Labyrinth’s Heart by M.A. Carrick fantasy book reviewsLabyrinth’s Heart by M.A. Carrick fantasy book reviewsLabyrinth’s Heart by M.A. Carrick

2023’s Labyrinth’s Heart is the third and final book in the ROOK AND ROSE TRILOGY by M.A. Carrick. It addresses the mysteries unfolded in the previous two books, and ushers in dramatic changes to the lives of our protagonists and the delta city of Nadežra.

This review contains spoilers for this book, The Mask of Mirrors and The Liar’s Knot.

As Book Three opens, Ren, Grey, and their team, have saved the sacred wellspring, a source of spiritual power for the Vraszenian residents in Nadežra. The corruption and misery in the city is caused not only by the ruling occupiers, the Liganti, but fueled by the Primordial power in a set of medallions the Liganti hold, not knowing their power. Ren and Grey must find a way to destroy the medallions held by the members of the Cinquerat, the city’s completely-Liganti ruling council. Primordial energy plays on traits like the need for order, love of family, and desire. It always goes bad. When a medallion leaves the possession of the family who wields it, a curse is enacted upon that family. The Cinquerat has agreed to destroy the medallions if they can do it without killing themselves. This will save the city from destruction, although it doesn’t address centuries of inequity and oppression of the Vraszenian population.

Ren and Grey have a long to-do list in this one. Here are a few items:

  • Ren, Grey, Vargo, and Ren’s adopted cousin Tanaquis must determine how to destroy the medallions before they destroy the city.
  • As the Black Rose, Ren must protect the wellspring, as the time of Great Dream comes around again.
  • Ren and Grey try to rescue a kidnapped Vraszenian leader.
  • The Vraszenians mount a revolution.
  • Our protagonists must uncover the mystery of the nightmare monsters known as the zlyzen.
  • They must find the secret to the Iżranyi, the “missing clan” of the Vraszenians.
  • Ren faces an adversary from her past, and loses nearly everything she’s worked for.
  • Grey has to figure out how to reconcile with the metaphysical entity called The Rook.

Rook & Rose (3 book series) Paperback Edition by M. A. Carrick (Author)These aren’t all the plots and subplots, just the ones that primarily affect Ren and Grey. They also want to get married. DeRossi Vargo confronts his daddy-issues, and faces a rebellion when the waterfront gangs turn on him. Ren delves deeply into the role of Pattern, the Vraszenian magic system, and Dream, a reality that can be reached by magic. Along the way she gets clues to her own parentage. At six hundred thirty-six pages, the book adds still more complications before it attempts to wrap things up in ways that are believable and meaningful.

For the most part, for me, the attempt was a success. Any epic fantasy always has more than one main storyline. One element that made this series distinctive for me was that the “drawing room” drama was as high-stakes as the streetside or political plotlines. In the beginning of this book, a character from Ren’s past appears with a flourish that made the wait (two books, for me) worthwhile. Years before, Letilia, a cast-out and exiled member of the Traementis family, had hired Ren as a maid. Ren stole from her and fled, with her sister Tess, to Nadežra, where she created the false persona of Renata, Letilia’s daughter. Ren earned her way into the Traementis household and was adopted, but Letilia can blow her cover at any moment. Letilia is shallow, deceitful and selfish, but she isn’t stupid. She’s fun on the page—fun to hate. She makes a good adversary for Ren, who only wants to save the city and clear the way to marry her Vraszenian lover Grey.

The weight of Ren’s lies and secrets are convincing, and a believable obstacle in this convoluted, complex, predatory city.

Ren designs a citywide spectacle, creating “three trials” for suitors to compete in, with a plan to have Grey win them. This rather fun idea failed to hold my interest when contrasted with the abduction of a Vraszenian leader by his rival, and Gray and Ren’s search for him. The trials, except for the last one, felt predictable. However, during the final one, an angry Letilia exposes Ren’s deceit, depriving Ren of crucial support when she needs it most. Importantly, Ren repudiates Letilia in this confrontation, an action that, while it costs her, shows her character growth.

The parts of the book that worked best for me were Ren’s exploration of Pattern and her visits to the Dream. Clearly, Ren’s family background has always been the foundation of her abilities and I enjoyed seeing it revealed bit by bit. The story of the medallions, which contains a twist just when we think things are safe, was also compelling.

One of the best character arcs in the series is that of Tanaquis. She is a devoted scholar, a student of the Liganti magical system, numinatria. Her evolution is surprising and completely believable, and she plays an important role in this book.

Letilia was, as I said, fun to hate, and I was eagerly awaiting her consequences. When they came, I enjoyed the confrontation with Donaia, the Traementis matriarch. Letilia’s function in the story is immediately filled by another smart, deceitful, selfish woman who targets Ren though, so I never felt like I got to savor Letilia’s crash-and-burn.

Of far less interest to me was Vargo’s struggle with the gangs or Grey’s issues with his father. Grey’s journey of self-realization, aided by Ren, involves the Dream, Pattern and the mystery of the missing clan; the scenes with his manipulative, self-centered father didn’t add anything for me. I never actually skimmed, but I will say there were sections I read quickly, and less carefully, than others.

The nature of epic fantasy is multiple plotlines and points of view. In this, the third book, more plot points were added, and the story didn’t really narrow down the problems until the final third. Labyrinth’s Heart felt overstuffed sometimes, as it steadily reconciled every issue that was raised.

I loved the interaction with the wellspring at the end. Giuna Traementis and Ren’s sister Tess, both important secondary characters, had actions that affected the plot, and both have grown over the series. The mystery of the lost Iżranyi and their connection to the nightmare monster zlyzen was clever.

I wish that, once the writers established an older version of the Vraszenian language for the Iżranyi, they hadn’t used it for one of the most emotional and dramatic moments of their story, since having to translate it distracted me from its emotional power.

Overall, the story of Ren’s rise, fall and…sidestep(?) is satisfying and gratifying; Grey learns the truth about himself once and for all. I want to believe in the dramatic political changes rung in at the end. Along the way, the book delivers excitement, magic, puzzles, betrayals and chills. If you’ve read the first two, you won’t want to miss this. If you haven’t read the first two, you might want to start.

Published in August 2023. May you see the face and not the mask. Ren came to Nadežra with a plan. She would pose as the long-lost daughter of the noble house Traementis. She would secure a fortune for herself and her sister. And she would vanish without a backward glance. She ought to have known that in the city of dreams, nothing is ever so simple. Now, she is Ren, con-artist and thief. But she is also Renata, the celebrated Traementis heir. She is Arenza, the mysterious pattern-reader and political rebel. And she is the Black Rose, a vigilante who fights alongside the legendary Rook. Even with the help of Grey Serrado and Derossi Vargo, it is too many masks for one person to wear. And as the dark magic the three of them helped unleash builds to storm that could tear the very fabric of the city apart, it’s only a matter of time before one of the masks slips—and everything comes crashing down around them.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.