I acquired a copy of this arc through Netgallery.
Release Date: 2nd June 2020
‘This Eternity of Masks and Shadows’ by Karsten Knight is a YA fantasy novel which draws inspiration from mythology around the world. At the time of writing this review it has an average rating of 3.55 stars Goodreads, and I have awarded it 2 stars.
The story follows Cairn, the daughter of a geologist and Ahna who is a reincarnation of Sedna, the goddess of the sea and marine animals in Inuit mythology. For in Cairn’s world, reincarnations walk the Earth with mortals and are reborn every one hundred years into new lives and bodies. But Cairn’s world changes forever when another God kills her mother and she is left to sift through the mystery of her mother’s life, and discovers that a journey her mother took in her youth with other Gods may be the cause as the members of the group slowly start dying one by one. Cairn goes on a journey to discover the truth and bring the one who killed her mother and her old friends to justice.
“The girl they pulled from the water that day was just a wispy, fragile husk of the one who dived in.”
I was excited when I first read the synopsis of this book, the idea of Gods walking among mere mortals and altering our lives in ways we couldn’t expect or anticipate sounds thrilling and not only that, it was based on mythology from across the globe, not just focused on Greek mythology which we see too often. The premise of this is fantastic and the ideas Knight tried to introduce and battle with are admirable, however the execution of these ideas were not good enough and it all fell a little flat.
Truly it was a like a breath of fresh air to read a book focusing on mythology from across the world, and to learn about gods and myths from other cultures and countries rather than just the same ones we constantly see in fantasy novels. I learnt so much about different mythology from around the world, and I really do appreciate how Knight tried to include figures from different cultures and countries in his work. However, I would have liked to have seen more discussion on the God’s roots and their connections to their cultures. For example, Sedna is an Inuit goddess but there was little mention of her connection or her daughter’s, Cairn’s, to Inuit heritage; similarly Ra who was an Egyptian God made no mention of the connection he had with his heritage. I understand they were born into different bodies each time and did not necessarily live in the countries or cultures their myths originated from, but I think it would have been an interesting idea to explore how connected they felt to their heritage or countries/cultures their myths originated from, whether or not they felt a large disconnect or a great connection.
I also enjoyed the fact this was set in a world where humans were aware Gods walked among them, and whilst I think the explanation they knew this because of social media and the documentation of people’s actions was not the best explanation, it was an interesting premise to work with. It was particularly interesting towards the end when this explored how this could influence politics and also democracy, and whilst I would have appreciated more depth with this idea it was one I welcomed happily.
This book is also full of action, and the action is fairly good in my opinion. Knight does not overpower the villains or the heroes in this story, and is also not scared to point out there are consequences to battles e.g. death or injuries. Whilst I prefer character driven stories and this one was driven by action so it wasn’t my cup of tea, I can recognise it could be someone else’s very easily.
One idea that appeared to keep popping up in the narrative was one of grey morality, however I don’t believe it was fully explored. It was there but never mentioned by name, and personally I think it was a theme that was underdeveloped and needed more time to flush out fully for it to help carry the narrative. I think also sometimes conversations where we hovered around the concept of grey morality were rushed, and if those conversations had been flushed out Knight could have brought something that whilst not new would have been interesting to the story.
As well as this, whilst I appreciate the complexity of the plot and the reveals that ran within it, I did feel like at times I was being told rather than shown what was going on. None of the plot twists felt particularly exciting as I was often told rather than shown them, there was little hinting at the plot twists before they were revealed and so I felt little shock at them – because when looking back there wasn’t much to guide me to these revelations, and I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t see them coming. As well as this, I found at times we were told Cairn had done things rather than lived them with her, which was confusing when they were events that often impacted the narrative or her relationship with the other characters. I think if there is a plot point that impacts your story or the dynamic between the characters a great deal you should probably show it rather than tell us about it.
I think perhaps my biggest problem with the book is I didn’t connect with any of the characters. Cairn is left largely as a blank slate, and I think that’s been done to make her more ‘relatable’ to a young adult audience, it does mean I can’t describe her personality for the sake of this review however. As well as that, it does mean that her romance and relationships with other characters lacks any chemistry as she’s far too much of a standard character to bring any spark to this. Unfortunately a lot of the characters in this book meet the same fate, it’s hard to distinguish the characters at times as they all largely sound the same, and when they do sound different they sound almost like caricatures of their roles or stereotypes. I would say I think Ahna is a fascinating character and I wish we would have seen more from her, as I really enjoyed the chapters where she was heavily featured.
Overall whilst I thought the premise and ideas were ambitious and interesting, I believe not enough detail was placed on the intricacies of the plot nor on the personality of the characters, and therefore the narrative at times felt lacking. If more time had been spent fully fleshing out some of the ideas in here and also more time was spent on character study, this could have been very good – the potential is definitely there, unfortunately the execution is not good enough. However, there is an audience for it if you are interested in mythology and enjoy action driven narratives.