Release day review! Congratulations to S.C. Flynn for the release of The Hidden Mask today, November 25th!
The relationship between book bloggers and authors is a complicated one in this day and age. It’s easy to communicate with people on a mass scale and the anonymity of the internet makes it easy for both parties to forget there are people on the other side of the technology. It’s a magical thing when an author takes the time and effort to make a real connection with the blogger community. S.C. Flynn is one of these authors. I’ve watched him develop relationships on social media and blogs with reviewers. I’ve watched him treat the blogger community with respect and admiration. When he reached out to me and offered a free eARC copy of his upcoming fantasy release The Hidden Face in exchange for an unbiased review, I was excited to help out!
What had Halakh said once? Fill the mind with wonderful things, but don’t be ashamed of the senses.
The Hidden Face opens with our protagonist, Dayraven, returning from 15 years as a political hostage in another empire to ensure the peace. We’re coming upon the end of an era, as it’s been about 500 years since the Akhen, the sun god, last descended to Earth granting boons to one empire over all others through the Fourth Unmasking. The last time, Dayraven’s own empire benefitted. As the 500-year mark draws closer, it’s obvious upon Dayraven’s return his own empire has not prepared for this shift. Brought together with Sunniva, the daughter of a famous scholar, they are suddenly thrust into a Dan-Brown-Esque mystery. Running against time, Dayraven and Sunniva must solve the puzzles left by their mentors and father to understand the secret left to them. A secret to the impending Fifth Unmasking.
What really caught me right away with The Hidden Face is the well-constructed world building. Flynn obviously understands all the peoples of the world he has built. We get to know four major empires during this story and each one feels distinct. For example, the Faustian Empire feels Roman while the Jaelites more Kabbalistic. It’s easy for me to understand the cultural differences and separate out all the different people groups without confusion. Also, the whole concept of the Unmasking is brilliant. It’s a unique and new idea from my fantasy experiences. Based on the book synopsis, I was nervous I wouldn’t get it. Flynn does a great job explaining the process without just telling the reader about it. I learned through the experiences of the characters.
There was something sad and chilling about a strong young man who was blind.
Unfortunately, that’s about all I got from learning through the experiences of the characters. Even though our protagonists are trying to solve an endless string of puzzles, I didn’t feel like I was discovering along with them. Instead, I felt like an observer having to be told everything in order to understand their problem-solving. I appreciate the distinct differences between Dayraven and Sunniva which made these explanations required, but it didn’t improve my overall enjoyment.
My favorite character in this story is certain Twister. A hunchback with a complex and painful past, he quickly became the most fascinating. I feel like the name Twister is perfect since he always had me guessing. Good guy? Bad guy? Just flat crazy? I could never guess. I loved observing all the changes in Twister’s relationships and exploring his backstory. There is obviously much greatness to come from this character as the series continues!
“Someone’s waiting for you there. Explain the situation as clearly as your clumsy mouth can, and don’t get in the way when they go to work. Remember, you’re just a tool in all this.
Most of the other characters were unimpressive, sadly. I wasn’t drawn into or interested in any of them. I was more interested in our dead mentors than in any of the living characters. Both our femme fatale Malombra and our heroine Sunniva were both so poorly constructed that I literally laughed out loud at some of their thoughts and dialogue. They both fell flat. Both of these characters held a lot of promise for me. But, their dialogue was so stilted and predictable they almost felt like caricatures of who they were supposed to be. As a female reader who loves fantasy, I was a little bit insulted. There was little to nothing believable about these characters. With a little bit of polish, I think these characters are easily salvageable. I have hope.
My biggest challenge with this novel, beyond our unrealistic and dull female characters, has to do with the use of sex. I am definitely a pro-sex woman. But I was shocked at how prominent nudity, bathing, and sexual activity was present for a book marketed as YA. I would agree that this has been written at a YA level, but this book has multiple sexual encounters written into it. Including child molestation and non-consensual sex. In fact, in the latter encounter was treated so poorly, I almost DNF’d this book.
Maybe we have slept too long in the darkness. The world has changed and our time is over.
While The Hidden Mask didn’t astound me, I understand there is certainly an audience for this book. A fun, fast-paced, puzzle-solving adventure story, there is a lot in store for our characters and this world. I hope to see S.C. Flynn work to deepen his characters and their relationships with each other as this series continues. With the intriguing and fresh plot, I know this series can go places.
I received a copy of this novel from S.C. Flynn in exchange for an honest review. Check out more about S.C. Flynn on his website.
What do you think?
- What are your experiences with blogger-author relationships? Are they good? Share your stories!
- Have you read The Hidden Face? Have you read any of S.C. Flynn’s other works? What do you think?
- What is the last fantasy novel you read and adored?
- How do you deal with problematic content in the books you read and review?