The Mask of Mirrors is a rich and thickly-embroidered story of intrigue, conspiracy and magic woven throughout a Venetian city where religion and magic are as much a part of the city as the cobblestones themselves.
Into this society divided by class, privilege and heritage, drops Ren. A girl seeking to mend the unmendable ties of a broken family. But that’s not true at all, and it’s only the surface frosting of subterfuge on a layer-cake so deep at times you feel you may have lost sight of what the truth ever was.
We follow Ren and become familiar with her goals, and the game she plays to achieve them. As soon as those objectives have some sort of clarity, the focus is gradually but relentlessly drawn to the multifaceted objectives of every other group in the city, from the crimelords to the cultural extremists, the noble houses to the smugglers to the city guards (called the Vigil), and most interestingly of all, to the characters who straddle several camps, cultures or families, and seek always to retain their precarious balance.
After the fumbling, fraught and frustrating exercise of launching my own book, I really wanted to immerse myself in someone else’s work.
To find something to read, I did what I often do and turned to the Guardian Newspaper’s ‘Best Recent Science Fiction’ column. Flicking through the various months, I came upon Stormblood by Jeremy Szal.
I didn’t want anything too cerebral, and I wanted something with a bit of pace. I got what I asked for, but perhaps misjudged slightly what I actually wanted.
I wrote back in January that I felt Ursula Le Guin’s passing was a great loss for both the art of writing and for SFF in particular. I was driven at the time by my memories of reading A Wizard of Earthsea, one of the first fantasy books I ever held in my hands. You know, back when paper was a thing.
Since I wrote that, I’ve thought back occasionally to the story itself, only to realise that I don’t remember it all that well.
Passing through an airport last week I came across a collection of the first four Earthsea books and it felt a little too much like divine providence to ignore. I ploughed through A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan over the next couple of flights, and rediscovered the work.