I spent much more time reading this book than I usually do for a book of 350 pages because I had to re-read so many passages that just didn't make sense to me. At first I thought I was skimming too much and missing something, but eventually I decided that the writing really was that unclear. And when I finished the book - finally! - and read reviews by others, I was heartened to see that I'm not wrong in my assessment as many other people also struggled. Close to the end of the book I started a conversation with my husband with "So this book I'm reading.." and he broke in to say "Yeah! What is that about?! All I saw were the words 'mask', 'left hand', and 'five'." He had been looking on while I read on the train and said that he had managed to finish reading a page before me which never happens so he knew I was moving slowly. So what was so unclear about this book?
- I was very often unsure which character was speaking during dialogue. I would assume it was the person who had just been described - like "Ruby smirked" - but then the statement didn't seem to make sense coming from Ruby so I'd have to re-read to see what I had missed.
- There were classes? or races? or people and Sal had vowed revenge against some of them but I wasn't sure who they were. Were the Erlands the nobility? What is their place in society now? By the end of the book I think I had it down, but there wasn't a complete explanation of how things went down during the war until pretty close to the end.
- Who had magic? How did the Queen banish it? When we meet her there is some description of the scars she bears from getting rid of it but I don't know how that happened. I think maybe she was a mage, but I don't know that for sure. Again, just general confusion for me in the world-building.
- For that matter, I wasn't even sure if The Left Hand was one of the four assassins specifically or if that referred to the entire bunch of them until about halfway through the book. I'm not a fan of didactic explanation of things, but I need more to go on.
- All of the people auditioning for the job of Opal are given numbers, one through twenty-three, and they all wear masks so it's difficult to separate them while reading as there is very little characterization.
- And more...
And while talking in the realm of gender and sexuality, the romance in the story left me unmoved as well. Elise says that her only options have been to be with a man but she doesn't always feel that way and if Sal makes it to Opal, the world will be forgiving so I'm guessing that means Sal is a female biologically even though that is never explicitly revealed. I think that having a lesbian relationship is great but I was never feeling the growth of the romance nor the reason why Elise was interested. Like much of the rest of the characterization, it felt flat to me.