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REVIEW: Masques by Patricia Briggs

Dear Ms. Briggs,

I got drawn into your Alpha and Omega series after reading the first story, a short story by the same name, in the anthology On the Prowl. I actually read the story at the urging of Janine; on my own I would likely not have picked up a werewolf romance. But Janine raved about Charles and Anna (especially Anna), the unusual hero/heroine pair featured in the story and the two subsequent books. She was right. These stories were…different, not my usual thing, but I did end up liking them quite a lot. (I should mention that I had previously read the first Mercy Thompson book and while I hadn’t disliked it, it hadn’t done much for me, really.)

NMasques by Patricia Briggsow we come to Masques. When I read that Masques was a reworked reissue of your first novel, it made a lot of sense. The book reads a lot like a first book; promising but flawed (even after the reworking).

In the prologue, a wolf who is obviously more than a wolf (since his thoughts are of a human) is on the run, sick, afraid and hunted by creatures using unspecified magic to locate him. He stumbles into a pit trap and breaks his leg; later he is found by Aralorn, a young female mercenary who sets out to rescue him. The wolf allows her to, in spite of the fact that he had resigned himself to death in the pit, and may even welcome it. But Aralorn, who carries the whiff of green magic, intrigues him.

The story picks up four years later, in the castle of the ae’Magi (who is either a very powerful wizard or sort of king of the wizards – he’s referred to at times as the Archmage, which makes me think the latter might be true, but it was never entirely clear). Aralorn has traded her career as a mercenary for one as a spy, and she has infiltrated the castle on a reconnaissance assignment; there has apparently been some unspecified threat against the ae’Magi. Aralorn had thought to come in as a servant but at the last moment decided to instead pose as the slave girl that the ae’Magi has just bought (her magic allows her to alter her appearance). This has gotten her into a bit of a pickle, as the ae’Magi has chosen to place her in a cage in the middle of a ball he’s holding; he’s placed another glamor on her so that she appears to the guests as a snowfalcon.

Aralorn has already discovered what few know – the ae’Magi is a monster. She has seen him kill children as part of his power-gathering rituals, and unlike the vast majority of people the ae’Magi comes into contact with, Aralorn is immune to whatever supernatural charm he uses to convince people he’s a swell guy. The ae’Magi reminded me a bit of Jasmine from the fourth (I think it was the fourth) season of Angel - a monster who bespells almost everyone into believing they are beautiful and good. This sets up an interesting conflict (in both Masques and Angel) where a small band of people who recognize the monster’s true nature have to fight to free everyone else from the monster’s influence. I really liked this aspect of the story and thought it was well-done.

Aralorn, facing the threat of rape from the ae’Magi, is able to escape later that night, but not before an encounter with Myr, recently crowned King of the Reth, who appears to be one of those immune to the ae’Magi’s magic (and thus recognizes Aralorn as human in her cage). The previous king and queen of Reth have recently died in a tragic accident, one that Aralorn suspects the ae’Magi engineered.

Outside the castle Aralorn promptly runs into her old friend and sometime companion, Wolf, who chastises her for what he considers a suicide mission (yes, Wolf can speak). Despite the passage of time, Aralorn has not learned much about Wolf – he keeps his secrets close. But she’s aware that Wolf is another who is not fooled by the ae’Magi’s facade.

Before long, the two are parted as Wolf creates a diversion so Aralorn can escape from the Uriah, a zombie-like race that rambles the forests and seems to have become more prevalent and aggressive lately.

Aralorn’s attempts to get to the bottom of just what the ae’Magi is doing to control the populace eventually lands her in even more trouble, and she ends up in a far north camp where Myr, Wolf and a ragtag band of followers have fled. All are immune to the ae’Magi and are sought by him.

The story is pretty straightforward – your basic good v. evil battle. Wolf is a very interesting character – enigmatic, tortured and, as you may have already guessed, not always furry. He has his own, very personal reasons for wanting to defeat the ae’Magi. Aralorn was less appealing to me. She’s pleasant enough, but she’s just not a hugely interesting character. She’s small and plain and generally kind of incompetent. She has an interesting background – mercenary then spy – but since she’s never portrayed at being very good at what she does, I found myself frustrated by her and trying to understand why she was given these unorthodox professions (granted, they were not portrayed as being particularly unorthodox for women in the world of the book). About the only thing that does make Aralorn interesting (a bit) is her talent and affinity for storytelling. I would’ve rather she just be a bard, honestly.

Besides not being hugely impressed with the heroine, I was confused by the nature of the magic in Masques. Granted, I read very little fantasy and am not that up on the “rules” of magic, but some explanation and consistency would’ve made the magic in this book feel less arbitrary. There is no explanation of exactly what green magic is or how it differs from the magic that the mages practice. The best I could figure was that those with green magic were the descendants of an old race and their magic was inborn, but perhaps not as powerful (Aralorn is not that good at magic, sigh), whereas wizards like the ae’Magi were humans who have studied in order to acquire their skills. I guess.

There were other aspects of magic that didn’t make sense to me – the ae’Magi is portrayed as incredibly powerful but he’s not even able to recognize that Aralorn possesses magic as well? His abilities often seemed to come and go in service of the plot.

The world of Masques is an interesting one, but this aspect probably more than any other contributed to the “first book” feel. Ultimately, that and my lack of interest in Aralorn as a character weighted down what could have been a great story. That said, I may give the second book a try, if only to read more about Wolf. My grade for Masques is a straight C.

Best regards,

Jennie

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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

12 Comments

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    Sep 30, 2010 @ 05:52:15

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  2. Merrian
    Sep 30, 2010 @ 06:06:35

    I read Masques this week. It is a re-release of a book from the early 1990′s and reads as such I think. traditional fantasy tropes and writing style yet to become the signature Briggs way. I agree with the C rating but would add that Hob’s Bargain first published in 2001 is an interesting fantasy with a great romance between a mature and responsible h & h if you want to read something else by Patrica Briggs.

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  3. DS
    Sep 30, 2010 @ 07:29:03

    I bought Steal the Dragon (her 3rd? book) when it came available on Kindle in 2008. I had some of the same problems with that book (although I remember really liking both books when they first came out).

    The magic system was particularly frustrating as people would just find out (or remember) they had magical skills when they were needed. There was also a (nongraphic) rape that I hadn’t even remembered was in the book. It struck me as fairly pointless.

    So, no, even reworked, I’m going to leave my memories of Masques alone.

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  4. shelly
    Sep 30, 2010 @ 09:14:09

    Her first two books are bad compared to later ones. Though you at least got to read the reworked version of this one, which has to be better than the original.

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  5. sandy l
    Sep 30, 2010 @ 09:30:35

    I don’t think that Ms. Briggs did a lot of reworking on this book. I read somewhere that she pretty much left the original alone except to clean up a few consistencies and typos. Can’t remember where I saw that.

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  6. Janine
    Sep 30, 2010 @ 12:02:15

    Janine raved about Charles and Anna (especially Anna)

    I think I actually raved about Charles even more than Anna, but Anna was the character you most connected with. It’s a great series either way.

    Sorry to hear Masques hasn’t worked out as well for you. I wonder if I the upcoming sequel, Wolfsbane (which is a brand new book), stands alone well enough to be read on its own, without reading Masques first?

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  7. Nikki
    Sep 30, 2010 @ 12:52:10

    I actually liked Masques. It clears up some confusion from some other books in that world. I personally would have liked to see more about Aralorn. I disagree about the competence judgement. She was competent within her skill set as far as I could tell. There was just one TSTL episode, but that fit in with her personality. As for the magic system, I think I was less confused because I have read the other books in that world and they give a better and wider picture of how the magic works. Though, a little more clarification would still help.

    I am looking forward to the next book. Ms. Briggs also mentions on her website that she was horrified at her first book mistakes and wanted to write a new story but realized that was unfair to previous readers so she cleaned it up, added new parts, and worked very hard on Wolfsbane to make up.

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  8. lucy
    Sep 30, 2010 @ 15:06:09

    I’ve been curious about this book, since I’ve read When Demons Walk and enjoyed it more than her urban fantasy.

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  9. Dana
    Sep 30, 2010 @ 21:34:43

    I actually read the original release a long time ago. And I still have a copy of it somewhere.

    Has anyone read both the original and the re-release? Are there enough changes to the newer version that it’s worth buying it? I’m looking forward to Wolfsbane, and I’m wondering if I need to read the reworked version of Masques to fully understand it.

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  10. Mike Briggs
    Sep 30, 2010 @ 22:48:35

    Dana:
    This is Mike, Patty’s husband. Honestly, this was a pretty fair review of the book. While I, of course, believe that my wife walks on water and writes flawless prose, it’s not always true.

    This is a re-vamp of an old book, written when Patty didn’t really know what she was doing. She thought it was going to be a quick polish and shine, but it didn’t work that way.

    The original story was badly dated, and showed a number of plotting flaws. She found that quick polish wouldn’t work. Then she tried doing a more complete re-write, but found she was actually writing a different book. In the end, this version is an uneasy truce. She tried to smooth over the text, even out the pacing, and plug the most glaring of errors without completely losing the original character of the book. That means that many things are not done the way she’d do them now, and the plot was left unchanged, even when changes might have been beneficial.

    The “quick rewrite” took longer than it usually takes her to pen a new novel, and the result is still imperfect. Though, in my completely unbiased opinion, still a pretty enjoyable read.

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  11. Jennie
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 01:15:27

    Argh, SO annoyed – I wrote a whole long post and somehow managed to close the browser accidentally before I could post it. The short version:

    @Janine – ha, I think I was practicing transference. Charles is a cool hero but I love Anna. She just feels like a really different heroine to me.

    @Nikki – I think I just expected more from Aralorn. I felt like she had some of the trappings of kick-ass heroine without the actual qualifications. Wolf really outshone her IMO, and I usually like a bit more balance between the h/h.

    @Mike – it’s really pretty impressive for a first book. It reads a bit to me like a YA novel – a little less sophisticated and deep than it could have been. Though I gave it a middling grade, I do think there are readers out there who would appreciate it.

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  12. sallah
    Oct 02, 2010 @ 09:18:45

    I judge good reads in two ways… there are the quick reads that suck me in but are ultimately like a tv show, not terribly memorable, but fun while it lasted…

    Then there are reads that suck you into the world, take over your imagination and stay with you forever…

    I would put Masques in the first category, and it made the 3 hours I sat waiting for my son at a function bearable… I will read the next one too. Hoping that it becomes more like Briggs later works which have a prominant spot on my bookcase (and on my ipod! love her books on tape)..

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