SYNOPSIS: When Evelyn Windham’s younger sister, Rose, is kidnapped due to the belief that she has supernatural healing abilities, she hops aboard the next train to London in order to rescue her. Accompanied by her gentleman friend Nicholas Kent and the dark and broody Sebastian Braddock, the trio find themselves in a situation that is much dire than originally anticipated and amongst people that aren’t always as they seem.
What impressed me the most about These Vicious Masks is the fact that I couldn’t tell that there were two authors writing this story. Shanker and Zekas seamlessly blended their parts together without any hints or obvious signs that two separate people had a hand in the storytelling. Usually there are obvious differences in voice or shifts in POV that let you as a reader know that a different author has taken up the pen, but that was not the case for this at all and not at all what I was expecting. I love how witty Evelyn is and how all the characters feel like they’re straight out of a Jane Austen or Bronte sister novel (while also being self-aware about the tropes and character archetypes of the Gothic genre). It was fast, fun, and wildly entertaining. All the main characters were vibrant and distinct. I loved that each one had a different personality and were allowed to be quite ridiculous at various points in the story (much like how the characters can get ridiculous in a Jane Austen novel). I also loved that just when you think you know a character and have a feel for their personality, a different side is revealed. I liked that the romance was kind of present, but at the same time in the far background. I felt like the romance came into play at odd moments though and it never truly seemed to fit into the narrative especially since Evelyn’s main objective was finding her sister and she didn’t allow herself to be distracted by anyone else. The antagonistic characters also didn’t have clear enough motives for me. The main one, Dr. Beck, does state what he wants, but it never was very clear to me what exactly he hoped to gain by studying everyone’s powers and then Evelyn’s nemesis, Miss Verinder, is never given any real motive other than the fact that Mr. Kent clearly likes Evelyn and Miss Verinder wants Mr. Kent to herself. All the older women play into the rules of society and while that sets up a nice obstacle for Evelyn, it never allows them to be well-rounded characters. I’m also not one for “bad-boy” type characters so Sebastian’s broody “I-kill-everyone-I-love” mopeyness coupled with the fact that his and Evelyn’s powers complement each other just annoyed me. Evelyn states at one point when comparing Sebastian and Mr. Kent that she isn’t sure if she wants someone she can have witty conversation with or deep conversation with and it didn’t make sense to me because all the conversations she’s had with Sebastian have been about their powers and Sebastian doling out his tragic backstory so I wouldn’t call that deep and meaningful conversation, but I infinitely prefer sparkling wit and hate bad-boys so I am very biased here. Other than the “romance” occasionally getting on my nerves this book was a fun and easy read and I enjoyed myself thoroughly from beginning to end.