These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Format: Galley provided by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group through NetGalley
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Genre: Fiction, young adult, superheroes, supervillains, Jane Austen’s School for Gifted Youngsters
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Summary: Navigating society in Victorian England is hard enough for Evelyn, whose mother would love nothing more than to see her married off to an eligible bachelor, a goal Evelyn wants no part of. Keeping her reputation becomes difficult however when Evelyn’s sister Rose is kidnapped and Evelyn learns that they both are part of a group of individuals with specials powers. Even worse? She may be falling in love with one.
When I saw that These Vicious Masks — the first in a trilogy about people with super powers set in Victorian-era London — was dedicated to Calvin and Hobbes and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I knew I was in for a treat.
While the book is by no means a completely original concept but rather the mashing of two genres (described by the publisher as Jane Austen meets the X-Men) I found it to be a fun and enjoyable read, and sometimes that’s all I want out of my YA literature.
The story itself follows Evelyn, a strong-headed Elizabeth Bennet type who finally gets to escape the shackles of societal expectations and her mother’s constant attempts to have her married off when her sister Rose (a kind-hearted Jane Bennet type) is kidnapped.
What follows after Evelyn’s decides to save her sister is a whirlwind adventure through London with help from other powerful individuals like the brooding Mr. Darcy type Sebastian Braddock and the hilariously charming Mr. Kent who may or may not be a Willoughby type.
Saving the day would be standard for any YA heroine, unfortunately for Evelyn, she has to protect her reputation while doing it.
Similar to her Regency counterpart Elizabeth Bennet, Evelyn appeals to a modern reader but is despised by other characters for refusing to stick to the societal rules that her peers are expected to abide by. While their jealousy and actions seem absolutely deplorable in a 21st century context, I found it incredibly interesting to have characters within the novel tell Evelyn exactly why they find her disregard for society’s standards distasteful.
Much like Austen’s works, These Vicious Masks has plenty of witty banter, with Evelyn, Mr. Braddock and sass-master Mr. Kent excelling in verbal sparring, one of the stronger aspects of the novel.
Unlike Austen’s novels however, in addition to the rules of Victorian England, Evelyn finds herself surrounded by a completely different society, one made up of individuals who have extraordinary powers due to the evolutionary process of speciation. Look it up non-science types, this non-science gal did!
The powers themselves are pretty standard — shape shifting, teleportation, precognition, healing and phasing — with a few not so common ones thrown in, including causing sickness in others and the ability to enter dreams.
While the love triangle aspect of the novel is pretty predictable, I must say the ending had me completely caught off guard, and some stuff I could have sworn I saw coming a mile away never happened. Not in this book at least. So while These Vicious Masks may start off like your seemingly predictably young adult fare (complete with ridiculous dreams and trope-y make out sessions), don’t write it off completely. It may surprise you.
- Love a good Victorian setting, especially with a twist
- Fun and enjoyable distraction (although not groundbreaking literature)
- Witty banter between witty characters is witty
- No more love triangles and prophetic dreams in young adult novels please!
My request for book two? An actual name for Evelyn and her high-powered pals. Unless we’re going with Aberrations, which I suppose is on par with the mutant moniker since both terms have their own negative connotations.