Book Review: THE MASTERS by Ricardo Pinto

(Title: The Masters / Author: Ricardo Pinto / Publisher: Ivory Tower Press / Publication Date: January 30, 2020)

Back in 1999, a much younger me was working at Borders Books.  By some fortuitous decision by the manager, I ended up being assigned the Science-Fiction/Fantasy section to shelf and maintain.  One day I pulled a stack of books out of the new release box that immediately caught my eye because of the unbelievably striking cover art and the intriguing summary on the back cover.  The book was called The Chosen by Ricardo Pinto and it was the first book in what was then a trilogy called The Stone Dance of the Chameleon.

I devoured each book with profound satisfaction and have always wanted to revisit the series since, but for a variety of different reasons over the years I was unable to make it happen.  My decision was made easier for me however, as I recently discovered that author Ricardo Pinto is re-releasing The Stone Dance of the Chameleon as a revised 7-book 2nd edition that will be published in its entirety in 2020!  Would I enjoy it as much as I did the first time around?  Would the changes made by the author affect my feelings about the story in any way?  I quickly obtained a copy of book 1, THE MASTERS and sat down on my comfy reading chair to find out.

THE MASTERS opens in an ominous fashion as a mysterious black ship approaches the harbor of the island home of young Carnelian and his father Master Suth.  The two, along with their family and servants, were exiled a number of years ago from their previous homeland of Osrakum for reasons that will be revealed as the story plays out.  Braving the violent winter gales, it is obvious that the ship has been battered and those aboard are worse for the treacherous journey.  The visitors aboard the ship are robed and masked much in the same fashion as Carnelian and his father, but somehow their presence is more menacing than peaceful and Carnelian wonders what dark mission has brought them to their shores.

Carnelian's suspicions prove to be true as the three immediately seek audience with his father upon disembarking and relay that there are urgent matters to be discussed.  What is apparent to Carnelian is that the strangers seem accustomed to being obeyed without question and display a superior air of arrogance and entitlement.  It is soon revealed that Master Aurum, Master Vennel, and Master Jaspar are all Masters and members of "The Chosen" of Osrakum, the upper class of a caste system who see themselves as divine and god-like.  So much so that they are not to be looked upon by the eyes of any of the lesser classes, upon threat of immediate dismemberment or death.  Thus, the reason why they are almost always masked and only unmask when in the presence of those of equal social stature.

As they disclose the reasons for their arrival, Carnelian begins to find out more about the land that his father was exiled from and also gets a rude awakening in the customs of The Chosen, of which he himself is a part.  Arbitrary killing is a fact of life among The Chosen and "the laws" of this cruel class must be adhered to without exception, even if it means killing or maiming your own family members.  Carnelian cannot believe that he has been sheltered from his origins and as his resentment with his father grows for keeping him in the dark, he finds out that he must accompany him, along with the three other Masters, back to Osrakum to oversee the election of a new Emperor.  His father holds a very influential vote and because of this, his presence in the election is vital to the future of his homeland.  Yet there are forces who may not want the Lord Suth to make it back alive, for they have their own ideas about who should rule going forward.

If you like your fantasy reeeeally dark, unrelentingly brutal, and with brilliant world-building that is simply on another level, then look no further than THE MASTERS and the larger series of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon. This is not a feel-good fantasy tale replete with magical fairies, bitingly sarcastic dwarves, and mythical unicorns.  It's a book that requires a little patience as it divulges its many secrets.  THE MASTERS is also amazingly well-crafted with a deep history and a societal structure that has clearly defined classes and a specific set of brutal laws that govern them.  This book truly contains some of the best world-building you are going to find anywhere.  Pinto doesn't sugarcoat anything in his narrative and there are moments where it's almost too uncomfortable to continue reading, and yet....you just have to continue on because the story compels you to find out what could possibly be around the corner.

THE MASTERS hooks you right from the first page as the mystery of the visiting black ship begins to take center stage.  As the story progresses, we see Carnelian go from his protected life of exile in his island homeland to a very uncertain future that awaits as he travels back to turbulent Osrakum, a place that he has no real connection to anymore.  He also is unaware of the potential danger that he and his father will face upon their return, and that is where the story really picks up and takes flight.  For it is at this point that Carnelian realizes he and his father can no longer be sheltered from the horrors of Osrakum and the assassins who lurk behind glittering masks of gold.  

This is a book that demands to be read if you like being challenged and are tired of reading the usual template of predictable fantasy.  Absolutely everyone is put in danger, there are no inherently "good" characters to speak of, and Pinto clearly has a message that comes through with regard to oppressive regimes and how they can keep the populace under the boot of authoritarianism through merciless violence and fear.  He delivers that message in an unforgiving and real way.  So if you have the courage to read a book that pulls zero punches, then by all means this is the book that you have to pick up now.  It's one of my favorite non-traditional fantasy series.  The enhancements made by the author have only served to make the beginning of this tale even better in my opinion.  Looking forward to reading and reviewing the next six installments.   Be on the lookout for my review of book #2, The Chosen coming soon!

(My Rating: 9/10)

Comments

  1. Awesome review. Have never heard of this series before.

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  2. You should check it out. It's really different and beautifully written.

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