Review: Masks by Karen Chance
Published March 18th 2014 by Penguin
Review copy provided by author
There is a reason why I never read series out of order, and Masks proved that yet again. Though not part of the Cassandra Palmer narrative, Masks tells the story of Mircea, a recurring character in the series.
The story is set in fifteenth century Venice. Mircea is a masterless vampire, and therefore unprotected. When his luck runs out, he gets bought by an influential vampire to be a courtesan.
Usually I can pin-point the exact reason that ruins a book for me. It can be glaring plot holes, terrible characterisation or just butt-awkward writing. With Masks, I can only sum up some random elements that I didn’t enjoy. The issue I had with this book was mostly that there weren’t enough parts that I did like, rather then there being too many things I didn’t like.
Masks doesn’t make any concessions for readers unfamiliar with the Cassandra Palmer world. We meet Mircea, who is apparently a vampire, but never do we get any descriptions how a vampire looks. Do they have fangs? There are no mentions of fangs, but they do bite people. Are they sparkly? Pale? Or do they look like ordinary people? As someone that is new to the universe, I need those kinds of pointers to see the characters.
And it wasn’t just visual input that I was missing. I had no idea what the limits of the vampires were. It is stressed at several points that a vampire needs a family to survive, but how this would work isn’t explained. Why would Mircea go to Venice? It’s said that this is the only “open port”, but what does that mean? At no point he decides to get on a boat to some place different, so why would he go there at all?
I didn’t care much for Mircea as a character. He mostly comes off as a rather selfish and odd guy. Maybe this is part of his vampire-ness, or that’s just the way he is. The plot didn’t engage me very much – plenty of key happenings are told as a flashback because Mircea was knocked out once again. His vampire friends seemed very fickle and childish, constantly bickering amongst themselves. Masks shows a rather depressing view of vampires: if we would all live centuries, this free for all oppressing kill-and-fuck-fest would be the result?
For fans of the Cassandra Palmer series, Masks might shed a light on the past of a beloved character. For readers unfamiliar with the world, this is not the place to start.
Fifteenth century Venice is a safe haven for the masterless dregs of the vampire world, a city where they can live without the fear of retribution for violating another’s territory.
Still, there are plenty of ways for a young vampire to die in the glittering city, a lesson that prince turned pauper Mircea Basarab must learn quickly. But there are opportunities, too—in the service of a secretive courtesan, in the bed of a beautiful senator, and in the hunt for an ancient assassin.
As a vendetta older than Venice itself comes to a climax, Mircea struggles to evade the dangers of his current life, to come to terms with his past, and to uncover the truth hidden behind a city of masks…
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