I’m really pumped to share this review with y’all because it’s a pretty different book than I would normally pick out. I met Emmie at a writing conference in 2012 and I was so impressed with her. She was so down-to-earth and fun, and she radiated confidence. When she posted about her book being published, I was so excited for her – because it’s obvious she’s worked her butt off and made hard choices to prioritize her writing.
So obviously I pre-ordered The Masked Songbird for my Kindle. And, uh, once I found my Kindle, dusted it off, and charged it, I loved it.
Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:
Mildly hapless Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a flatmate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty quid until payday and not antagonizing her terrifying boss.
Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbour from a beat-down by political thugs.
Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally—and most mysteriously—she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.
Gwen’s hunt for answers will test her superpowers and endanger her family, her friends—even her country.
I don’t read a ton of urban fantasy, and while I love comic book flicks, I don’t tend to gravitate toward the action/thriller side of fiction. Something I’ve admitted could be an unfortunate oversight. Because The Masked Songbird falls into the “superhero” category, it features familiar tropes. This book is essentially the Shrike origin story, so you’ve got your mysterious accident, even more mysterious powers, flirting with vigilantism, and adoption of the secret identity.
Origin stories aren’t my favorite, but The Masked Songbird succeeds because Mears knows her characters and her pacing. Gwen can be flustered and passive, but also charismatic and resilient. She might not make the best choices, but she will grow from her mistakes. It’s refreshing to see a character so well-balanced in terms of flaws and strengths. Gwen feels real; the kind of person you’d grab a pint with, or share a scone. Although nobody feels “one note” in this book, Gwen is the real standout to me.
The pacing works very well. Especially with the superhero genre, you have to know your beats. Mears knows when to keep the reader anxious, when to make them laugh or cry. Tearing up on the recumbent bike in the gym? Yep, that’s me. Almost ruptured something trying not to wake Scott and Huckleberry from laughing too hard? You betcha. Deliberately saving this book for my workouts because it would push me? Heck yeah.
Setting the novel against the backdrop of the Scottish referendum made the story resonate even more in the wake of the “no” vote. It features prominently in the plot, and it’s woven in well. Some of those tears came from well-placed and well-timed Saor Alba moments – no surprise given Emmie’s personal posts of late.
Please give The Masked Songbird a read. It’s the first in the planned Scottish Songbird series, and I can’t wait for future installments.
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