This challenging, genre-blending work, 100 chapters long and packed with far too many characters, requires the reader to follow meandering paths parallel to the murder mystery, exploring a woman’s desperation to have her fabula (visual media) script produced, a wealthy man’s distaste for life, a fabula producer’s affair with the dead woman’s former employee, and retreats where people remove their masques to “disconnect and transcend.” These elements eventually prove relevant, but the structure is far from a straightforward investigative plot. The masque-related worldbuilding is filled in swiftly and well, but the late introduction of a cryptic invisible gateway upends it in baffling ways. The writing is swift and fluid, with few stumbles other than some blunt and tedious sex scenes. Readers may flinch when characters describe genius masque designer Van Etten as a “cripple,” though the usage is clearly rooted in the characters’ obsession with maintaining status through scornful oppression.
Lipkin’s blend of genres will reward readers who enjoy unpredictability and leisurely pacing. The narrative critiques the masques’ ill effects, showing the cruel arrogance of legacies and aboves, and ends on a high note. The broad scale of the plot and large cast of thinly described characters with disparate arcs become overwhelming, but a round of successful romantic resolutions provides a welcome sense of closure.
Takeaway: Readers willing to think outside the murder-mystery box will enjoy exploring this ambitious mash-up of procedural, romance, and futuristic social commentary.
Great for fans of John Varley’s Steel Beach, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: C