Book Review: Faces by E.C. Blake
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Series: Book 3 of Masks of Aygrima
Publisher: DAW (7/7/2015)
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Faces is book three of the Masks of Aygrima, a series about a magically gifted young woman living in a land ruled by the all-powerful Autarch who controls his empire by requiring all its citizens to wear special, magic-infused masks. I talked about this in my review of the last book, but I think it bears mentioning again that this series reads like Young Adult, even though the covers, description or imprint may not strongly indicate that. I just hope this is helpful information for others to know what to expect.
This third and I think final book picks up right from the end of book two, Shadows. Mara Holdfast and the survivors of the now broken unMasked army have been saved the Lady of Pain and Fire, the legendary sorceress who is said to be the only person ever to have challenged the Autarch. And now she has been found.
The Lady takes Mara under her wing, and Mara immediately feels a kindred toward her, since both of them possess the rare gift of being able to see all colors of magic. The Lady offers to train her so that the two of them can work together to bring down the Autarch, but Mara spending all her time with the Lady also means being cut off from her friends Keltan, the boy she has started to grow close to, and Chell, the prince from across the seas. As time goes on, Mara starts to suspect that not all is right. The Lady is driven by revenge, and some her methods start to seem as bad as the Autarch’s. Mara herself also grows increasingly troubled by her own feelings of anger, which seem to get stronger and more uncontrollable each day.
In fact, Faces features Mara at her most angsty. Regrettably, even though her emotions are not entirely her fault, this makes her very exasperating for the first half of the novel. That said though, Mara is also a fascinating character because of all the changes she has gone through over the course of this series: first naïve and idealistic in Masks, then imprudent and foolish in Shadows, and now finally frustrated and angry in Faces. The evolution of her personality has been shaped by the events in her life since the day her mask shattered and she went on the run, and many are experiences that were harsh, brutal and traumatic. In this book, she is also facing hostility from all sides, and while it may be obvious to the reader who is friend and who is foe, to Mara it feels like everyone is out to use her or harm her.
In many ways though, Faces feels like a book with two story arcs. After all, there are two obstacles Mara has to overcome, first the Lady of Pain and Fire and then the Autarch. With so much that needs to happen in this concluding volume, the pacing feels a bit rushed in certain sections. Still, I was impressed with how the plot was able to link both conflicts, and make them play off each other so that I was never sure of how all the problems will resolve. The final results were unpredictable and more than once I was surprised at how things concluded.
That brings me to the ending – which I did not expect at all. It’s a bittersweet one, which are the toughest for me to handle; sometimes they’re great and sometimes I’m left wanting. I’m still unsure how to feel about the one in Faces, because at once I am satisfied but also feeling a little indignant for the fate of our protagonist. Even though I know in my heart that it makes sense, some part of me still wishes for something else.
However, I will say that it is a good lead-in for a sequel series. This chapter of Mara Holdfast’s life has ended, but will there be more adventures for her in the future? The ending of Faces strongly hints that her story is not over, that there are those who still need her help which only her powers can provide. Who knows what new places Mara will visit next, or the new characters she will meet if a new series is on the horizon? I’m definitely open to finding out, if that happens.