Masks. E. C. Blake. DAW: Penguin Group USA. November 2013. 304 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780756407599.
Enter the Autarch, the Supreme Ruler of Aygrima, who in the first few pages uses magic to destroy a female opponent. But destroying his enemies is not the ultimate goal; it is the goal from the moment opposition rears its rebellious head. So how easy in this high tech, future society to create a specific mask for each man, woman and child, one that a “Watcher” can look at and immediately detect disloyalty or at least suspicion of betrayal.
And so it continues. We now enter the home of Mara Holdfast, daughter of the Master Maskmaker. Mara has worked with her father and been allowed to learn the basic skills of fashioning each mask but will not be allowed to learn the Magic behind each mask until her own masking ceremony. She is very excited about it until she sees a definitely suspicious pattern in her father and mother as her ceremony date on her birthday approaches. She knows that she has lied when tested for her ability to be one who has the “gift” of magic, a terrible crime that could be the undoing of her and her family. Add to that the foreshadowing when she visits the area near the town’s gates where criminals are crucified. It’s not specifically defined why they are killed but every citizen knows it has to do with being a rebel or criminal against the all-powerful Autarch!
Be shocked on the long-awaited day when her masking ceremony turns into a total disaster; and but for a woman with the gift of healing Mara would be horrifically scarred for life. Instead she is healed and taken away by the Watchers, first to a prison and then to those who will transport her to a mining camp for prisoners. But her arrival there is forestalled by rescuers who have captured her for their own purposes.
The goal is to stop the Autarch from continuing his Mask policy, as the latest, more-developed Masks are changing people’s personalities after they are masked, producing robotic, trance-like people who would never be able to even think about the possibility of rebelling. There are many heroes within this story who will do all they can to ensure that the reign of Autarch is destroyed as soon as possible. The scenes are tense, life and death struggles all too frequently, and sometimes one isn’t quite sure who are more evil, the Autarch or his Watchers and guards. There are children being used for the Autarch’s final solution to the Masks, with devastating consequences that leave any reader with half a heart furious!
Masks seems to be the first of a series to come and is well-written science or paranormal fiction. It’s credible, exciting, complex and mysterious enough to keep the reader avidly flipping the pages! Great writing, E. C. Blake – highly recommended sci-fi fiction!