Book Review: Wizard’s Masquerade
Reviewed by Andrea Marks-Joseph
An ambitious wizard joins the king’s royal guard, where she is tempted by love and investigates serious threats to the monarchy.
When we meet Leyna, she’s in the middle of a magical battle that counts for her final exams to graduate school with a wizarding qualification. Working toward a life of stability and independence, Leyna is twenty-two years old, ambitious, hardworking, and aware of the privileges that allowed her to get has far as she has. (Her father being second cousin to the King meant that she grew up in the castle, and he paid for her expensive wizarding school education.)
She has one major goal: “As far as she was concerned, so long as her dream of becoming a wizard of His Majesty’s Royal Guard came true, the rest of the world could simply fall away.”
Wizard’s Masquerade instead leads her to a palace that is plagued by regicide, a monumental conspiracy against the monarchy as well as secret societies who are willing to do anything to further their agendas.
Multiple mysteries present varying levels of risk to her safety and the strength of the kingdom. Our brave protagonist is often sarcastic, skeptical, and defensive, but she’s also kind, considerate, hardworking, and observant. So it’s powerful and emotional when Wizard’s Masquerade takes us on the tumultuous journey to achieve Leyna’s lifelong dreams and depicts the internal crisis that comes with realizing that achieving everything you’ve worked so hard for may not be as good as you thought.
The magic system that author Jay Pellegrin has built in this novel is fascinating and unique in its approach—familiar enough to understand immediately, but different in a way that feels fresh and necessary. Wizard’s Masquerade’s fantasy world features shapeshifting creatures, demon summonings gone wrong, levitation and lifesaving spells, vicious demon attacks, and mysterious magical spies.
In the Wizard’s Masquerade world, “Magic was a dangerous thing,” because while spells look lovely and may be doing good work, “the wizards would be drawing on demonic powers from the Other Side to make them happen, and a mistake in performing even a trivial spell carried a risk.” This imaginative fictional world would make an excellent on-screen adaption that could rival any high-stakes fantasy franchise.
When tragedy strikes the kingdom, Leyna is assigned to investigate the traitorous crimes. Leyna’s investigation takes her on emotional twists and turns relating to who she can and can’t trust and leads her to discover that she doesn’t really know the people she loves. She experiences heartbreaking sudden losses, frustrating encounters with her parents and mentors, and falls in love along the way. There’s a host of characters that contribute to this unpredictable adventure: many charming, several endearing, some sinister.
The mysteries include spy collaborators, unexpected alliances, and secret organizations with ill intent. The novel has more mystery than romance, though the frequent appearance of suitors and intriguing potential love interests will definitely appeal to romance readers who prefer the pull of a potential fling to carry them through a story.
With thrilling reveals to each new question, even the most clever mystery readers will find themselves surprised and delighted by the plot twists.
After joining her classmates for a final graduation prank, Leyna copes with irreversible results of an injury to her leg, which she initially fears may need to be amputated. It is healed with magic but misshapen and heavily scarred on the skin, leaving her with a limp and in need of physical therapy. As a reader who has dealt with injury, scarring, and reckoning with a disability at a young age when you feel like the world is ahead of you, Leyna’s inner turmoil and insecurity combatting her steadfast self-confidence and innate defiance feels accurately and beautifully portrayed. “She accepted it for what it was: her leg. A leg she was still lucky to have.” Disabled readers need not fear their bodies will be represented in a way that makes them feel inferior or incapable. In fact, though Leyna is honest about her discomfort and occasional shame, she is loved exactly as she is and consistently the hero of the story.
Another brilliantly depicted aspect of Leyna’s life is her reluctance to deal with her persistent mother trying to arrange her marriage. Much of Leyna’s career ambition is an attempt to achieve a level of success and independence that would free her from her mother’s matchmaking attempts. But her mother continues to find a way through the busy important work Leyna’s doing to set up tea parties and invite suitors to meet her.
The novel gives Leyna three potential love interests.
Quinn, a fellow student and competitor for her dream role as a royal guard to the king. He’s often distant and moody, but he’s always there for Leyna when she needs it most. His most reliable magic skill is that he can turn into a wolf.
Lord Brighton, who heals Leyna when she needs medical treatment, offers her warmth, lingering glances, gentle touches, and the most helpful gestures of kindness when she least expects it.
Then there’s Jester, an actual, costumed court jester who is playful, flirtatious, and often obnoxious in his behavior around Leyna. She wants to dislike him, especially since she doesn’t even know his true identity, but she finds him captivating, exciting, and (when she dares to admit it) surprisingly sexy. Her attraction comes to light in the form of explicit sex dreams. The sex scenes are rich with seductive banter and tremendous heat.
Dark and difficult topics are woven into the court magic and familial sentimentality. We are front-and-center for an execution by beheading, we hear witness accounts of brutal mass murders, we face false accusations and unjust trials, and we feel the emotional impact of the wrongful deaths as a result. The plot includes a concerning animal injury, and discussion of mass animal starvation.
Leyna sometimes finds herself reliving grief from the death her of sister many years ago, a loss that still weighs on her, especially now that she’s moved back to the castle where they spent childhood together. She recognizes that her mother, having already lost one daughter, is desperate for her child to stay safe. Leyna also deals with the pain and torment of being reunited with a teacher who bullied her and singled her out in class and continues to treat her with active contempt now that they’re in proximity again.
Wizard’s Masquerade is a thrilling, action-packed coming-of-age story. Leyna fights for her dreams to come true, realizing on the way that happily-ever-after looks completely different than what she imagined. It’s a big book that never feels tedious, with so much happening and entertainment from all sides to invest in. Leyna finds love and reunites with family in a novel that creatively connects scenes filled with crushing grief, sheer terror, sexual tension, fierce loyalty and longing. It’s dramatic, romantic, and an absolute pleasure to read.
Genre: Fantasy / Sword & Sorcery
Print Length: 550 pages
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