Review: Mask of Deception and Sacrifice

I am more than halfway through the Sacrificed Hearts multi-author series of books about maidens falling in love after being sacrificed to "monsters." The third book in the series is Mask of Deception and Sacrifice by Callie Thomas. This book is a perfect blend between The Phantom of the Opera and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It follows the premise of the series more closely than Pearls of Salt and Sacrifice but not quite as literally as Mountain of Dragons and Sacrifice. The story boasts a compelling romance full of drama and passion between two characters who were forced to hide their faces from the world. Its gorgeous artwork is a tribute to the drama and mystery within. This is the darkest story from this series so far, but the author provides a considerate trigger warning at the beginning of the book to prepare readers for the more disturbing parts of it.

Fiona is a lost princess from a kingdom that was conquered by prejudice against those with the ability to use illusion magic, which is revealed by their hair color. She disguises her face before she is kidnapped by the enemy so they would not recognize her as the missing princess, but her dark hair gives away her magical potential, which they use as an excuse to torture her. She is starved, beaten, and stripped of all dignity with virtually no justification outside of her ability to create illusions. When she is thrown into a room with a mysterious masked "monster" and told to make him drink an unidentified liquid, the two prisoners come to realize that they have more in common than they realized. The "monster" turns out to be a man who suffers from a magical form of dissociative identity disorder. Once she gets to know the two sides of his personality, both Zee, his violent half, and Alizar, his gentle half, develop feelings for Fiona, and she in turn cares for both of them as though they were one person.

The Phantom of the Opera influence in this book is obvious and intentional. Zee/Alizar is a musician who plays a song for Fiona inspired by "Music of the Night," and there a few direct references to the musical. The parts of the story that veer from Phantom are a little murkier. For instance, it isn't clear where the tonic that Fiona must give him came from or why the people who gave it to her believed that it would remove his mask and break the curse on him. It is not entirely explain why mask cannot be removed or how it is tied directly to the curse that splits his personality into two. Although it is later explained why Zee/Alizar was locked up and provided numerous "sacrifices" to try to remove his mask, it still feels forced, especially when they would give a prisoner as seemingly insignificant as Fiona an opportunity to take on such an important task.

The strongest element of this book by far is the love story. Fiona and Zee/Alizar complement each other perfectly. Both are torn away from affluent backgrounds to be tortured and imprisoned and forced to hide their true identities from the world. Zee/Alizar comes up with a cute nickname for Fiona and becomes determined to protect her at all costs after learning how she was treated in captivity. By the end of the book, both characters' hidden pasts collide allowing them to live out the lives they were destined for and form an alliance that culminates their deep feelings and understanding toward each other and the world around them. This is a moving story of love being used as a sanctuary from the darkness of the outside world.

Callie Thomas's Mask of Deception and Sacrifice emerges as a captivating blend of dark fantasy, forbidden romance, and gothic legends. Drawing inspiration from The Phantom of the Opera and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the novel weaves a complex plot with a loose ends. The true heart of the story lies in the compelling love story between Fiona and Zee/Alizar. Their shared experiences of torture, imprisonment, and concealment of their true selves forge a powerful bond. Zee/Alizar's determination to protect Fiona, coupled with his desire to share his art with her, reveals a tenderness that blossoms amidst the darkness. Ultimately, Mask of Deception and Sacrifice transcends its gothic influences, presenting a moving testament to the power of love as a sanctuary from the world's cruelty and prejudice.

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