Saturday, May 09, 2020

This Eternity of Masks and Shadows by Karsten Knight: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

The Eternity of Masks and Shadows by Karsten Knight

I picked This Eternity of Masks and Shadows from NetGalley based on the description that promised an urban fantasy mystery with gods. In a way, that’s what I got. In other ways, it was nothing like that.

The book is set in an alternate world where all the gods of all the mythologies in the world live as humans among the general population, with some supernatural abilities based on their mythology, but with a limited lifespan. Once they die, they reincarnate with no memory of their past lives and sometimes with no idea they are gods. A group of gods living around Boston start dying, presumably by their own hand. One of them is an Inuit goddess of sea. Her daughter, Cairn, believes her mother was murdered and wants to find out the truth.

Even though the setting is basic UFsupernatural elements in modern world and a mystery that is solved by an outsider investigatorthe execution is nothing like your typical urban fantasy. For one, it lacked the energy and immediacy of urban fantasy. Instead, the narrative is lingering and dreamlike with not much world building, the point of view is very distant third person that offer only a superficial insight into the characters’ minds, and it relies heavily on telling, not showing. And worst of all, it has no humour whatsoever. In the afterword, the author mentions superheroes as one of the inspirations. Going with that notion, this book is the dark, no-laughs, no self-irony DC world of superheroes, not the more upbeat Marvel with humour and the ability to laugh at themselves.

It’s not a bad book though. The mystery is interesting and told in two timelines, the present and twenty years earlier. There are enough surprises that the main baddie isn’t obvious until the great revelation. The pacing is slightly off however; there are two climatic scenes at sixty and eighty percent mark that both could’ve led to the end, but the book continues on to the final showdown. And then it goes on some more. At the eighty percent mark I wasn’t invested in the outcome anymore, mostly because of the distancing narrative that failed to make me care about the characters and their fate, but I read on.

The main weakness of the book was its characters. I didn’t care for any of them. Cairn as a grieving daughter was initially interesting, but the reader learns nothing about her during the story. She is a person who has been formed by events before the book starts, and that’s all the reader gets. She doesn’t grow, she doesn’t change and she doesn’t get any sort of catharsis from avenging her mother. The supporting cast was a collection of cardboard cut-outs. I had great hopes for Nook, a grumpy polar bear detective. For the first third of the book when he and Cairn investigated together, there was some proper interaction between them, but then they were separated for most of the book. Yet at the end the reader was supposed to believe they had grown fond of each other. Then there were the victims. I didn’t care for any of them. Just because they met gruesome deaths wasn’t enough to feel for them, when I hadn’t learned anything about them that would’ve make me sympathise with them. For most part, they were very unlikeable characters.

The most annoying, perhaps, was Cairn’s relationship with Delphine. Urban fantasy often has some sort of romantic element in the background that doesn’t dominate solving the main mystery, but which adds spice to interactions between characters. Not so here. The book starts with their romance, but it had already had its great formative moments before the book begins. Then it’s just a series of on-again off-again events that doesn’t make the reader believe that either of them cares for the other, let alone loves. One of the climaxes depends on the reader caring for their relationship, but it was just the same for me what would happen. Basically, I began to root for both of them to die.

All in all, this was a mixed read for me. The mystery was satisfying, the rest of it not so much. There was some setting-up for a series at the end, but I doubt I’d read more of this.

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