28th January, 2021

Review: The Crooked Mask by Rachel Burge (Hot Key Books)

I very much enjoyed Rachel Burge's The Twisted Tree when I read it two years ago. I was therefore thrilled when I was asked to review the sequel: The Crooked Mask.

Deep in a forest in Northern Norway lies the Circus of Myth & Mayhem. Martha is certain that unsolved mysteries are hidden there - and talks her way into getting a job as a psychic. She soon learns there's something very strange about the circus. Costumed performers re-enact stories of the Norse gods wearing masks, which move and change expression, yet no one notices but her. And then there's the creepy jester who invites her to 'play'.

When an old friend shows up at the circus Martha is thrown into turmoil. Is he there because he misses her or because he wants to stop her discovering the truth? And he isn't the only liar she has to worry about. Loki has taken an interest in the circus and Martha finds herself drawn into a dangerous game of the gods. She must look behind the mask and see what's really happening . . . before it's too late.

As in book one, the author has a tremendous talent for creating atmosphere. We have an enchanting but slightly eerie circus, we have scheeming gods and a possible murder that needs to be solved. The way Burge describes the setting, had me hooked immediately. The black and gold stripes of the circus tents, the lights that span between the big top and the stalls/smaller tents, all located in the middle of a wintry forest - what's not to love about that? 

This is YA but it is not for the faint of heart. There are some rather creepy passages in the book that gave me goosebumps. I loved this sinister atmosphere and it contributed perfectly to what is happening in the story. The masks that the performers use to reenact the myths of the gods seem to come alive, the dead are swarming the circus grounds and the gruesome figure of the jester becomes even more disconcerting as the narrative continues. The story is fast-paced, the tension keeps building and building and I found myself unable  to put the book down. 

Martha is a wonderful character. I love how she is both vulnerable and strong while also believably representing someone who has to live with disfigurement and visual impairment after an accident.  But I also adored a lot of the new side characters. Ruth, for instance, was deeply fascinating and I would have loved to learn even more about her. Burge manages to make all these characters come alive on the page. Martha has limited time to win the wager and defeat the trickster god Loki and as the plot climaxes, the reader is swept along with the crowd of spectators and captivating host of performers in mythical costumes in a fiery reenactment of Ragnarok - the end of the world(s). 

This is a beguiling and riveting read. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a slightly spooky tale as well as all readers interested in Norse mythology. If you haven't read The Twisted Tree yet, however, I suggest that you read this first as - after all - The Crooked Mask is a sequel and picks up a lot of strands from book one. 

Rating: 5/5 stars

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