Masquerade, by Laura Lam [Micah Grey #3]

TITLE: Masquerade (Micah Grey #3)
AUTHOR: Laura Lam
PUBLISHER: Pan Macmillan
RELEASE 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.

The Definitive Future of the Micah Grey Series (PANTOMIME, SHADOWPLAY & MASQUERADE)

And because you should definitely have Micah Grey in your life, check out my reviews for both Pantomime and Shadowplay.

Laura Lam

Micah Grey has had an interesting journey over the past few years. I first dreamt up Micah in 2007 and started a book with the character 10 years older in 2008. At the end of 2009, I was having trouble with it, so I decided to write a “short story” of Micah as a teen joining the circus. That expanded into novella length and then I finally admitted it was a novel. I submitted an early draft of it in March 2011 to Angry Robot’s Open Door month. In November of that year, I had a revision request because it definitely needed work, and I gutted and rearranged it and it found a publisher in Strange Chemistry, Angry Robot’s new YA imprint. PANTOMIME was released in February 2013, and the sequel, SHADOWPLAY, in 2014. Sadly, in June 2014, Strange Chemistry closed. I wasn’t sure initially what the next step for Micah was going to…

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Shadowplay, by Laura Lam [Micah Grey #2]

Title:Shadowplay (Micah Grey #2)
Author:Laura Lam
Publisher:Strange Chemistry
Publication date:4th January 2014
Rating:★

5-star copyThis review will barely do justice to the book and its sheer excellence, because I am having to reign in my inner fanboy and go easy on the complete author love, here. There’s a lot of fanboy to contain, trust me. Shadowplay is the second of the Micah Grey books (and hell, I fear a revolt if there are not more!) and it not only continues on beautifully from where its predecessor Pantomime left off in taking us on a magical journey through a Victorian-esque world that could almost be ours, yet isn’t, revealing slowly and deliciously more and more and more about the history of Ellada and what bearing the deep past can have on the very near present, but it further reveals the heart and soul of Micah Grey, constantly resonating with themes of acceptance, confidence and identity.Shadowplay-Cover

With their lives in the circus in tatters, Micah and Drystan must flee, seeking refuge with the only person whom Drystan thinks he can trust in the whole of Imachara. The washed-up magician, Jasper Maske has not performed magic for years, due to an old grudge that was harshly settled all those years ago, whilst his rival flourishes on the stage with his grandsons, performing so many of the beloved tricks that Maske and his rival developed themselves when they worked together instead of against the other. But this has nothing to do with Micah and Drystan, who simply need to hide from the policiers and the accusations of murder that will follow them from the circus following the double murder that occurred.

Still nursing a broken heart, Micah’s spirits are shattered. Never mind that during the first night with Maske and during a séance he insists on holding, Micah has a vision that he simply cannot understand or fathom. It must have something to do with his being a special case, how the Penglass reacts to his touch and all the other small things that he has never really thought about until now—until he meets someone else like himself. Micah will soon discover just it is he might be and that he is definitely not alone.

Soon, magic and performance become Micah’s life and he finds that he hungered for show business after the circus life he had so carefully nurtured was torn from him so suddenly. Drystan and Micah become Maske’s assistants and begin to learn everything from this master of magic. Of course, the option to leave Imachara for good still hangs over their heads as they take refuge in Maske’s old and dusty Kymri theatre, hiding from the public eye wearing magical disguises and hoping not to be recognised somehow from their likenesses that have been circulating. Then, of course, there’s still the Shadow to think about.

Before Micah knows it, his heart and his head are in disarray: between visions and cryptic messages about what he is, all mixed together with blossoming feelings of love, Micah has a lot to think about. Not least of all the fact that a Chimera keeps telling him the world is going to end and he will have to save it. Only, he hasn’t really got a clue how and the world doesn’t seem in peril… unless you count the growing ire of the Foresters, who are rallying louder and louder against the Twelve Trees and the rigid, lofty monarchy of Imachara. With the Princess Royal only a child and her uncle pulling the strings from behind, there is a lot the Foresters have to complain about. But are they going about it the right way and will the actions of their charismatic leader have any bearing on the future of the world at large?

In Shadowplay Lam has created a platform onto which a deeper and far wider reaching plot will grow and spread, eclipsing any semblance of normality in Micah’s life, demonstrating that a book can be a success starting out as a slice-of-life story about one person and one person alone, and transform into something bigger in the blink of an eye. Stuff happens that we can’t always see, things that suddenly appear on the stage uninvited and unexpected. Lam captures perfectly sense of being swept up in something far bigger and far more complex than oneself, without the automatic urge to bend and be swept away. Micah has a level-headed approach to everything that happens around him and this creates a genuinely realistic character whose life is heading in one direction, his destiny in another. The two will meet eventually, but Micah will plot his own course as much as he can. And he does. Yet there is no sense of a “chosen one” despite the constant reiteration that Micah can save the world. Everything is about cause and effect and consequence, and moreover, evil and darkness behind the scenes. Protagonists have lives and do not spend all day peeking behind the black curtain at the back and sides to see if trouble will appear.

There is a great sense of real life in the Micah Grey books and it’s one of the things I love most about Lam and her writing, her world. Most of all, I love that Micah is Micah, with no compromises. The message this sends is necessary and powerful. Furthermore, Micah will discover that difference can be irrelevant. What you are does not automatically shape your identity; who you are is what matters.

Pantomime will always have a special place in my heart, but Shadowplay has outdone even that and presented a deliciously exciting story with so much meaning and mystery. Nothing is clear come the end of Shadowplay, save only that things are set to become very complicated. Lam’s focus on characters is absolutely perfect, with everything performed against the backdrop of a lost and confusing world glimpsed only through echoes of the past and dreams and visions, and a magic contest that the whole city will be watching. Vestige could be magic, it could be technology. There is so much we do not know; there is so much Micah does not know. This complete lack of reader omniscience is ideal for a story where the characters very much so come first.

Shadowplay is a gorgeously written novel with so big a heart the pages can barely contain it. There is scope and ambition and a very clear sense that Lam knows precisely what she’s doing; the perfect author-puppeteer behind Micah’s stage. There is a sense of rightness about how everything unfolds, as though Micah’s life is set on invisible tracks, heading towards a point in the distance that only Lam knows. Everything in Shadowplay is paced and presented just as it should be, with mystery and intrigue, romance and a deep hatred between old rivals.

In short: Lam is a genius, she writes beautifully and everything about this book was a complete and absolute pleasure. If you loved the circus, you’ll fall in love with the complex and fascinating world behind the stage of Shadowplay and the Kymri theatre Micah now calls home.