These Vicious Masks and These Ruthless Deeds
Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Publisher: Swoon Reads (Macmillan)
Published: February 2016 and March 14, 2017
These Vicious Masks: 4 / 5 Stars
These Ruthless Deeds: 3 /5 Stars
Overall: 3.5 / 5
For Those Who Enjoyed: X-Men, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Dark Days Club, Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Parasol Protectorate
This is a spoiler-free review!
I received an early release copy of These Ruthless Deeds from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve decided to review these two together, because I finished the first book immediately before the second and wouldn’t have had time to post a review of These Vicious Masks before the release date of These Ruthless Deeds. Plus, I think my love for the first book gives a richer context to the second.
As a fanatic of both Victorian literature and magical powers, I was so giddy getting into These Vicious Masks. What made it even more enticing was the silly, tongue in cheek way the characters and dialogue was written. It’s like a solid mix of Joss Whedon and Jane Austen in terms of sassy, witty rejoinders. There’s a stereotypical dark and brooding love interest which the protagonist keeps poking fun at for being so. You suspect you’re getting into a Rochester or Heathcliff situation with him, when really he’s just a socially awkward, kind-hearted Darcy. The pair of them, plus Evelyn’s best friends and sister have this very snappy whip smart dynamic which is easily the triumph of the series.
I felt These Ruthless Deeds lost some of that charm with the shift in focus from that ragtag team to the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters-esque Society of Aberrations. The first book spends so much time poking fun at society matters that the focus on Evelyn’s return to society was boring by comparison. Because she spends so much time under the Society’s thumb, the narrative loses the snappy dialogue that made the first book so fun to read in the first place. I happened to read an interview snippet from Zekas who noted that she and Shanker only keep dialogue that make them both laugh in their drafting stages and it feels a little like they abandoned that rule by the second book in favour of this dry political intrigue plot.
What I did like about These Ruthless Deeds was how Zekas and Shanker addressed the British Empire. There are moments here and there where it’s explicitly stated that the Society of Aberrations is working to round up people with magical abilities in order to protect the country’s Imperial interests. Since the British Empire’s historical background is rooted in horrific deeds and has been documented as such in so many novels of the time, I wanted them to go full blown dark, gothic horror on it. Although bringing down the political conspiracy within the Society does have massive consequences by the end of the novel, I wanted it to go further with it and really drive home the horrible things the Empire is doing to the world and not just immediately to the characters at hand.
While I did still thoroughly enjoy These Ruthless Deeds, the novelty of what made the first book so good wore a little thin. But if you’re a huge fan of Jane Austen, Gothic literature, X-Men, and Joss Whedon’s sass, you will love this series.