Thursday, April 7, 2011

Masques - Patricia Briggs


About the Book

After an upbringing of proper behavior and oppressive expectations, Aralorn fled her noble birthright for a life of adventure as a mercenary spy. Her latest mission involves spying on the increasingly powerful sorcerer Geoffrey ae'Magi. But in a war against an enemy armed with the powers of illusion, how do you know who the true enemy is-or where he will strike next?

320 pages (paperback)
Publication date (rerelease): September 28, 2010
Publisher: Ace
Author’s website

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Patricia Briggs seems to be one of the most known current names in urban fantasy. I noticed that her older books were fantasy so I decided to give her a shot. That, and it is always interesting to see how an author started out in his or her career. Masques was a quick, easy read that was started and finished in roughly two days. It’s short, weighing in an slightly over 300 pages. Another benefit to reading a newer version of this book rather than the version first released in 1993 is that Briggs has reissued the book after fixing many of the complaints her readers had about it. Thus, many would say the quality is much better than it was when originally released.

The reissue, however, doesn’t resurrect the book.

Masques is a fairly typical fantasy affair featuring a woman, Aralorn, who has an extraordinary ability and an overly mysterious man, Wolf, who enters the book almost immediately. Together they must join forces to overcome an incredible evil. I’m sure you can probably fill in most of the plot blanks from reading these few sentences and really not be too far off the mark. It should be fairly obvious from reading this that Masques is overly predictable and the type of book you can read and fully absorb without actually reading every single word.

Masques is Brigg’s debut novel, and despite the attempt at reviving and re-releasing it, it hasn’t altered the new and untempered feel to the book. While Masques is a fun and entertaining diversion, there is absolutely nothing new, envelope pushing or absolutely riveting to it. Brigg’s writing is lyrical, though clunky at times. The awkward pace to her prose can make Masques somewhat difficult to trudge through.  After reading a few of her newer books, it’s obvious that this is her first novel, thus I am able to (somewhat) forgive many of the issues I am addressing in this review.

The world is also fantasy-typical. Masques is set in a characteristic ruler-and-surfs type world which allows for vast and typical evils to take place. While there was enough world building to understand much about the world this novel is set in, there isn’t anything in depth or well rounded about it. The world is very two dimensional, yet because it is so typical it's not really necessary for there to be much deeper development. Masques suffers from the tell-don’t-show syndrome common to many starting authors, and even then Briggs misses a lot of world building opportunities as she struggles with her character driven plot. Thus, for much of the book I felt fairly lost with the world while hearing a bit too much about what the protagonists are doing. There was little to no relationship between the characters and the world and this disconnect did largely affect the overall reading experience. For examples, there were hints to a much wider world with very interesting cultural aspects in it, but Briggs never harnessed these opportunities, instead spending much of her time describing foliage, hills, caves and hidden libraries. Foliage is interesting, as are hidden libraries, but Briggs really could have made the world pop by expanding a bit more on cultures and traditions and how these aspects affect the world and characters. 

As I mentioned above, this book is highly character driven. While Wolf and Aralorn are entertaining to read about, they are so typical and generic in fantasy that they do get fairly tiring. The same faults that Briggs faces with her world building is faced to a smaller extent with the character development. Briggs tells, but doesn’t show. It’s hard to become anything more but slightly interested in the characters in a detached sort of way. Accompanied by some awkward prose in parts, Wolf and Aralorn, who have the potential to become a dynamic fantasy duo, choke under the strain of the very average writing, typical and predictable plot and disconnect with the poorly-built world at large.

There is potential here, despite all the flaws. The magic system could be fairly noteworthy, if further developed and the protagonists do have the potential to interest readers. All in all, if overlooking the myriad of problems Masques faces, it is an entertaining and fairly short detour from typical fantasy. It is also incredibly interesting and entertaining to see where one of the most well known urban fantasy authors started and how much she grew over the course of her career. Briggs is a talented author and the roots for that talent are obvious in Masques. This book would be fun for any Briggs fan to read, despite its typical and predictable plot, half-developed characters and clunky writing style.

The seed was planted here. Time watered it. It’s really neat to see what kind of plant sprouted.

This was Brigg’s first attempt, and at the start of the book she does admit that she knew very little about writing when she set this story to paper. While she did manage to revive much of this book, her initial lack of education and experience with writing is very obvious. While I do harp on Masques in this review, I feel it is important to put this in context with her experience at the time of writing it. While this quality of work would be (in my opinion) unacceptable with a practiced author, with a new writer who seems to be experimenting more than anything else, it works.

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