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REVIEW: The Destiny Mask by Martin Sketchley

REVIEW SUMMARY: Flawed but fun.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The two heirs of the Seriatt Royal Household race to claim their rightful position of power.

PROS: Brimming with action; relentlessly fast paced.
CONS: Some moments broke suspension of disbelief; Delgado character less likable than in previous book.
BOTTOM LINE: Read this with a reinforced suspension of disbelief.

At the end of The Affinity Trap, the first book in Martin Sketchley’s Structure series, the reader was presented with a nice, juicy, soap-opera-style ending regarding the birth of male twins, offspring of Seriatt Royalty.

The Destiny Mask picks up the story about twenty years later. Unknowingly separated at birth, Cascari was raised by ex-military intelligence officer Alexander Delgado while Michael was raised by General William Myson, leader of the tyrannical government known as Structure. Mortal enemies Delgado and Myson think that their respective “sons” are the rightful heir to the position of Monosiell in the Seriatt Royal Household. The untimely death of the current Monosiell means it is time for Delgado and Myson to make their moves. Each one sees the installment of his own son as Monosiell as an opportunity to further his goals; in Delgado’s case, a way to strike back at Myson and in Myson’s case, a way to achieve even more power. The race is on for each to claim what is rightfully theirs. Meanwhile, a Seriatt oracle foresees the coming of a savior thanks to the fortune-telling capabilities of the Destiny Mask, a mysterious artifact which is also used by the Seriatts to create an as-yet-untested time travel device.

Readers of The Affinity Trap should be prepared at the refocus of The Destiny Mask. While the former was clearly space opera, the latter shifts gears a bit and settles comfortably into action/adventure – at least until the last two chapters where it gets back to its operatic roots.

The Destiny Mask follows attempts of Delgado – with half-breed son Cascari and Delagado’s rebel partner Ash – to stop Michael from reaching Seriatt. The narrative is broken into a series of fast-moving mini-adventures as they try to achieve their goal. The book is thus comprised of a 90%-10% split between action and plot. While this will satisfy hardcore action fans, it sometimes comes at the expense of common sense displayed by the Delgado character. For example, after commandeering an escape ship, rather than quietly leave the planet, Delgado decides to test the ship’s weapons while still inside the hangar, thus alerting security to his presence. Such moments made it difficult, if not impossible, to believe in what was happening.

Delgado, once the honorable hero, now seems to wantonly kill people who are in his way regardless of their innocence or involvement with Structure. At one point later in the story, Ash – Delgado’s partner in rebelliousness who is mostly relegated to window dressing – jokes about Delgado’s unnecessary ruthlessness. It was as if the author was suddenly aware it was an unlikable character trait but did nothing more than note it as such. It was therefore hard to like Delgado as much as I did in the previous novel. Thus the potentially dramatic moment of Delagado’s realization as to the true relationship of Cascari and Michael (no surprise to the reader of either book1 or book 2’s back cover) left me feeling indifferent.

That said, if you can maintain your suspension of disbelief through plot points like these, then The Destiny Mask reads like a high-octane roller coaster ride of adventure. The pacing is relentlessly fast and the story skips across multiple planets with dramatic and dangerous situations. Unfortunately for Delgado, most mini-adventures end with him captured, unconscious or both. But there’s no rest for the weary reader as the next adventure starts almost immediately. There are shootouts, hand-to-hand combat, narrow escapes, prison breaks and coliseum battles. There’s even a glider race which is used in Seriatt culture as a rite of passage for the rightful Monosiell heir. Yep, this definitely reads like action/adventure. But will it stay the same for book 3? Don’t be too sure; the cliffhanger ending promises to refocus the story yet again. And there is still the unanswered question as to the identity of the savior foreseen by the oracles…

So, while The Destiny Mask is not perfect, in the end it does provide some fun summertime escapist reading.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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