This is the empowering story of Sallot Leon and their adventure to avenge their country, people, family and culture even if it means changing their entire life. The Erlends who sacrificed Nacea must pay and Sal will do everything they can to make them suffer for their crimes.

This book includes violence, racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination but all in a fantasy setting and entirely different and unique fictional world.

I give this book five stars (out of five). I absolutely love this book, the story and the characters. This is not just one of my favorite books but also one of the best things I’ve ever read. I personally tend to read lots of YA fiction from many different genres but my favourite is fantasy, because of stories like this that create a whole original world and throw the reader right into someone else’s life. It felt so real and the world building is really thorough, thought out and realistic. Every description is on point and every little intricate detail falls right into place. It’s beautiful how everything fits together and makes such an incredible story.

The thing I love the most about this book and it’s sequel is that even in a fantasy world there’s so much diversity among the people. It accurately shows how people from different places have different viewpoints, beliefs and ways of doing things. But also that not everyone is the same, there’s characters with all different gender identities and sexual orientations. There’s so much representation, the main character is gender fluid (and throughout this review I’ll be using they/them pronouns) and their love interest is bisexual and there’s even more representation in other characters. And again even in a fantasy world people find that weird and discriminate against others, which is terrible but realistic. Because whenever people think others are different from them they’re often going to think they’re better or normal and that the other people are weird or unnatural.

I think one of the best things about this book is how it portrays people, and the things that are the same in our society and the one from the series. There’s diversity, there’s corruption and there’s people who believe that they are better than everyone else based on things they had no control over. Throughout the population lots of people think differently and that’s mainly based on where you grew up or live. It’s a really cool look into an extremely interesting fantasy world and besides magic being a real thing in this universe, the characters and people in the story are all very realistic. Related to this the political conflicts and decisions were also very realistic, besides the fictional aspect of magic, mages and being set in a completely different universe.

This story is just so smart and amazing, I’ve already read it multiple times and I have so much to say about it. Amazing bits and plot twists happen often, every page and chapter is important and I can not recommend this book enough. It’s set in a historic kingdom, sort of like a fairytale world with a medieval country’s whole court system, nobles, peasants and division between the classes. Now onto my favourite part of this book besides the major representation and diversity, the plot! I will be doing a plot summary but also mainly highlighting my favourite parts as I go and why I think they’re well written, amazing or important to the overall storyline.

Disclaimer: There is a lot of violence and some swearing in this book so if you can’t handle that or don’t like that type of stuff then I’m going to have to refrain from recommending this to you. Also for a bit of an explanation, writing within [these symbols] you don’t necessarily have to read, but it’s something optional that gives more background information. And things inside these {symbols} are me being sarcastic or saying something that doesn’t have a lot to do with the plot but is my personal opinion or how I found something to be.

Jumping right into the story we’re introduced to the main character Sallot Leon in a fast paced robbery scene that quickly lets you get to know them and the other person they’re with, Rath. They’re both thieves, friends and they know what they’re doing. The dialogue in the first scene is very funny and telling of Sal’s character, bravery mixed with dangerous ambition and a good sense of irony. It also sets the pace for the entire story and quickly introduces you to the world the story takes place in. Informing you about the different classes and the clear divide between the main characters and Erlends/nobles. It’s a very good opening and very interesting and engaging.

Sal is robbing a lady of the court in a cartridge and it’s surprisingly civilized, they’re having a normal conversation with the lady they’re robbing and even let her keep a piece of jewelry that was sentimental. But it’s also uncivilized because it is a robbery and Sal very clearly has experience with violence, the reader is told right away that Sal and Rath aren’t just peasants robbing the rich, they have a boss and a quota. This short opening chapter also introduces another character besides Sal and Rath and it’s a character that’s new to them as well, but you just know the woman they’re robbing will be important later on and spoiler alert, she is.

As they make their way back to their place, Sal decides they want to keep one of the rings stolen from the noble lady because it has the official seal of Our Queen (the queen of the recently formed country this story takes place in, called Igna), who they sort of idolize. Among the other stolen possessions Sal also finds a poster advertising auditions for the position of Opal of the Left Hand.

[Minor spoilers throughout following this, but I’ll give another warning for more major ones. I really, really suggest you avoid spoilers and just read this book for yourself. Trust me it’s 100% worth it and you’d be doing yourself a favor by picking up this incredible and compelling story.]


{You don’t get all this information right in the second chapter I’m just explaining this up front because it would be super confusing if I didn’t, we get a good amount of background information pretty early on but it keeps building throughout.}

There used to be a few different countries or nations on this continent, Alona in the south and along the coast, Erlend in the far north and Nacea, sort of in between them. They all have different languages, beliefs, cultures and practices. The Erlends started a nasty war and through some extremely ethically messed up strategies, sacrificed nearly all of Nacea to magic creatures they created called Shadows. These are people who were tortured to death and stripped of their bodies, so they wander around trying to replace their lost bodies with other people’s. In short they’re terrifying as hell. And we find out Sal is Nacean and had first hand experience with them and the war.

Sal has a very justified bone to pick with the Erlends lords who made the horrible decision to run the Shadows through Nacea instead of Erlend. They choose to kill other people instead of themselves, so Sal wants to hunt down and kill the lords who made that decision. The war was messy but was ended by the woman now referred to as Our Queen of Igna. The war was ended by banishing magic and combining Alona and Erlend into one country. Some Erlend lords joined the new court but lots of them just fled farther north and started regrouping.

After the war Our Queen formed a collection of assassins and personal guards called her Left Hand named after the rings she wears, Ruby, Emerald, Opal and Amethyst. Sal has always wanted to take revenge for their lost country, people, culture and family so when they stumble upon an opportunity to get there faster they can’t let it slip.

So Sal starts thinking of ways to get into the auditions {and wouldn’t you know it they have a plan}. Their plan although violent makes a lot of sense, the guy Sal is stuck working for is called Grell da Sousa and he isn’t exactly the best boss ever. Sal plans to kill Grell for ransom and bring in an identifying feature to prove they killed him, that will hopefully get them into the audition and from there since Sal has no idea what to expect from the audition, their only clear goal is to become part of the Left Hand.

So that’s what they do, in an especially smart way. Sal pretends to know that Rath is planning on crossing Grell and tricked him into being in a vulnerable position. Sal stabs him in the neck with a sharp pin and kills him quickly, while practically stating, “Nothing personal.”

Promptly after that Sal left for Willowknot and travelled directly to the auditions. There Ruby performed a short interview type thing and made sure Sal was up for the auditions by telling them to ‘practice’ killing on a guard, to which Sal responded by immediately and without a hint of hesitation lunging at the soldier and nearly snapping his neck, even saying their classic, “Nothing personal,” before Ruby stopped them.

{Also out of this part we got another iconic and funny moment when Sal becomes known as; Sal, Sal, Sal in response to the questions Name? Aliases? Nicknames? Which is at least to me incredibly funny and I love that it’s brought up multiple times throughout the auditions, like a recurring inside joke.}

The author also showed the audition acceptance process very well because they had another character come in after Sal and refuse to attack the soldier without justification, so he wasn’t let in. The auditions started with 23 auditioners, Sal being the 23rd one.

Ruby hastily explains the concept of the auditions, it’s a free-for-all hunger games style. Kill your competitors, don’t harm anyone outside of the auditions and don’t get caught, if they have enough evidence against you you’ll be disqualified. The only other rule is that group Breakfast is a safe period, so you can’t poison each other at the table. Sal is quickly introduced to their servant Maud {who is one of the best characters in this entire series, might I add}. They don’t get along right away but come to an agreement pretty easily, Maud wants the position of Opal’s servant which she’ll get if Sal wins and Sal wants to stay alive, they both benefit from trusting each other and working together so that’s what they decide to do.

[Note that almost right away after Sal meets Maud they explain how they want to be addressed based on how they’re dressed. So Sal can be addressed as he, she or they {As I said before I’m just using they/them throughout this review because that’s safer than assuming one way or another, I know the character doesn’t always identify as ‘they’ but I’m just using it for consistency’s sake in this piece of writing} and Maud says they can correct her if she makes a mistake right away. This is how everyone should be treated and a great response, for future reference.]

Sal gets a few different things from Maud and makes their room as safe as possible, nailing the door shut, booby trapping the windows, making a fake figure in their bed and hiding in a propped up bathtub to wait out the night.

Sal survives the night and at breakfast the next day learns even more about the auditions, there’s daily training seasons taught by the Left Hand that are encouraged but not mandatory. All the surviving auditioners have individual meetings with the Left Hand while the rest of them eat, Sal took the time to observe the other auditioners and use details to put together who they are and what their strengths or weaknesses could be.

In Sal’s private meeting with the Left Hand they once again explain how they want to be addressed (in that scene as ‘she’) and we also learn about how Sal feels about it, comparing themselves to a river. It flows, you always see the river but never the same water. Sal always flowed but when they were younger and tried to explain it to Rath, the closest Sal has to a living family, he hadn’t understood it and only accepted it. The Left Hand also dropped it as soon as they got the idea, implying to Sal that a mistake would never happen again. The interview is to get a sense of their skills and what they need to work on, Sal has lots of things to improve on and never learned to fully read or write. Sal also had to reveal who they are to the Left Hand since whoever became Opal would join the Left Hand and be extremely close with them, Salleot Leon as far as they knew the only surviving Nacean. [You can tell it’s a Nacean name because in Nacean tradition you keep your mother’s first name as your last name (and ‘Leon’ is a first name).]

The first training season was Strength training and since it isn’t mandatory for people who are already well versed in that category some of the other auditioners weren’t there, they also aren’t safe during the training sessions. The next two sessions were archery and sword training, which were both extremely difficult. That night we {when I say ‘we’ I’m referring to the readers} witness one of Sal’s terrible Shadow nightmares, the type that come alive and convince you they are real. It’s terrifying both for Sal and to read, but it gives a lot more information on how the Shadows were, what they did and how much damage they did to Naceans generally and Sal specifically.

The next night Sal is sitting in their first tutoring session, for learning to read and write in multiple languages, Erlenian and Alonian. Their tutor is the same Lady of the court they robbed in the beginning and she remembers them. Her name is Elise de Farone and she makes Sal give her the stolen ring back. From briefly getting to know her Sal knows that she has knowledge of history and academics and also most of the people of the court including everyone Sal needs information on, so they decide it would be worthwhile to keep talking to her.

The following day there were only ten auditioners left and the real tests began, the first one being a race. To follow Amethyst running through a forest and make it to the end, while chained to another auditioner and in danger of being killed by the others at any time. There’s also guards in there made to stop them and the auditioners can’t do lasting harm to the guards. Sal was attached in handcuffs and similar restraints to Four, they both lock-picked themselves out of those quickly and easily. Now all they had to do was finish the race.

Sal’s trouble started when the soldier they’d nearly killed at the beginning of the audition came to restart that fight, but it was interrupted by Five who was set on killing Sal but only managed to injure them. After Sal escaped that situation they came across Seven who Sal fired stolen arrows at and ended up killing with a spear. Sal later comes across Three’s flayed body, the exact same way someone would be killed by a Shadow and because of trauma and that situation they assume Shadows are back and everyone is in danger. So Sal rushes back and tries to tell everyone about the Shadow kill. Everyone regards it as a terrible kill but one done by an auditioner. But even though some people thought Sal was overreacting, they also get reassurance that anyone who had seen the Shadows would’ve been afraid and probably acted in the same panicked manner.

Since there’s less auditioners now they’re moving into new, bigger rooms and not told where anyone else is staying. In this new setting the training sessions are poisons, etiquette and healing. Sal was enraged when they learned Five was the one to torture Three to death. They skipped out on the healing lesson, since they already knew how to treat injuries to a certain degree and the class involved practicing on yourself, bloodletting is very against Nacean beliefs and traditions.

Instead Sal spent their time watching the messengers, people carrying letters around the palace and they recognized Lord Hortatio de Seve’s name, one of the nobles involved with the exploitation and destruction of Nacea. They followed the messenger and figured out which room was his, after watching for a while and deeming the room empty Sal jumped down from the trees and started snooping around his rooms. Inside the most Sal found were suspicious papers and stolen Nacean silver cuffs, which Sal stole back.

Tutoring the next night is a lot less flirtatious and more focusing on the words. {But here is where we got another LGBTQ+ character} Elise tells Sal that she isn’t only attracted to men and that very much goes against Erlend’s traditions, but she’s tired of keeping quiet about it and hiding herself. She likes Sal.

Sal decides to kill Seve sooner rather than later and goes back to his rooms later that night. They used interrogation tactics rather than only violence, since they needed more information on which Erlenian lords were involved in the decision to sacrifice Nacea. They pressed him for the names even when he insisted he didn’t know or remember details. Eventually Sal gets the code names of the people who made the decision, which are Winter, Caldera, Riparian, Deadfall and the leader was called North Star. Seve himself was called Coachwhip and they referred to Nacea as Fallow, meaning a bare field or wasteland. Sal staged Seve’s death to look like he’d been drinking and fell off the roof. Sal believed that if the Queen had known of his involvement with the Shadows he wouldn’t have been left alive, let alone a place in court. But that wasn’t quite the case.

[Slight spoiler warning, skip to the My Favourite Moments or My Comments section to avoid them.]

The next morning at breakfast Sal encounters yet another big problem. Six died that night, and Sal is being accused of killing them. At first they’re stunned and their first reaction is denial, “I can’t prove I wasn’t somewhere at some secret time if I don’t know when and where it happened.” But Sal doesn’t have an alibi for last night and they can’t prove that they didn’t kill Six, so they’re to be disqualified.

But Sal is quick to read the room and figure that Four is the one who’s using them as cover and probably killed Six. They start off on how no noble person of a higher class would get prosecuted or sent to jail with no evidence of their connection to the crime other than lack of alibi. The rant actually works in Sal’s favour, it was specifically directed to Ruby who admitted they had a good point. That isn’t how an actual trial would work, so instead of being disqualified Sal was put on probation, they can’t kill anyone and the auditioner who does kill them will be rewarded with a day of immunity.

Sal’s immediate reaction is to smartly hide somewhere the others wouldn’t look, back where the auditioners had stayed before they moved into the new rooms. They stole clothes left in a laundry cart, took off their mask and lay low. Eventually they decide to go apologize to Elise for a slight fight they’d gotten into and for lying to her. Here is an exceptionally meaningful moment for both of these characters. First of all, it’s the first time Elise sees Sal’s real face and she wasn’t expecting them to begin with, she thought they were dead. It’s an emotional moment, for Elise because she thought Sal died and for Sal because for the first time in forever someone cares enough about them to cry after thinking they died. Even Rath, Sal’s best and closest friend, didn’t cry when he thought Sal died. This is also the first time the connection between them is physical, they reach out to each other and finally get to express their feelings more openly to each other instead of just subtle flirting with motives on both sides.

{I can’t fully explain why this moment was so meaningful and important especially because I’ve been summarizing everything on a very basic level, but it’s a pivotal point in their relationship and one of the more romantic scenes in this book}.

Sal is not very used to the feeling Elise arose in them, it’s like falling in love for the first time. It’s confusing especially when you’re preoccupied with trying to stay alive and not get caught killing nobles. Elise’s ring also becomes a sort of symbol of their relationship and how they meet, when they have to say goodbye Elise gives Sal back the ring so that they’ll have to come back alive to return it to her like they did before.

Back in their room once Maud finds out Sal is on probation she’s completely on board with helping them. She wouldn’t technically be breaking the rules against helping the auditioners, since they never specified for auditioners who are on probation. Maud’s willing to get Sal a servant’s uniform and lets them know there’s another test coming up, during tomorrow’s breakfast. Maud was going to be serving during the breakfast but Sal asked if they could take her place instead, which she agreed to. While they’re discussing the plan to keep Sal alive, someone sneaks up to Sal’s door and picks the lock, but instead of actually opening the door they trap it.

Sal recognizes Eleven to be the one setting the trap, after she leaves Sal carefully goes to disarm the trap using their own set of thin lock picks. They’re actually able to get the separate pieces out of the lock without it triggering and now they have a deadly amount of Lady’s Palm on their hands, which Sal decides can be used to their advantage. They need Nightshade extract the cure of Lady’s Palm, they can get it from a noble healer’s laboratory but to be able to avoid being caught Sal will be t searched on the way in and out, so Maud suggests they jump out the window. It always worked for her when she needed to do the same thing while she was at her orphanage. She put a laundry cart under the window so Sal wouldn’t be hurt unless they missed or landed wrong. That was the plan, then Sal would pose as a servant during the breakfast, poison Four, get him to recant and give him the cure so Sal would be taken off probation.

To pass as a servant Maud teaches Sal all the rules and little things they had to do, it wasn’t perfect but it was enough for them to get by. Sal gets in using their lockpicks and quickly grabs the small amount of nightshade they’d and jumps out the window. Once Sal had recovered from the ordeal of jumping out a window they had plenty of time to learn the serving rules and practice poisoning a drink. They also had enough spare time to go and see Elise again before breakfast, together they shared another deep and important moment/scene. Sal finally told Elise they like her back and they took turns writing meaningful things on each other in dark ink so they can remember each other. {I can’t get the details right in summary but this chapter was again a super meaningful and important part of their relationship. It says so much about how everything Sal’s feeling is new and this is an amazingly written romance.}

Sal’s plan didn’t quite work. They did manage to successfully poison Four and get him to recant his witness and admit that he killed Six. However, they couldn’t have predicted one of the other auditioners Fifteen barging into the room in a violent rage and attacking Five, who was already poisoned and couldn’t defend himself. Sal tried to help and save Four but they couldn’t stop Fifteen and by the time Fifteen was stopped there wasn’t much Sal could do, except talk to Four as he died and make sure he wasn’t alone during his last moments. {It’s actually an incredible scene, Four was calm even in the face of death and was finally able to talk to Sal without the constraint of the auditions. He was able to explain why he tried to get Sal out and even gave Sal his throwing knives. I think this moment was also important as to why the Left Hand would consider Sal for Opal because killing clearly doesn’t bother them but it doesn’t make them heartless or a bad person.}

Once everything was said and done the Left Hand called in the rest of the auditioners and disqualified Eleven for putting the servants and other people outside of the other auditioners in danger with her trap. With that they’re down to the finale three auditioners; Two, Five and Twenty-Three. The main part of the audition is over and they’re no longer trying to kill each other. Instead they’re competing to show their abilities as Opal by finding and killing their targets without being caught or implicating the Left Hand and being able to prove the kill.

[Sal also finds out Five’s true identity, Lord Fernando de Lex, the brother of one of the Erlenian lords who created the Shadows. Five would’ve been around the same age as Sal was when the Shadows ripped through Nacea and everything with the war kicked up. This understandably gives Sal a whole new understanding and opinion of Five, who they already were nearly enemies with. Five was the one who killed Three the same way as Shadows, he was reliving his heritage and trying to avenge his dead brother.]

Using the provided information and insider knowledge from Maud Sal finds themselves in the city to learn more about their target, Sal easily got the needed information and made their way over to where their target would be. {The next part is going to be a very, very simplified summary of what happens} Sal’s target named Tonin was gambling with Shan de Pau, someone who’d taken financial advantage of Nacea being destroyed by selling Nacean goods right after the war and profited off the massacred nation. Sal knew that the Left Hand had purposely put Shan de Pau right in front of them to see if they’d stick to their job or purpose their own interests by killing Shan. Sal’s rage was justified and them not being able to act on it is infuriating for both the character and the readers. Sal killed Tonin quickly and wasn’t caught, but they took the extra time to stage a crime scene and plant evidence in Shan da Pau’s room. Effectively framing him for the murder and setting him up for trail and probable death.

The Left Hand weren’t exactly impressed with Sal’s solution to the test. There was a deal between Shan de Pau and the Queen, she’d needed the founding at the beginning of Igna and he bought his freedom. At the time everything was new and one wrong move would have collapsed the country, and they make sure Sal knows that. But in the end they acknowledge that Sal did get Shan de Pau out of the way quietly and it wasn’t sloppy.

The next morning all the auditioners got to meet with the Queen separately, on Sal’s turn they have to openly say everyone they’ve killed. For Sal that is Grell, Eight, Seven, Seve and Tonin, which revealed their alternative agenda of killing Erlenian lords. Sal finally got to speak their truth about Nacea and against the Erlenian lords, in front of the Queen no less. The Queen acknowledges what Sal says and how she never did anything against those lords or even mentioned what happened to Nacea. She’d needed them to keep the country alive and hold off another war, she couldn’t save more lives if she threw away her chance to. But now she no longer needs them and she wants the same things as Sallot. {To me this shows that she was being genuine and really couldn’t afford to move against them until now, although it is extremely unfair that none of the lords had to pay for their crimes.}

[if you don’t want the ending and twists completely spoiled, skip ahead to the My Favourite Moments or My Comments section.]

After meeting the Queen Sal had freetime and reign, so Sal heads to Emerald’s greenhouse. While they were inside Emerald appeared and repurposed Sal’s time into practicing archery in a small forest outside the greenhouse. After a while of Sal practicing alone Emerald shows up again and gives them instruction while she talks to them. Sal already thought they hadn’t been picked for Opal, they were already assuming they’d be joining the Army since that’s what comes next for them outside of the auditions. But Emerald suddenly informs Sal they are the new Opal. The formal dinner announcing the new Opal was about to start and Sal met with the rest of the Left Hand. As they talked Amethyst gave Sal the old Opal’s mask since they hadn’t gotten their own yet and they all took off their masks, letting Sal know their faces and welcoming them into their family. Sal may or may not have cried.

Sal is publicly and formally introduced to the court as the new Opal. During the celebratory dinner Sal meets Elise’s dad and using logic and a few clues Sal realizes that he’s one of the people on their list (North Star. Deadfall. Riparian. Caldera. Winter). He was Winter and he didn’t even use a good cover name, since it’s also what his Erlend name meant. Realizing that Elise’s dad was Winter, and that he’d agreed to be alone with an important noble suspiciously quickly. Sal raced after them, hoping they’d come to the wrong conclusions. Unfortunately for everyone Sal was right, after following Winter and climbing into the rafters to get a better look they were unsettled to see Five working with Winter and talking about how he’d poisoned Ruby’s drink.

Ruby’s real identity was Rodolfo da Abreu, the Alonian lord who’d personally killed all the Erlend lords who had a hand in making the Shadows and destroyed their runes so no one would ever be able to create Shadows again. He’d also killed Five’s brother, making this fight personal and about revenge. He was perfect for Ruby, especially since he was living in hiding until he got another chance as Ruby. Now Five was trying to take that away, Sal lunged at Five who was attacking Ruby. Ruby was bleeding out and it was clear that without magic there was nothing they could do to save him.

The original plan Winter and Five had was to flay Isadora and Ruby and make it look like they’d been killed by rouge Shadows the Queen created. It would look like she hadn’t banished magic and Igna had created new Shadows, which could easily start a war. But Sal threw that away when they used Ruby as a human shield for the second time while improvising and ruined their opportunity to kill him that way. But right when Winter and Sal were about to start fighting they’re stopped by Elise, who’d suddenly walked in. The result is a tense conversation, in which Winter tried to defend his plan but Elise already understands the politics of the situation and wasn’t fooled. Sal demanded he tell her about Nacea, and when Winter didn’t fully explain Sal took over, laying out the truth of how many people he’d killed and the weight of his actions and decisions.

Elise tried to convince Sal not to kill Winter, instead she wants everyone to know what he did and for him to be put on trial which would almost certainly get him executed anyways. They really considered it, if they killed Winter they were avenging Nacea, their home and people, but if they didn’t they could keep their new home in court. In the end Sal listened to Elise and dropped his knife, but once Sal let their guard down Winter lunged for them reopening their stitches and knocking Sal backwards and out a window. And they fell.

{The book skips ahead here, it goes right from Sal falling to Ruby’s funeral pyre days later. Elise was forcefully taken back to Erlend by her father.}

At Ruby’s pyre Sal cuts themselves seven times to repay for the seven people they’ve killed, it’s part of Nacean beliefs to receive forgiveness from the Lady or their God-like figure. Sal truly feels the weight of everyone they’ve killed and everything they’ve done. They ask Emerald and Amethyst how they do it, their response is because they have to, if it wasn’t them then it would be someone else and they don’t want to give someone else the burden of having to do what they do. The Queen came down for the last of the funeral pyre, she assigned Sal to finally go after the Erlenian lords who deserved it, specifically Lord de Weylin who killed the last Opal and is actively working to start the war again.

[Sal sort of has an awakening towards the end of the book, they used to idolize and adore the Queen for getting rid of magic and pushing back against greedy lords and Erlend traditions, but once they met her and learned the truth about how she handled things after the war that fell apart. Sal knows she used people strategically to stay in power and now knows she isn’t as good as she seemed. But the Queen fires back, explaining everything she had done and sacrificed for the country and the people. ]

The ending is so amazing and emotional, I can’t explain it in my own words so I will leave a shortened version of some of the last lines that convey what Sal’s thinking and feeling right at the end of this book: “They’d taken my country and my life, and I would take their heads.”

At the very end of the book, after the official story is over there’s a letter from Elise to Sal explaining the complex history of Igna in a simplified timeline, in which we also get the pleasure of reading with Sal’s added in notes and reactions. This part is very good for a few different reasons. It provides more background information on the world of the story and how the history, politics and wars in the past. This world also uses a similar system to BC and CE in years, first using RA and then EA, standing for Empty Age because there’s no magic. It also gives Sal and Elise even more characterization by showing their different handwriting that had already been described throughout the book, using different fonts. It shows how Elise wrote and explained things directly to Sal and what Sal’s opinions of certain points throughout Igna’s history.

My Favourite Moments:

This book has the best short sentences and one off dramatic lines I’ve ever read in anything ever. It’s incredible and most of them are either in specific moments, pieces of dialogue or Sal’s thoughts and all of them are great! It also has some of the best closing lines ever, like at the end of a chapter for example. Yet another thing I really liked and found to be well done was the chapters, they vary in length some only being like five pages long and some being quite a bit longer, they don’t have a set size. It’s more about a plot point or what happens within the chapter that dictates when a chapter starts or ends.

Here are a few examples of that, amazing quotes and moments:

Serious lines:

  • “They’d welcomed me into their house, and I was going to tear it down.”
  • “I’ll kiss whomever I like. There’s not enough innocence left in this world after all we’ve done to it.”
  • “They’d made me an orphan and only child, made my name sound foreign on my own tongue and useless to the ones who’d already forgotten Nacea had lived. I would make them remember, and only then would I let them die.

Funny lines: 

  • “Might get stabbed to death at any moment, but that could happen anywhere.”
  • “At least I wouldn’t have to worry about Five creeping through my door and putting a knife in my neck. Probably.”
  • “We were discussing fashion and murder. Join in.”


The second morning Sal was sitting on the rooftop and ended up talking to Two, Three and Four (who’re all friends and together). In response to being asked why they were there Sal replies to see where everyone sleeps. Two assures them that they’ll switch it up, Sal replies with “Fun,” and “Less fun!,” when Four throws a knife at them . I just thought it was a really funny progression from casually talking to having a knife thrown at you.

Sal had the opportunity to get revenge on Five, using their brilliance they used their bare face as a cover since no one knew what they looked like. By pretending not to be an auditioner they were able to steal the key to Five’s room from his servant and sneak into his room, and use charcoal for an intimidation tactic. I just thought it was super smart to use their actual face as a disguise since they were normally concealing their face. It’s smart since it’s the opposite of what you’d normally do if you didn’t want to be caught.

Maud informed Sal that the other auditoners were dressing up for the dinner, both Two and Five went for outfits portraying who they were before the auditions, using unique or their items. But Sal had a different idea, they asked Maud to get them an outfit that looks as close to Opal’s as possible. “Let them be themselves. I want to be Opal.” This is a power move if I do say so myself, Sal is looking forward as opposed to the others, which I thought was great.

In the process of an extremely chaotic and hectic fight Fifteen threw a pitcher and Sal used Ruby as a human shield to avoid getting hit by it. This was hilarious, especially when afterwards Sal defends themselves by saying, “It was a pitcher. I was improvising.” and shrugging.

[Spoiler warning for this next paragraph, please skip to avoid them.]

This is another very important moment in my opinion, even right before Ruby’s death but he’s still directing and teaching Sal. Teaching them a very valuable lesson “Never discard better weapons.” and basically saving Sal’s life by telling them to, “Improvise.”  “Improvising” was sort of like an inside joke or recurring thing between Ruby and Sal so I was very happy to see even in Ruby’s last moments he was guiding Sal.

My Comments:

Now that I’ve finished with that very long and probably overly detailed summary I’m going to talk about some specific things, I may have already talked about a few of them but I have a lot to say and some of these didn’t make it into the summary. Here’s some things outside of the plot summary that I feel like I have to talk about:

First of all, all of the names within this series are so unique and original, they’re also the perfect fantasy names. I don’t know how the author did it but it’s amazingly well done and immersive. Related to this, the book’s title itself is so meaningful and relevant to the story. At first to me it just seemed like a really unique and cool name, before I knew the story. But once I’d finished it and read it a few times it makes a lot of sense. Mask of Shadows, the ‘shadows’ can be literally referring to the Shadow monsters that destroyed Nacea. And the mask could be referencing the masks of the Left Hand or the code names or ‘masks’ the Erlend nobles hid behind after the war. Or even specifically Sal’s mask, from the first page they’re wearing a mask. From robbing people, to during the auditions to finally becoming Opal the mask is a constant for Sal, and it’s completely recurring and important throughout the series.

And I’ve already said this but it does an incredible job of showing diversity amongst it’s characters in basically all areas like gender, sexuality and religion. Sal also internally explains what they are a few times “I was both. I was neither. I was everything” and when Sal became Opal instead of the title Lord or Lady they were called ‘Honorable Opal’. That also shows how some people are accepting and some aren’t, and how in that world it’s mainly based on where you’re from.

Erlend beliefs and traditions are not accepting of anyone who isn’t what they consider to be normal and is still sexist against women. For example, Four asked nicely and afterwards always used the right pronouns but Five purposely misgendered Sal as an insult multiple times. Both times referring to Sal as ‘she’ when they were ‘he’ because to Five being called a woman would be worse, but being misgendered sucks either way.

The romance and relationships between Sal and other characters like Rath and Elise are so well written and realistic. Sal and Maud’s slow growing friendship was another one of my favourite parts of this book, lots of the funniest moments were between these two and watching as they learned to trust and like each other was an excellent experience.

Something else I appreciated was that besides physical descriptions of new characters when Sal meets them there were also more descriptions slide in every now and then throughout the series, even for Sal.

I thought using runes on people’s bodies for magic was a very interesting and unique idea, it’s very different from using wands. The way magic works in this world is completely fresh and original. Aside from that this book does a great job of showing the division between Erlenians, Alonians and people from other places. There’s multiple different belief systems, traditions and religions and even after combining Erlend and Alona into Igna there’s still lots of division between the people. As an example of religious differences, after Sal killed Eight they gave him a proper send off because they’d seen him praying to the Traid on the first day. The Triad is the God lots of people believe in and worship in this world, while Sal prays to the Nacean Lady, looks to her stars for guidance and follows and believes in what they can remember of her. This book also shows how guilt affects Sal and how memories from Nacea and the war never stop coming back to them really well.

Overall if you look at the five star review, how long this is and the fact that I have absolutely nothing negative to say about this book you could probably guess that this is one of my favourites. It is incredible and I’m glad to have found and read it multiple times and probably more in the future. It’s the type of story where the plot and characters stick with you and impact you in an indescribable way. I recommend this book and it’s sequel to everyone who can handle the intense story. I begrudgingly understand that not everyone will love this book as much as I do but that won’t stop me from encouraging you to read it.