Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Masques" by Patricia Briggs

After an upbringing of proper behavior and oppressive expectations, Aralorn fled her noble birthright for a life of adventure as a mercenary spy. But her latest mission involves more peril than she ever imagined.

Agents of Sianim have asked her to gather intelligence on the increasingly popular and powerful sorcerer Geoffrey ae'Magi. Soon Aralorn comes to see past the man's striking charisma - and into a soul as corrupt and black as endless night. And few have the will to resist the sinister might of the ae'Magi and his minions.

So Aralorn, aided by her enigmatic companion, Wolf, joins the rebellion against the ae'Magi. But in a war against a foe armed with the power of illusion, how do you know who the true enemy is - or where he will strike next?

Briggs, perhaps best known for her Mercy Thompson series, writes an introduction to the reissue of this, the very first of her novels to ever be published. In said into, she says that she didn't think much about this first book, not until she found out that it was fetching some rather high prices on various websites (since there weren't many copies to start with, and it was out of print). She was preparing to release the second book in the series and wanted to reissue the first, but when she went back and looked over it, it was a bit cringe-worthy. However, the more she read, the more she realized that she couldn't change nearly as much as she wanted without having to change a lot of the next book, too. So she pretty much left things alone, and asks the reader to be kind and keep all this in mind as the story opens.

She really shouldn't have worried about it so much.

True, this isn't as polished as her later works, but the heart of the story is there, and if you're like me, that's what pulls you in. Aralorn is perhaps at times a bit too headstrong, but she's young, and that makes sense. She is not, thankfully, one of those too perfect heroines that one can find in books such as this, nor is she too stupid to live. I found her to be someone I could see myself being friends with, and that's exactly what I was looking for. (I've been reading more nonfiction lately, and I wanted something a bit lighter).

The book opens with her meeting Wolf for the first time, then skips ahead about four years, to her involvement with the ae'Magi. It's obvious to Aralorn, and of course, to us, that he's pretty much evil personified. What's worse is that his dark magic has pretty much everyone snowed; only the small handful that finally come together to make up the rebellion seem to be immune to his illusions. The band of misfits includes royalty, children, cooks, and others, and what's nice is that even most of these peripheral characters are developed - enough so that you care about them when the inevitable attacks begin.

Adding to the mix are the Uriah, which I took to be some sort of magical zombies, and you've got a good little fantasy tale on your hands.

Of course, Briggs excels at the relationships between damaged individuals, and Aralorn and Wolf fall into this category. Their story develops at a nice pace - not too fast, not too slow - and now I've requested the sequel to this, "Wolfsbane" to find out what happens with these two. Overall, I would definitely recommend this, and again, I think Briggs was far too hard on herself. Then again, I don't think many writers enjoy reading their first works, as they're often their own worst critics.

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