition the real and the fictional in seamless fashion! I loved this style of her word craft because it gave a dimensional of awareness of where we’re entreating inside as far as timescape and setting are concerned but also, a knowing level of ‘place’ as it’s a familiar side of Europe during the late 18th Century! How she found the beautiful balance between what is known and what can be imagined is truly remarkable!
I liked how she paced the narrative to the rhythm of a play – it was quite keenly illuminating all the dialogue and action, but to such a clever intuitive nodding of each of the characters in turn taking their cues and then exiting the scenes as necessary!
I was not at all surprised there were Cosy Horror elements underlining the narrative arc as this historical approach to telling a fantastical story reminded me of my readings of Silver Tongue by AshleyRose Sullivan (review) or even The Haunting of Springett Hall by E.B. Wheeler (review) as they mirror Masks and Shadows for bridging genre and bending it to the will of the author’s pen.
I was not quite prepared for the darker bits of the story to take on such a heightened level of intent to show the darker mindset of some of the characters – but I do applaud Burgis for not allowing the darkness to swallow the light completely. She balanced the good vs evil points quite well as she showed how even the characters who were making extremely wrong choices were in a debate with themselves about what they were choosing to accept. It’s a cautionary tale all the way around.
This book review is courtesy of:
Book Bloggers & the book blogosphere are celebrating this release:
- Review | BiblioSanctum
- Review | Nocturnal Book Reviews
- Review | Tenacious Reader
- Review | The Speculative Herald
- Review | Ageless Page Reviews
- Women in SF&F Month via FantasyCafe | Special Focus feat. Stephanie Burgis
- Guest Post | Finding the Fantasy in History by Stephanie Burgis | SFSignal
- Guest Post | Stephanie Burgis Favourite Bit | Mary Robinette Kowal
The author is hosting a Reddit event on the 14th:
— Pyr_Books (@Pyr_Books) April 6, 2016
I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary! Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst bloggers who picked up the same story to read.
Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2016.
I’m a social reader | I tweet as I read
— Jorie Loves A Story (@joriestory) January 4, 2016
— Jorie Loves A Story (@joriestory) April 12, 2016
@joriestory I’m so glad you’re enjoying it!
— Stephanie Burgis (@stephanieburgis) April 12, 2016
— Jorie Loves A Story (@joriestory) April 12, 2016
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- 2016 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge