Masquerade, by Laura Lam [Micah Grey #3]

Title: Masquerade (Micah Grey #3)
Author: Laura Lam
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication date: 9th March 2017
Rating: ★★★★

23279496It’s been a long wait between Shadowplay and Masquerade, and there were times when it seemed it would never come, short of Laura Lam electing to self-pub and/or kickstart the third and final Micah Grey novel. Thankfully, Lam’s publisher, also responsible for publishing the fantastic futuristic sci-fi thriller False Hearts swooped in and seized the entire trilogy, meaning that Micah was coming home.

And what a homecoming. Masquerade is a fast-paced and exciting story, full of mystery and heart, from the second we’re taken back to Ellada.

I was worried about the amount of time that had passed, having expected to forget absolutely everything, and since I do not have the ability to re-read books, it was a genuine concern that part of my enjoyment might be diminished by “what is happening? Who are these people?” and “I have no memory of this place!”. There were things I’d partially forgotten, but the way Lam both opened Masquerade and weaved the story, any of those gaps were very easily filled, with my memory being jogged where relevant and not once did I feel I was reading something I only half connected with, in spite of the huge gap and subsequent gaps in what I remembered. It felt every bit the same as having waited a year or so between books, with no clumsy dumps of exposition or info.

And the wait was worth it.

After the circus and then the magic contest with the Masque of Magic, things seem to be looking up for Micah. Except that at the close of Shadowplay, to sour the success, Micah fell suddenly ill and it seemed related to his burgeoning abilities as a chimera. Luckily, soon Micah is well (but for how long?), but at the cost of trusting someone he never wanted to see again. The Royal Physician is someone Micah would rather steer clear from, and with good reason, following the man’s employment of a Shadow to report their actions and whereabouts during the magic contest, even sending someone to get close to Masque in order to glean all the info he could. Yet Micah doesn’t have much choice and his treatment at the hands of the Royal Physician becomes regular affair–one he remains deeply mistrustful of.

Yet ridiculously, allowing Pozzi to treat him is soon the lesser of Micah’s worries, as tension grows within the city due to both the rumours of chimera and the politicking of the Foresters. The problem is: they have a point. For too many centuries, the noble families and the royal family have had much of the power and all of the privilege, whilst many in the country go hungry or find themselves in poverty. This dissent will not be eased without change, and yet when a particularly violent arm of the Foresters, calling themselves the Kashura in reference to the old histories and tales of the chimera and the Elder race, rises up and makes themselves known, the people of Ellada are caught between the need for change and the dislike for violence and bloodshed.

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Things will come to a head eventually and civil war may well be on the cards.

Meanwhile, Micah’s abilities seem to strengthen thanks to the treatment rendered by Pozzi and soon he is experiencing strange dreams that seem to show him the actions of another person as they go about their business in shadow. That business is body snatching. But without any notion of who is behind the actions or why, Micah and his friends are working blind. They’re not in this alone, aided by the mysterious Anisa, the Damselfly apparition from the Aleph who knows more than she says and who sometimes appears only to help them when it suits her best. None of them are entirely willing to trust her, but with their secrets held tightly to their chests, there are few around them who know the full truth and they must take whatever help they can get.

Matters become more complicated when hands behind the scenes begin to play their cards and Micah, Drystan and Cyan are pulled into things far more complicated and delicate than they could have imagined–and with the Foresters poised for action and change (one way or another) it looks as though things may come to a head sooner than anyone hoped.

One of the things that I’d been hoping for most with Masquerade was Micah’s confrontation with his parents, one way or another. I felt that given the storyline that led him from the noble house in the first place, there needed to be some manner of resolution given that Micah had returned to Imachara with a mind to stay and settle into his new life. This happened, in a way, and although there were elements of what I wanted to see, I felt disappointed in how Micah ultimately handled the situation. Which, really, is to say, I was disappointed in how easily Micah was able to set aside his anger and hurt regarding what his parents wanted for the daughter they believed they had. I think that any narrative from Micah suggesting that he understands what his parents were trying to do, and that he knew it came from a place of love, possibly suggests that Lam maybe hasn’t experienced strained relations with parents regarding queerness and acceptance. Micah loses his anger at his mother, understanding her “reasons” for wanting to fixing (or at least this was how it read to me) and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that. Micah’s mother does not really, really, truly admit fault and she does not truly accept Micah–and therefore she deserved no quarter, no acknowledgement and no further consideration from Micah. It felt like Micah gave too much for the sake of resolution and that just didn’t sit well with me, considering how his mother both was and wasn’t–and how she’d been earlier in the trilogy.

Overall, Masquerade was just as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be, jumping effortlessly back into the same world we’d been forced to leave behind for so long. Every bit as exciting and compelling as its predecessors, Masquerade was a delight and being given such diverse characters with a q u e e r  r o m a n c e  as casually as any other never, ever, ever, ever gets old and it means every bit as much as it ever did. I very desperately want more of Micah and Drystan and still hold out hope for further Micah Grey novels that see him older, wiser and more established with his place in the world.

A wonderful end to the trilogy and almost everything I’d anticipated it would be.

Pantomime, by Laura Lam [Micah Grey #1]

  • TITLE: Pantomime (Micah Grey #1)
  • AUTHOR: Laura Lam
  • PUBLISHER: Strange Chemistry
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 7th February 2013 (UK)

Whichever way you approach Laura Lam’s Pantomime, do so expecting to be surprised and drawn into a vast, rich world of lost magic and melancholy history. Even without the enchanting lure of the circus (am I the only one who finds circuses creepy? I’ll get my coat…) to dazzle and amaze, the flavour of Lam’s prose is delicate and delicious enough to do all the bedazzling, all by itself.

Set in a world that mirrors our own, with a strict focus on the English Victorian era, Pantomime invites readers to run away to the circus; to live under the big top and to experience life alongside its inhabitants.

Micah Grey is a young trainee aerialist, fresh to the circus and eager to learn. He hopes that amongst the hustle and bustle of the circus he can lose himself and find himself.

Iphigenia Laurus, a pampered and primped noble lady–if only she would allow such treatment: she prefers to ally herself with her brother and his friends, rather than fill her dowry chest with embroidery–is tired of a confining life, hiding who she is deep inside from those around her. She yearns for freedom and above all else, acceptance.

Within the pages of Pantomime their lives and purposes cross and they come to realise that they are inexorably bound to one another, whatever the cost. Each with their own trials and secrets and with a secret in their blood that might be the answer Ellada has been searching for, Gene and Micah both must tread carefully. The circus is fertile ground in which secrets can grow and take form, becoming far greater than ever imagined.

Pantomime is the kind of book I thought I’d never read because nobody would ever write it. It is a story about acceptance and belonging and about figuring out just who you are, who you can be, and just who you might be if you were only brave enough to take the first step. There is an openness regarding gender and sexuality that many YA fantasy stories lack and it is for that reason alone that Pantomime simply must be read. In many ways, Lam wrote a brave book that turns the mundanity of heteronormativity on its head and the story is all the richer for it.

It is a story that questions, seeks and strives and more YA books should do just the same thing. For all it is a story of acceptance and belonging, it is also a story of fear: the fear or rejection, the fear of choice and the lack of it, and the fear of oneself. Pantomime is a stunning example of how to go against the grain–and keep going no matter what. Its single, resoundingly simple message is: be true to yourself and only yourself.

Naturally this is harder than it sounds and Pantomime explores just that.

To be true to oneself, one must know oneself and that is often the most difficult thing of all, especially in the face of contradictions from within and without and the trails that face us. Effortlessly graceful and deliciously classy, as befitting the era, the setting and the structure of the story, Lam has set a bar for other YA authors to aspire towards.

And I’m not even kidding here. If all writers approached the same issues that Lam neatly and beautifully broaches, the pool of YA fantasy would be all the richer for it and horizons would be vastly broadened.

Pantomime is a gorgeous book that tells a gorgeous story. It’s exciting, rich and wonderful and its characters are expertly crafted. From sibling relationships to tense court relations, to the intimacy of the circus and blossoming attraction, Lam nails every nook and cranny of each and every character and personality.

A complete and stellar success, effortlessly achieving all it set out to accomplish, Pantomime is the YA fantasy novel that will set the standard for all that follows in 2013, getting the year off to an excellent beginning. There is so much to say, so many observations and commentaries that should arise from reading Pantomime that it should be considered as most of the most important YA commentaries on identity and belonging written within the genre. It’s a bold statement, I suppose, but I hold to it: Pantomime is a work of art, a psychological adventure into exploring the self, and a damn fun read to boot.

Utterly captivating and inviting, Pantomime sets the stage for Lam to emerge as a writer to watch.

5/5

[Cover Reveal] Laura Lam’s Pantomime, from Strange Chemistry

Today is cover release day for Laura Lam! We’ve had a few sneaky, teasing shots of the final artwork, but now the full cover has been revealed.

As we’ve come to expect from Strange Chemistry, the cover is a pretty little thing, a very sexy and delicious thing of beauty.

We’ve got a pretty red-head, twinkling circus lights before a shadowed crowd, and a splash of big top colour, all showing that Tom Bagshaw  was the man for the job.

The font is perfect and the parchment header is a lovely, elegant little nod towards the sense of Victoriana which Pantomime exudes. The half-mask is gorgeous and everyone loves a good old masquerade, and Pantomime promises that in more ways than one.

I particularly like the subtitle: Somewhere, there’s a place for everyone.

Not only does it tease and tantalise, it really does tap into the whole ethos behind Strange Chemistry: it’s a pretty profound invitation, in fact, offering a literary refuge where you can experiment with your imagination—and read a damn good book doing so.

What’s Pantomime About?

R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass – remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone – are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera  is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star. But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

Pantomime is released by Strange Chemistry in February 2013, but to ease the wait a little, look out for Laura over on Goodreads and check out the pre-order details for the book on the Strange Chemistry site.

You can find Laura over on Twitter, or at her blog where she posts regular updates about the release of Pantomime and her antics as an author.