Title: These Vicious Masks
Authors: Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas
Genre: YA / Fantasy
Series: These Vicious Masks
Synopsis: England, 1882. Evelyn is bored with society and its expectations. So when her beloved sister, Rose, mysteriously vanishes, she ignores her parents and travels to London to find her, accompanied by the dashing Mr. Kent. But they’re not the only ones looking for Rose. The reclusive, young gentleman Sebastian Braddock is also searching for her, claiming that both sisters have special healing powers. Evelyn is convinced that Sebastian must be mad, until she discovers that his strange tales of extraordinary people are true—and that her sister is in graver danger than she feared. (taken from Goodreads)
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect to enjoy this as much as I did. Jane Austen meets the X-Men is a pretty accurate description. Humans with unnatural powers? Check. A british inspired romance? Double check. A Mr. Darcy wannabe? Triple check.
These Vicious Masks, though lacking in some aspects, is a short and perfectly enjoyable read. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this book because there are things that were just “eh” but my reading experience was far from bad.
The positives? The humor and the dialogue (which might actually be the best part). The interactions between the various characters, especially the banter, are way too hilarious. The characters themselves are charming, and their antics had me laughing out loud. The themes incorporated into the plot are reflected well in the writing. Throughout the entirety of the book, I remained uncertain of what would happen and who to trust, which was great since it made me feel as though I were truly in Evelyn’s shoes.
The negatives? The romance isn’t very impressive. Neither is the antagonist of the story. Several side characters are introduced but are barely utilized, and end up being unimportant/unnesscary in the end. I felt that things started to turn messy and abrupt when we got close to the ending, which didn’t make for a truly satisfying conclusion to the story.
Despite its flaws, These Vicious Masks is lighthearted and fun book, guaranteed to have you laughing!
This portion of the review is a slightly more in-depth discussion of the book and will contain spoilers/rants/raves. Read at your own discretion.
I have mixed feelings so I’m just going to jump right in.
Evelyn is an okay protagonist. I like her well enough but there isn’t really much that sets her apart, and I don’t think she’s all that special or different from any other YA protagonist. Not that memorable, either. However, she’s hilarious as hell, and I adore her for it. I absolutely love her sarcasm and wit. I know people are starting to get sick of the snarky protagonist trope but honestly, a snarky protagonist almost always wins me over.
She’s also incredibly stubborn and headstrong, not quite in a bad way. I admire how she refused to give up, despite all the challenges and people that kept getting in her way. We find out that she’s actually the one with healing powers and not her sister. I wish Evelyn would’ve explored her abilities better or made them slightly more useful but I guess that’s what the second book is going to be about, since she’s off to help the other gifted and all.
“There is a troubling Byronic trend you will see next year where these men try to appear mysterious and brooding without one true emotion among the lot of them.”
Cough. YA lit callout much?
I’m kidding. But yeah, we do have a lot of those mysterious and brooding love interests in YA, which wouldn’t be a problem if they weren’t in every damn book.
Speaking of tropes you find in every damn book, we also get a love triangle in this one! I wasn’t super into it and I thought the book would’ve worked even without the multiple love interest, though it didn’t bother me as much as cheesy love triangles usually do. As of now, I think Mr. Braddock is the obvious choice, but who knows? Maybe the authors would some sort of twist and surprise me.
And now, I’ll be talking about our two love interests!
*insert trumpet sounds here*
Candidate number one: Mr. Sebastian Braddock. Handsome. Broody. Mysterious. Here’s where the Jane Austen vibes come in. Braddock is pretty much a remnant of Mr. Darcy from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Comes off as rude but is actually just shy. Actions are often misunderstood. Also, he has a dark secret past. That little twist was predictable. Needless to say, Sebastian easily became one of my favorite characters.
Candidate number two: Nicholas Kent. Charming. Witty. Secretive. At the start of the book, I rooted heavily for Nicholas. His interactions with Evelyn were funny. Witty banter, guys. I live for witty banter. If you want me to ship your characters, just throw in some witty banter, and I’ll probably go crazy for them. As the book progressed though, he started to act sketchy. I thought he was going to betray Evelyn (thank god he didn’t) but I didn’t expect him to have his own powers too. Some of the foreshadowing in the book is pretty great! Though I feel like there’s still something off about him. I can’t completely trust him for some reason, and I’m hoping book two would reveal more about his character.
Oh, and aside from having to choose between these two men, Evelyn also faces an extra challenge! She must fend off two ladies who are smitten with the love interests and may potentially steal them away!
Seriously, I had to roll my eyes when Mae spoke with Evelyn in the carriage about her love for Sebastian. After we got that very first interaction between Mae and Sebastian, I figured that was where things were headed. But I’m glad Mae doesn’t turn into a terrible jealous bitch like Ms. Verinder. Probably would’ve driven me nuts if that happened.
Despite the love triangle, there aren’t that many lovey dovey moments. We get a few almost swoony scenes, like Braddock suddenly kissing Evelyn (and they don’t even acknowledge that afterwards? What?) but ugh, I don’t know. I think there were a lot of things lacking in this book. It’s a weird in between where the story itself is super enjoyable as is but just isn’t satisfying enough.
Some of the characters I thought would have a bigger role ended up… not having that big of a role. We have Laura, who I absolutely adore. I found her to be even more hilarious than Evelyn, though somewhat selfish, too. There’s also Ms. Verinder, a lady competing for Kent’s affections. I had hoped she’d be someone more than that one (or two, I suppose) girl trying to ruin the protagonist and/or steal her man away. I actually expected her to be in league with Dr. Beck or have some strange power too.
Camille is an exceptionally intriguing character, one that we definitely did not get enough of in the story. She does things for herself, and is a I-serve-the-highest-bidder type of person. I want to know more of her motivations, how she came to be in London, her history with Dr. Beck (why doesn’t Dr. Beck experiment with her like he does with the other gifted?), all that good stuff.
Dr. Beck isn’t that special either. He comes off as rather one-dimensional and without depth. For all his spouting on and on about “the future of science,” he could have been more convincing towards Evelyn. Maybe explain his plans, what he’d do. Be slightly more manipulative. If I were him, I would’ve told Evelyn about being able to see the future, which surely would’ve given her adequate reason to help him out. I needed more from the villain than just the big bad guy who wants to hunt down and experiment on innocent gifted for the “greater good.” He would’ve been a good morally grey character if we had a little more insight into his motivations, which aren’t very convincing. At least, they aren’t to me.
Same goes for his sidekicks. How did Claude end up in league with Dr. Beck? And Mr. Hale? Were they experimented on too? If they weren’t, then why? There’s a mention of some kind of Society later on but we barely know anything about it to care. Maybe if bits and hints of this were scattered early on in the book, it would have been more intriguing. Instead of being able to piece things together and going, “Oh, Dr. Beck is actually just working under the watch of this super secret and terrifying society!,” we get, “Oops, false alarm. Dr. Beck is actually not the true antagonist. Ya’ll have to deal with this super secret terrifying society that you’ve never heard of and possibly wouldn’t even give two shits about.”
The first half of the book is arguably the better half. Though the second half was where most of the heart pounding action took place, at that point, the plot became rather convoluted and rushed. Characters that aren’t of much use popped up (I’m looking at you, Robert), most of them only there for some kind of reveal. In the quest for an exciting and emotional ending, the story and the characters just sort of got lost. There were just many moments when I thought the story would be going one way, but then it goes completely another. I’m not really sure if that’s a good thing yet.
Some things, I saw coming. Some things, I didn’t. Like Rose’s death. It was cool not having a happy ending but at the same time, I felt so bad for Evelyn. After everything she had done, she still wasn’t able to save Rose. I honestly thought Evelyn would be able to heal her, and I’m sure whether to be happy or frustrated her death was actually permanent. Little bit of both, maybe.
I think my main gripe is that because the book is so short that we didn’t get to spend as much time with Evelyn’s emotions. Coping with Rose’s death? Yeah, it was too quick for me. She spent the entire book looking for her sister. I expected her to be more distraught about the situation, especially since Sebastian had been the one to kill Rose, albeit by accident.
Something I have got to applaud the authors for is how they managed to weave a story that keeps you guessing. Not just about the plot but about the characters, too. I had a difficult time figuring out who to trust, and seeing how one of the recurring themes in the book is masks, it worked great! Like I said, most of the twists were executed well, including the ones that I was able to guess.
I’m definitely going to be reading the second book. The ending of this one got me curious enough! I’m really looking forward to Evelyn’s character development and I’m super excited to see what she’s going to do with her healing abilities.
… And… uh… maybe I’m also kinda interested to find out what’s going to happen with her and Mr. Braddock… because how does one recover from having your sister die by the hands of guy you like??? (Yes, that pun was intentional).