“We’re not perfect. We’re not good. If we went back, I doubt we’d make the same decisions, but that’s why we’re making sure people like you and Elise de Farone and all the others out there have what they need to make the world better than we ever could.”
The thrilling conclusion to the Mask of Shadows duology that weaves a tale of magic, shadows, and most importantly, revenge.
As one of the Queen’s elite assassins, Sal finally has the power, prestige, and permission to hunt down the lords who killed their family. But Sal still has to figure out who the culprits are. They must enlist the help of some old friends and enemies while ignoring a growing distaste for the queen and that the charming Elise is being held prisoner by her father.
But there’s something terribly wrong in the north. Talk of the return of shadows, missing children, and magic abounds. As Sal takes out the people responsible for their ruined homeland, Sal learns secrets and truths that can’t be forgotten.
TW: misgendering, gore, violence, death, PTSD, panic attacks, homophobia, transphobia
I have been looking forward to this for AGES. I really loved Mask of Shadows when I read it earlier this year, and couldn’t wait to get back to Sal’s story, especially after that explosive ending. Thankfully, it was worth the wait.
As ever, I love Sal. I love the way they have this assassin’s surety but also have their moments of vulnerability that show they aren’t heartless and they aren’t invincible. They’re human, very much so, and can’t be much older than about eighteen. The massacre of their homeland and everything they’ve gone through since is a lot to carry, and I think Miller did a nice job rounding them out and giving their desires a strong root.
Of course, I continued to love Elise as well, clever and sharp and just a bit stubborn. Her role as the book went on could have been a little more involved maybe, but I loved her scenes nonetheless, and I love her relationship with Sal, the understandings that the two of them reach.
Maud, too, grew on me more than ever! Equally sharp, and remarkably sneaky for someone who isn’t an assassin, I was beyond pleased with the ways she helped Sal in this book, and the way she’s often a sensible countermeasure to some of Sal’s impulsiveness. She also got a scene at the end with Sal that was completely justified and warmed my heart (plus gave me a good laugh).
And the side characters! I loved Adella (no surprise, knowing my love of the stabby ones), but I was especially delighted with Lady Emerald, who is so casually and confidently revealed to be aromantic. I actually gasped when I read that particular scene because I don’t think I’ve EVER seen an aro character explicitly shown to be aro without someone framing them as heartless or incapable of close human connection, not to mention I don’t think I’ve seen a book ever go into the distinction between asexuality and aromanticism like this book did. It was so, so refreshing, and I loved it.
Ruin of Shadows is actually very casually diverse in this way. Lady Emerald is aro but not ace, Roland is a trans man, Elise is bi, Sal is genderfluid, another court member is nonbinary, Adella is sort of hinted to be sapphic in some way, and it’s not unreasonable to assume other characters are queer. It’s also amazing to see older queer characters around to support younger queer characters!
Beyond the realm of queerness, there is also a good deal of racial diversity (it, like queerness, is something Sal stands to defend and all the nation of Erlend is determined to obscure and/or erase): Elise is biracial, and while the people of Erlend were usually described as white or blonde or something to that effect, most other characters were, by my understanding, POC.
Another thing I really loved was the way that Sal’s targets lost their names and took on their code names instead once their identities were discovered. There was no humanizing of the villains, no excusing what they did in the war ten years ago. There were no attempts at a redemption arc, because there was no one who deserved that chance. Instead of erasing the names of characters who were victims, the names of the villains were wiped out, replaced with their names used in war, the names that they used to commit terrible atrocities.
I think my only complaint comes down to how messy the book feels. It’s sometimes really hard to keep track of the history of the nations when it comes into play, and I had some trouble untangling character relations and intentions, especially when it came to the uses of magic that were discussed in the second half of the book. Maybe I wasn’t reading too closely, but I feel like I shouldn’t have to reread whole passages to understand what’s trying to be said. Or maybe this is my distaste for stories that are grounded largely in political intrigue and maneuvering coming through, and you should ignore me. I’m not sure with.
Additionally, it felt like the book hadn’t been copy-edited. I got distracted again and again by a swapped there vs their, or an occasional missing word that required guessing from context. Ultimately, it didn’t get too much in the way of me enjoying the book, but it was distracting and a little frustrating to see more than once.
On the whole, Ruin of Stars brought the duology to a satisfying end, and I think I’d like to revisit this world some day with new characters if Miller ever writes more in this universe! At the end of the day, I had fun reading this book, and I was satisfied with the way it came to a close, and altogether, that’s half the battle of a good book.
Have you read this duology? What about other books with thieves? Also, what do you think of that beautiful cover? And as a bonus, check out this picture of the book swag I received from Miller!