Once every few hundred years the sun god, the Akhen, takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another.That, right there, is an ambitious opening to a cover blurb. It promises BIG things, with a mythology that doesn't just color the world, but which dominates it. It's risky, and I likely would have passed, were it not for the fact that I'd beta read the first 100 pages earlier this year, unencumbered by the blurb.
Having said all that, The Hidden Face (the first book of the Fifth Unmasking) does live up to its blurb. S.C. Flynn has crafted an historical fantasy that is as innovative as it is exciting. He establishes a culture that is just familiar enough to be accessible, but enhanced with a wealth of little details that make it all his own. Similarly, the mythology (and the accompanying history) is absolutely fascinating, so much so that there were times I almost chafed against being drawn back to the story.
At its heart, this is something of a quest fantasy, complete with riddles and puzzles that challenge the reader almost as much as they do the characters. I hate to make the comparison but, yes, this is like a fantasy version of The Da Vinci Code, by way of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, taking us through hidden rooms, mysterious tombs, and forgotten corners of the empire. It's prophecy-heavy stuff, which may turn off some readers, but it doesn't feel cheap or overused here - it's an aspect of the mythology that just fits. It's also a book that's heavy on dialogue and exposition, but that aspect is necessary to the solving of the mysteries. For every reader who might complain there's too much talking through puzzles, I am sure there'd be two more who would complain it all came too easily if we didn't have visibility to those thought processes.
In terms of characters, the rivalry between Dayraven and Astolf is a driving force behind the story, right from the opening pages, but there is a solid backstory to their shared animosity. I took a little longer to warm up to Sunniva, more because it was so clear that she and Dayraven were 'meant' to be together than anything to do with her, but she is a kick-ass heroine who grows as the story races along. The Twister, however, is one of my favorite characters (next to, perhaps, Malombra), and definitely the most intriguing. He is clearly damaged goods (if not outright mad), with a weirdly erotic sort of power fixation on his hump, but he's one of those characters who make you smile every time they step onto the page.
Although there are some dark themes and some violent scenes, The Hidden Face is a fun read that has something new and unique around every corner. I might have liked a little more clarity in the world building, and remain immensely curious about its mythology, but I loved the puzzles, and the characters were what kept me reading.
ebook, First, 350 pages
Published November 25th 2017 by The Hive
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.