Masques is Patricia Briggs first novel, and is now out of print. Secondhand copies are going for upwards of $US400 on Amazon.com, so I count myself lucky that I have managed to read it. (It is all my friend’s doing: she joined a group that are sending a copy of Masques around the world so people can read it. All I did was be friends with her – and be the person who introduced her to Patricia Briggs!)
Masques is set in the same world as Briggs’ second and third novels: Steal the Dragon and When Demons Walk.
Aralorn is a shape-shifter and a spy, sent to determine what is going on with a powerful sorcerer, whose charisma blinds nearly everyone in the surrounding kingdoms to his true (and horrific) nature. The mysterious Wolf is her occasional companion. He is almost certainly human, although Aralorn has only seen him as a wolf.
As the sorcerer’s power spreads, he deposes Myr, a young king whose immunity to magic renders him a threat. Aralorn and Wolf have separately befriended Myr, and both set out to help him regain his kingdom, and to somehow find a way of defeating the sorcerer. We see the slow evolution of Aralorn and Wolf’s relationship, and find out about Wolf’s mysterious origins.
The normal fantasy tropes are subtly twisted, as I’ve come to expect from Patricia Briggs; and the characters, the situations they find themselves in, and the lands Briggs has imagined are interesting. However, I was a third of the way in before I really felt immersed in the story. While Masques is an enjoyable tale, it is noticeably a first book.
I found the way Aralorn kept talking to her horse to be a clumsy way to let us know what she is thinking/why she is doing something. Wolf’s background seemed more detailed than Aralorn’s – certainly he is a more rounded and complex character, as well as undergoing the majority of the change and growth. Not that I didn’t like Aralorn, but she was a little static as a character, and a bit too perfect. She always seemed to know the right thing to say, the right tone to take, and didn’t even get mentally scarred by her torture; we see it taking time for her to physically get back to normal, but in her head she is remarkably okay.
In common with the other two Sianim books, I found the romantic subplot was not as tidily concluded as the rest of the novel. This is fine for series books, but for standalones, and as someone who reads romances, it is somewhat unsatisfying.
A personal issue was that I kept reading Aralorn as male, which was really annoying as there is nothing in the writing that would make me think that. Near the end of the book, I finally figured out my subconscious was associating the name Aralorn with that guy from Lord of the Rings, Aragorn!
I’ve written more than I normally would about what I feel didn’t quite work in Masques. Masques is so hard to find and there are so few reviews of it, I thought people should know what the book is like, not just what it is about. I did enjoy reading Masques, but it is the weakest of Briggs’ work. I recommend that people be patient and wait for when Briggs manages to find time to re-write Masques and finish the sequel Wolf’s Bane.
UPDATE: [April 2010] According to Amazon, the rewritten Masques has a release date of 28 September 2010, and Wolfbane has a release date of 2 November 2010. I can’t wait!