“The Mask Falling” by Samantha Shannon. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021. 528 pages, $28 (hardcover).
The fourth book in the Bone Season series, “The Mask Falling,” shows Dreamwalker Paige Mahoney fighting for her life, reckoning with her choices and knowing the decisions she makes will also affect countless numbers of others.
The book begins with Paige having once again eluded death, taken from captivity and put into a safe house in the Scion Citadel of Paris. She is now stuck between those who want to bring Scion down and those who want to protect the puppet empire for the Rephaim. The Dominion Program that helped rescue her has plans to use her as an intelligence agent, but it also expects her to play by very exact rules – something that Paige has never been very good at doing. With her own ambitions warring with her wish for a safe home, she goes into the underground of Paris in search of alliances and truths. Arcturus Mesarthim, otherwise known as Warden and her former enemy, is by her side throughout it all as they journey through the catacombs of Paris and into the hallways of Versailles. Paige dreams of many things, but one is above them all – turning her rebellion into an outright war against Scion. As Scion widens its bounds and begins taking out other countries, the free world realizes it may have to fight back. As Paige battles her memories from being in the hands of Scion, she also realizes she must chase this opportunity.
Paige was tortured, waterboarded and more at the hands of Scion. She would have been left to die there. Water brings back memories she would rather not face, and nights bring terrors that awaken her in sweats if not screams. It is this, and more, that shows the effects and shocks of war. Shannon does not shy away from the stress and terror that the war is having on the voyants around Paige, nor Paige herself. Others speak of nightmares they have and battles they must endure on a daily basis to function, and I think this is an important aspect of the book. Paige even sometimes has to ask for help, which is incredibly wonderful to have portrayed. She a queen, the Underqueen, and she still has to have someone comb and blow dry her and to soothe her in the night when she awakes from another nightmare. No one is made of steel.
Speaking of Paige reaching out for help, or at least sometimes allowing it, her relationship with Arcturus was so much a part of this book and I was very happy to read every single word of it (well, mostly. Just read it). Overall, the relationships are so well built, from the good ones to the very bad ones. Shannon is a master of making us truly hate the villains, of having very much wanting to see them get their comeuppance, and yet still understanding why sometimes the ties may run too deep for a character to be able to make the choice that clearly would be better for others. Paige’s rebellion, and her success, has come from the relationships she has built with other voyants, from the friendships and trust she has inspired, and the loyalty that has been given to her. In a world in which there are so many reasons to be disloyal, Paige is unwavering – and perhaps she gives her trust a little too freely.
This book also wrestles more with how her choices will affect others, because she knows her face and her reputation as the Black Moth is now more important than ever. Paige must wrestle with the idea that her identity of who she is as a person is no longer as important with what she must be and what she stands for because of it. We see her trying to understand who she is and who she must become to truly be the Black Moth, the Underqueen, and the leader of an all-out war to save the people she loves and the voyants. Shannon is able to show us this through bits and pieces, through small choices here and there, as Paige struggles from one moment to the next.
The historical aspects in Paige’s world make it even more impactful. The hatred of one people (voyants) for who they are and what they can do at no fault of their own harkens back to so much of our own history. It is easy to see us lost to this ideal, to the fact that rulers long ago would have bowed down to those who for all purposes seemed to be gods. The whole idea of that fascinates me – and in this novel we get to see pieces of France from the Revolution. Marie Antoinette’s jewels, the chandeliers from Versailles and even Versailles itself. As a complete history nerd, I loved every mention and reference to things of a historical nature, and how Shannon effortlessly wove them into her new world.
Often, we say that main characters get through scrapes too easily, never hurt or captured. Instead, I’m beginning to think that poor Paige could use a break. She is almost constantly getting caught, or injured, or something awful befalling her. I know it’s war, and she’s being hunted, etc., but I just really want her to have one perfect mission and then one great happy celebration (OK, there are a few of those, too, but I want to hug her.).
It has been two years since the last book was published, and therefore it was sometimes hard to remember exactly what was being referred to from a previous book. Not too difficult to make it through, however, and there is a handy reference included of the characters and terms because of this exact reason.
There will also be a mini prequel, “The Dawn Chorus,” set to release on July 9!
– Reviewed by Fallon Willoughby, first-year experience instructor, Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College.