Greatmask (2016), the third and final book in Ashley Capes‘s BONE MASK TRILOGY successfully brings each character’s arc to a satisfying conclusion and wraps up all the disparate subplots — while still leaving room for the promise of new adventures on the horizon.
Anaskar has been invaded by the blue-cloaked Ecsoli; they now control all three tiers of the city, from the seaside docks to the lofty palace where King Oseto is held captive. Would-be rebels hide in the back alleys and taverns, slowly building up a resistance and waiting for an opportunity to fight back. Among them is Flir, whose preternatural strength seems useless against the powers of the Ecsoli, and who doesn’t know who to trust among her own people.
Meanwhile, Sofia Falco and her father make the journey back toward Anaskar, attempting to master control over the Greatmasks in their possession, knowing they might make all the difference in the conflict ahead. These masks are the trilogy’s namesake: sacred bone masks that allow the wearer to communicate with mysterious god-like entities — but not without a heavy psychological toll upon those that chose to don them. (Not incidentally, these masks are the reason for the Ecsoli invasion, as they scour the streets for suitable bones).
A similar quest is being undertaken by the war-veteran Notch, also desperate to return to Anaskar and lend his aid to the civilians therein.
That leaves Ain, a desert-dweller whose role as a Pathfinder means he is able to sense the echoes of passage across the land, but who must now return to his people in defeat after failing to find their legendary Sea Shrine. But on the way he realizes that his people face a much greater threat: the darklings, strange and destructive creatures that no one seems to know how to defeat.
As you can see, Greatmask opens with all our familiar characters strewn across a variety of different plot-lines, but as the chapters go on, they slowly start to converge in satisfying ways. The cliff-hangers of the previous book, The Lost Mask, are quickly resolved and the theme of “stronger together” is pronounced, though as the story goes on a number of tough decisions and sacrifices have to be made.
There’s clear development for each character, and an underlying sense that each one must understand where they came from in order to decide where they’re going — in stark contrast to the trilogy’s main villain, who exists in a state of mental stasis, concerned with little else besides extending his own lifespan.
As ever, Capes writes clearly and at a steady pace, taking the time for solid world-building without getting bogged down in it. The continuity is strong across all three books (I was hoping Padin would turn up again — and he does!) and some thought-provoking questions are raised concerning the true nature of the Greatmasks and the effect they have on their bearers.
In all, it’s been fun reading THE BONE MASK TRILOGY over the last three years: strong characters, great world-building, and a plot that doesn’t spiral out of control, but rather keeps the focus on a limited number of characters and their personal/political goals. That it ends on a satisfying but somewhat bittersweet note is just the cherry on top.
This entire series sounds so fascinating and creative!