The Silver Mask by Christian Ellingsen (The Vasini Chronicles #1)

The Silver Mask is a well-written flintlock and alchemy fantasy novel infused with a healthy dose of social pomp and political intrigue. It is also an entry into the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off and I found it to be - along with A Threat of Shadows by J. A. Andrews - head and shoulders above the rest in regards to writing skill, characterisation and plot development.

The gods and goddesses are dead, killed two hundred years ago. With their destruction the moon split apart, the sun dwindled and the land was devastated. Civilisation has re-emerged from the carnage, but twisted creatures still prowl the savage Wildlands between the city-states.

The excerpt above is from the book’s synopsis and it does a great job in setting the scene. The Silver Mask has a great atmosphere, the constant rain works well to create an oppressive atmosphere, one that I can, living near Manchester in the UK, very easily relate to. But you will have to be patient to learn more of the gods and the twisted creatures mentioned as at first you will have to familiarise yourself with a lot of names and places as the narrative consistently switches perspective within chapters and some readers may find themselves floundering. But fortunately, having read Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, I like to think myself more a swimmer than a sinker, and just went with the flow. But new reader beware! And prepare yourself to cope with a multi-character, multi-layered narrative. Reading a book of this type is not easy, not for the faint-hearted, and I’m sure I missed much of import - but that is what rereads are for.

One thing that stood out clearly throughout The Silver Mask was the amount of effort Christian Ellingsen has placed on creating the world and the characters that inhabit it. There is an extremely pleasing attention to detail which always plays a large part in making a book as effortless a read as possible. I once read a sumptuous work of alternate history, the Nebula award winning The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N McIntyre; it was set in 17th century France, at the court of the Sun King, and of all the books I have previously read this would be my main point of comparison. Although any who have enjoyed the wonderful alternate history/fantasy works of Guy Gavriel Kay would enjoy this book too.

Alongside the evidently painstakingly created world we have good, clear dialogue and believable character interaction. Captain Marcus Fox and his side-kick Sergeant Locke form a great investigative duo and a good centrepoint to the narrative. The characters are all distinct from each other and the city of Vasini really does become a character in its own right. The book is relatively long, coming in at over 400 pages, and starts off ostensively as a murder mystery where we are quickly introduced to a cast whose lives then begin to converge, before moving into more ‘fantastical’ realms.

The minor issues I believe the book has are these: The cover art will likely not attract the audience who would enjoy it most. Also, I read the ebook edition and there are formatting issues that detracted from the reading enjoyment, especially the documents that adorn the beginning of each chapter. These documents should really serve to add flesh the world’s bones but by being almost illegible they served more to frustrate.

In conclusion, the style of swapping character POV during chapters (and not giving each character a chapter to themselves, like in George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones) is something that I believe readers will find divisive. But I personally liked it and I always respect an author who tries something a little different, something ambitious. I was impressed with Ellingsen’s work and hope that more readers take time to try out this book and uncover this interesting new voice in the genre.

8/10 A well-written flintlock and alchemy fantasy novel infused with a healthy dose of social pomp and political intrigue

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