These Vicious Masks

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
These Vicious Masks Book Poster Image
Magic, mad scientist mix in darkly romantic Victorian romp.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The story is specifically set in 1882 London, but in a magical tale, historical accuracy isn't the strong suit. There are plentiful references to Lord Byron (who died in 1824 but seems to be a pop culture hero in this book's world), and characters see a performance of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Darwin's recently published theory of evolution plays a role in the plot.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about loyalty to your loved ones, as well as courage and creative thinking when it comes to protecting them. Ongoing theme include what lurks behind the cloak of socially respectable behavior and what happens when people are more concerned with appearances than with righting wrongs.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Narrator Evelyn is feisty, brave, headstrong, and prone to the sort of screamingly bad decisions seen among teens in horror tales, but everything she does is driven by her determination to find her kidnapped sister, Rose, and get her to safety. Rose, who disappears early on and appears mainly in flashbacks or dreams for much of the story, is a kind, compassionate healer who's loved by almost everyone -- and has a clear sense of who she is and what she wants from life. The two male leads, Mr. Kent and Mr. Braddock, vie with each other to help Evelyn find Rose in increasingly dangerous situations -- but also make it clear that they have their darker sides. Several supporting characters, e.g., Evelyn's former governess, Mr. Kent's sister, a woman Evelyn cures, and the butler Tuffins, offer help and entertainment value amid the suffocating, hypocritical respectability of polite society. Betrayal is common, and it's hard to know whom to trust.

Violence

Characters are abducted and assaulted; Evelyn is attacked by would-be rapists. Several people wind up dead. One character's unwanted magical power is that he causes everyone near him to sicken and die. A mad scientist tortures and kills his victims for "the greater good." Characters who show unusual powers are sometimes imprisoned or sent to insane asylums.

Sex

Narrator Evelyn has two swoony guys to deal with and shares swoony kisses with each of them: "Before I understood anything, a rough, large hand brushed my chin, my face tipped upwards, and his mouth caught mine, and suddenly my entire body was on fire ... I felt the world pass between our lips, tasting champagne, hunger, and something indefinably darker, while his hand ignited sparks down my cheek to the nape of my neck."

In one scene, she's obliged to use her magic healing power on a hunky "strange, half-naked man in his bedroom." One of her expeditions takes her to a London establishment that, depending on whom you listen to, is either a dance hall or a brothel, but there's no explicit sexual activity; observing a madam at work there, she's struck by the similarity to society matchmakers. Kidnapped Rose has an obsessive suitor.

Language

One "goddamn" and a lot more "hell" and "damn" than would enter the speech of a Victorian lady. "S--tty" and "weird-ass" pop up in the author interview at the end of the book.

Consumerism

These Vicious Masks launches a new series and a new imprint, Swoon Reads. An author interview and a sample from another Swoon Reads release are included.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Evelyn, who's old enough to have had her debutante "season" in London, drinks both wine and beer, as do other characters her age and older. Her adventures often take her to the seamy side of town, where drunks are always plentiful, sometimes violent, and often disgusting.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that These Vicious Masks is the first book in a planned trilogy by exuberant first-time authors Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas. It's a thrilling, suspenseful, snarky page-turner involving magical powers (some deadly), a mad scientist who tortures and kills his victims, an innocent young girl who falls into his clutches, and her sister, who defies Victorian propriety and faces many dangers trying to rescue her. Along the way there are thugs, drunkards, and ladies of questionable virtue, as well as two swoony guys with a lot of secrets and excellent kissing skills. Characters, including lovable ones, die, often tragically, and others face mortal danger. The strongest language from the Victorian characters is "hell," "damn," and one "goddamn."

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What's the story?

As the story begins, it's 1882 in England, and in the wake of her London Season, Evelyn Wyndham and her younger sister, Rosamund, are reluctantly facing impending death -- from boredom, as their matchmaking-obsessed parents take them to excruciatingly polite balls in search of eligible young men. Boredom becomes almost a pleasant memory when Rose disappears overnight, and Evelyn is sure she's been kidnapped. When her parents, who seem more worried about what people will think than about what's happened to their daughter, refuse to do anything, Evelyn heads for London in search of her lost sister. Two handsome young gentlemen seem eager to help and provide timely assistance as Evelyn delves into a world of dark alleys, dark forces, and dark deeds -- but they also hide dark secrets of their own.

Is it any good?

First-time authors Shaker and Zekas conjure up a Victorian universe of superpowers, deception, magic, murder, and millennial-like attitude in their snarky, darkly romantic series debut. Often a quirky mix of Jane Austen and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, THESE VICIOUS MASKS may lack historical accuracy here and there, but the authors' barely concealed sense of too much fun is infectious as they peel away one layer of disguise only to reveal another, serving up moments like this:

"I stood up, unable to resist the wine any longer. I poured it into a teacup and ignored the snort behind me.

"'Ah, so you know what to do when a man takes you for a doxy?'

"Mortified, I felt my face flush, but somehow kept myself from spitting out the wine. 'When a man takes me for a ... doxy? So you see it as an inevitability -- why, thank you.' ...

"'Forgive me for sullying your innocent ears, but if you go to a dancing room unaccompanied, you will hear much worse. And you will inevitably be taken for that kind of woman even if you're wearing a nun's habit.'"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Victorian era and, specifically, why it's such a popular setting for dark romantic adventures. What other examples can you think of? How do they compare with this one?

  • The mad scientist thinks it's perfectly all right -- in fact, his moral obligation -- to torture and kill Rose if it helps him find a cure for "millions." Do you agree that it's better for one person to suffer and die for the "greater good," even if it's against their will?

  • Do you know people who care more about what other people think than doing what's right? How does that show in the way they act and treat people?

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