Masquerade (Micah Grey Trilogy) by Laura Lam

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Masquerade (Micah Grey Trilogy) by Laura Lam

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Reviewed by Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Summary: It doesn't quite reach the heights of the first two in the series, but Lam's writing is still wonderfully rich and vivid, and Masquerade is a solid conclusion to this excellent YA fantasy series.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: March 2017
Publisher: Pan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781509807789

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Needless to say, spoilers for the first two books in the series. If you haven't read Pantomime and Shadowplay already, you're missing out on some top notch YA fantasy. Go check it out!

It's been a remarkable journey for our young protagonist. It wasn't long ago that Micah Grey was still living the life of Iphigenia Laurus, daughter of a noble family, trapped in a gilded cage forever hiding her true self. Since running away, Micah has managed to reinvent himself, first as a circus acrobat, and then as a magician's apprentice. Along the way he's discovered love and friendships that have helped keep him afloat, even as betrayal and tragedy seem ready to strike at every turn. But there's only so long he can keep running. His powers are growing, the Chimaera are returning, and Ellada is about to reach a violent tipping point.

Identity has always been a cornerstone of the series. It formed the core of the first book, a remarkably poignant coming-of-age story, which explored gender identity and sexuality with a deft and thought-provoking touch. Shadowplay saw Micah finally coming to terms with what made him happy, in an environment where he didn't have to lie to survive, surrounded by people who accepted him for who he was. Masquerade takes it one step further, as he tries to reconcile the many roles he has played, everything he is and everything he has seen, in an attempt to find a solution to the problems ravaging a country that itself is undergoing a sort of identity crisis. The social and political tensions quietly brewing away in the background have finally reached boiling point. For so long the monarchy has ruled unchecked, the noble families enjoying lives of lavish luxury while surrounded by so many struggling to simply get by. The unhappy populace is determined to make a stand against this longstanding inequality. As protest after protest falls on unhearing ears, disillusionment needs but the smallest of triggers to turn into violent unrest. The re-emergence of the Chimaera might just be the spark that throws this combustible mix into all out civil war. With people he cares about on all sides of this potential conflict, Micah has more to lose than anyone; but he's also uniquely placed to understand the situation from multiple perspectives, and might just be the only one capable of preventing a catastrophe.

Pantomime and Shadowplay set a very high bar for the conclusion to the Micah Grey trilogy, which has been a long time coming. Thankfully, all it took was the prologue, before I found myself once again entranced by the effortlessly enchanting style of Lam's writing and re-immersed in this stunningly realised pseudo-Victorian fantasy world, filled with characters that are as distinct and beguiling as the setting. The rich characterisation has always been a real strength of the series. Micah is a brilliantly unique and wonderfully sympathetic protagonist, and his character arc in this book, despite not being as large in scale as in the previous books, is nonetheless beautifully done and hugely satisfying. It's a real pleasure to see how much he's grown up from the frightened runaway we met at the beginning of the series. The supporting cast is equally up to the task, filled with great personalities that are vividly brought to life. I loved the evolution of Micah and Drystan's relationship, and the way they constantly adapt to support each other as they fight their individual battles. It's an excellent central romance, but just as strong are the various familial relationships; whether it's the fragmented relationship between Micah and his parents, the unconditional sibling love that he shares with his brother Cyril, the complicated and hard to define connection with the mysterious Dr Pozzi, or the simple warmth of belonging that he gets from the dysfunctional family that has formed in the Kymri theatre, family is very much at the core of the book.

The pacing is where Masquerade does struggle a little. The plot is ambitious and broad in scope, with multiple strands tackling various topics, but there simply isn't room or time to execute them all to the same depth and quality of the character arcs. This leads to the story stuttering in the middle third due to a lot of rushed exposition. Furthermore, after spending the first two books thrilled by the painstaking world-building and the aura of mystique surrounding the history and mythology of the Archipelago, the answers and revelations in Masquerade are a little disappointing. Much remains frustratingly unexplained by the end of the book and the answers that we do receive are either too obvious, or feel almost too out of left field. The series has always given the sense that it was building up to something a lot more tangible than what we actually end up getting. There is almost a sense of the author wanting to leave a door open for herself to revisit this world, but it comes at the cost of making the plot less satisfying this time around. The socio-political aspect of the story works better. Important issues are brought up, such as social inequality and the role of violence in revolutions, and it's interesting to see them explored via the interplay between the characters, with their various backgrounds and perspectives; though the various strands are perhaps tied up a little too easily in the end. While 400 pages was more than enough for the first two books to tell their relatively self-contained stories, this one could have done with another 100 pages or so to give the story more room to grow.

All in all, Masquerade may not reach the heights of the first two in the trilogy, but it's still a very enjoyable return to the wonderfully rich world of the Archipelago, populated with characters that remain as riveting as ever. A solid conclusion to one of the most memorable YA fantasy series of recent years.

If you're looking for more richly imagined YA fantasy, Leigh Bardugo's supremely entertaining heist novel, Six of Crows, is a must. For more fantasy romance, but this time in the form of a gorgeously written Southern Gothic, try Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Finally, if dystopia is more your thing, you can't go wrong with Patrick Ness' simply unputdownable Chaos Walking trilogy, which tackles so many big themes through it's incredible setting and wonderful characters.

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