Masks: The Masks of Aygrima: Book One Hardcover – Nov 5 2013
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"Masks is a book that took me by complete surprise. Not since the likes of Lirael or Sabriel have I enjoyed a YA with a female protagonist to the extent I did Masks." —Fantasy Faction
"Mara’s personal growth is a delight to follow. Sharp characterization, a fast-moving plot, and a steady unveiling of a bigger picture make this a welcome addition to the genre." —Publishers Weekly
"Masks grabs the reader’s attention on the first page and holds it until the last.... The characters are complex and relatable and grow throughout the story, and the storyline itself is fresh and never predictable. Masks is simply impossible to put down and will leave readers begging for the last two books in the trilogy." —RT Book Reviews
"Blake brings his fantastic world to life through offbeat links between magic, nature, and human behavior in a caste-ridden society." —Locus
About the Author
E.C. Blake was born in New Mexico, “Land of Enchantment,” and the state’s nickname seems to have rubbed off: he started writing fantastical stories in elementary school and wrote his first fantasy novel in high school. He’s been a newspaper reporter and editorial cartoonist, a magazine editor, a writing instructor and a professional actor, and has written (under another name) more than 30 works of nonfiction, ranging from biographies to science books to history books, but his first love has always been fantasy. He now lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, with his wife and a daughter whose favorite stories all involve “sword-fighting princesses.” Come to think of it, so do his. He can be found at ecblake.com.
Top Customer Reviews
Wait what? I hear you say.
Yes. The masked land of Aygrima. The ruler of the land the Autarch masks his citizens once they are fifteen. The Masks denote people’s status and profession and the masking serves a secondary purpose; it weeds out those that carry evil in their heart. If you fail a masking your fancy mask cracks and worse - smashes your face in. I mean literally smashes your face in. You do not want to fail a masking.
The unmasked get sent to work in a brutal concentration camp mining the precious magic that powers the land.
Meet Mara Holdfast. She is our protagonist and her father is the most gifted mask-maker in the land. She is sure to have a bright future following in his footsteps until… Mara fails her masking.
“The mask squirmed and wriggled like a basket full of snakes, faster and faster, harder and harder. Mara gasped, then screamed, as she felt the skin above her cheekbones rip, the skin of her forehead split, her nose break. She fell to her knees, eyes squeezed shut, scrabbling at the Mask, tearing at it with her fingernails, but it wouldn’t come off, it was going to kill her - ”
And so the adventure begins.
There was a lot I really enjoyed reading MASKS. The lands of Aygrima are a cohesive well-developed world. There are some neat historical hooks for the series, such as the tales of the Lady of Blood and Fire, and how the Aygrima used to have trade-relations with another, sea-faring nation, until the boats just stopped coming.
I absolutely loved how Blake described the Masked citizens of Aygrima, you can totally *see* their amazing masks, and how it would change people's communication as you read.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In this case, the tale revolves around a fifteen year old girl named Mara, who demonstrates all of the obstinacy of youth, both good and bad. I found the book interesting in that it seems to straddle the line between YA and adult fiction. The young lead would clearly appeal to YA readers, but the writing style is more sophisticated than what I've typically seen. Also, there is barely any romance, which doesn't follow a lot of YA conventions. I think both teen and adult fantasy fans would enjoy this story (Note: there is a lot of violence and reference to sexual abuse, but it's not explicitly depicted).
Mara's internal dialog dominates a lot of the book, and by the end I was a bit wearied with her. To be fair, she's placed under enormous pressure throughout the story, and I can't say that her responses to these stresses were out of character, but I didn't fall in love with her. I rooted for her, but I didn't feel that intense connection that really draws me in.
It's horrible that anyone would even think of recommending this as a young adult book, and yet the very first Editorial Review on Amazon for this book glowingly does just that.
From School Library Journal
Gr 7–10—Encapsulating the best features of a good teen title, Masks is sure to resonate with readers.
—Kathy Kirchoefer, Henderson County Public Library, NC
E. C. Blake's website is also proud to announce that the book Masks was nominated for two Saskatchewan Book Awards, one of them being in the category of Best Young Adult Literature. My main point in this review is to emphasize that this book should NOT be marketed to children. It is NOT suitable material for 13 - 16 year olds to read. Here's why...
The obsessive amount of sexual assault of under-aged girls within this book is highly disturbing. Along the lines of mental disorder disturbing.
Mara, the main character, lives in a "Big Brother' is watching type of world...where any treasonous thoughts will get a citizen killed... yet this rampant rape goes unchallenged and unpunished. How does that even make sense? Because it's not mainly the unMasked (the criminal scum, if you will) doing all this raping of 15 year old girls...it's the Masked Watchers (police force of Aygrima) doing this every single night.
Over and over and over is this rape thing repeated. Mara is threatened with it innumerable times and it is done to (or revealed that it HAS been done to) almost every female she meets. NONE of the male characters in the book face this threat, nor do the males seem to face much of any threat at all throughout this entire book. Even the males in the mine camp, who are also enslaved, seem to serve no other purpose character-wise other than to give the author even more males from whom to threaten mass rape.
I stopped reading the book. I got sick of the non-existent plot and unimaginative repetitive sexual fantasies of the author. Because it really does seem that this guy is writing to ostensibly horrify the reader about all this rape of young teenagers...and getting all excited by imagining himself living as a Watcher in his very own little slave-camp world.
Rape and multiple in-depth descriptions of urinating aside (many reviewers have mentioned the high number of scenes where Mara is either forced to urinate in front of a would-be rapist or watch said would-be rapist urinate), the book itself is lacking in plot, world-building, and engaging characters. Mara remains an idiot throughout the book (at least until page 264, where I stopped reading because I got tired of her getting rescued for the thousandth time without ever having done anything worthwhile on her own and having all these rape dreams..yes, even in her dreams, there is rape. Seriously, this theme is omnipresent, you just CAN'T escape it).
The author writes himself into a corner uncountable times and he uses the Divine Intervention card WAY too often.
Some examples (Spoiler Alert):
1. Mara's masking fails and rips her face to shreds and breaks her nose. The super best healer in the land just HAPPENS to be there and heals her face back to perfection.
2. Mara is sent to a prison warehouse for the unmasked where some fat guy draws nudes of all the 15 year old prisoners so he can sell them as porn in the city. SHE escapes having to stand nude cause of flat chest and perfect face. Wrong on so many levels. Seriously, it's really not that hard to see the author's fetishes. Side note: it's here where all the writing about urinating and being watched urinating and having to watch wanna be rapist guys urinate starts.
3. Mara, a few other girls, and Grute the rapist ride for days in a prison wagon headed to the mines where they will work as slaves for the rest of their lives. She is saved via the divine intervention of the unMasked Army (rebels)...who have NEVER until now rescued ANY of these poor children. Wow, Mara, I want just half your luck.
4. Mara goes to the rebels' camp, gets nice clean clothes and food and soforth for a day or so...goes to take a bath...gets naked, of course...
and gets kidnapped by Grute. He takes her with plans on selling her virginity to the highest bidder when he gets them both to the slave camp mines. Like...yeah that totally makes sense dude...escape the mines, escape the rebel army...run to the mines because yeah that's super smart to go work in horrid slavery. MUCH better than, oh, I dunno, disappearing into the forest and living off the land. Anyway, Mara ALMOST gets raped by Grute but miraculously harness her apparently limitless magical abilities (that no one in this society is taught ANYTHING about until after they are Masked) to kill Grute while he's naked, excited, and standing over her. So...divine intervention because this attack just HAPPENED to occur in a place that, what luck, had magic for her to use even though she didn't know anything about how to use it. I mean, she doesn't even know what all the different types of magic are, since she's never been taught what they do and she is the only person in the history of persons living in this world that can see multiple colors of magic.
I could go on but this is getting long. Suffice it to say that this book is a pile of drivel. Seriously, E. C. Blake...go write porn fantasies instead. Oh wait...you did! It's called Masks.
Blake does all the required things (describing a world, creating rules for it's operation, epic travel descriptions) with a level of quality first time authors sometimes struggle with. The story is rich in details, the characters have strong emotional and clear motivational reasons for doing what they are doing. (I *think* this is a first novel. A search for other books by this author comes up empty.)
In a sense it's difficult to guess what characters will go what directions since the possibilities are varied and interesting. In fact it's difficult to figure which way our hero will go with her choices. Then again...
So what would you do, faced with possible glory or slavery, if your "utopia" was suddenly disturbed by something that should not (historically rarely) happen? How do you sort out who are your friends, who is telling the truth, and can you even trust your own beloved father? What are the possibilities you have an untapped power (expected to fade without proper training) the dwarfs the reigning adults in your life?
These are hard questions for a girl coming to age, and maybe in a parable form, reflect the struggles of what our real world youth face everyday. Then again, maybe it's just a fun read on a magical wild ride that will leave you laughing, screaming, crying, and sleepless (at least until you finish the book).
1) Multiple scenes in which she's nude, including more than one that is involuntary.
2) An OBSESSIVE attention to urination. In this book I have more mentions to relieving oneself than in the totality of the rest of my expansive library.
3) An almost equally overwhelming threat of rape. Used as a threat several times against both the protagonist and several other female characters, an attempted sexual assault, and a secondary character having been taken by force by several men for several nights in a row away from the narrative of the story.
When you look at those facets and include the unusual amount of attention given to main character's lack of bust development, I cannot in good faith recommend this book. It's creepy, it's disturbing, and feels a bit fetishistic. I was given this book by a friend who knew I enjoyed reading fantasy novels without him having read it himself - but he works in a bookstore, so he's going to spread the word about the disturbing trends in this book. However, even with the gender neutral "E. C. Blake", it's painfully obvious this is a male author. In an unpleasant way.
That said, the execution is lacking for a number of reasons.
First, categorizing this book is difficult, because it seems to have trouble making up its mind about what it wants to be... is it a Young Adult novel? Or straight fantasy? There are certainly a lot of YA elements, many of which feel lifted from other YA sources. At the same time, there are some pretty adult dangers out in this world, particularly revolving around the perils of a young woman at the mercy of ruthless and coarse men.
Second, from a plotting perspective, this is a slow introduction novel for a series. It does an adequate job of setting up the world and some mysteries, but there is very little resolution to any plot line, and feels like the opening act, rather than a self-contained story from which future novels could be developed. Indeed, by the end of this story, I'm not sure what was accomplished exactly.
Finally, while the setting seems promising, and the magic may be original (if further fleshed out in a future novel), too much of this seems like an echo of some other author's creations. It has small fragments of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn novels fused with the wish-fulfillment of any "regular old but somehow special" protagonist from a number of works, told in a YA style where rape is a constant threat.
The bottom line is that whatever promise this book has is overwhelmed by the lack of a clear direction. If I felt like reading this book told me a story, even as part of a greater story, I would overlook the flaws. But it just didn't.
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