The best description of this read is a tiny piece of dark chocolate: you have an almost physical craving for it, it is not really good for you, and a little goes a long way.
Lord Galen Tarrent returns to reclaim his inheritance as the Lord of Thornbury after an eleven-year absence in the Crusades. During the Crusades half his face was disfigured, so he wears a concealing mask and goes about only at night. When he meets Anne, the local carpenter’s daughter, tender attraction strikes and he cannot help but marry her. But a string of haunting accidents and murders indicate that Galen’s old enemy has followed him home, an enemy who will let nothing stop his quest to crush Galen.
Galen is scarred by his expereinces in the Holy Land, and finds trusting difficult. Who would ever remain close to him after seeing his face? But Anne’s pure heart and patience slowly melts the ice around his heart. He would move heaven and earth for her, as long as she doesn’t demand the impossible. Anne is pure and innocent, and in this lack of complications she finds her strength face the unknown. She is believes she can sooth Galen’s distrustful spirit, by love and by steadfastly trusting him.
I tend to like anguished heroes and quiet and resilient heroines, and so The Mask came very close to matching my preferences in this area. However, the secret that Galen’s mask is shielding frankly didn’t feel like it had warranted ten years of secrecy and hiding in shadows. Since Galen comes away reasonably sane from his ordeal, his skittishness about his physical deformities seems somewhat odd, given the general lack of remedial and cosmetic surgery at the time.
Continuously skulking about, Galen’s long-term enemy manages to come across more as psychotic than actually sinister. My final reaction was more pity than fear. However, his accomplice is more of a revelation, which managed to perk up the plot when it lagged towards the end. Several of the secondary characters, primarily the staff at the castle, display both personality and an intriguing tendency to moral ambiguity.
The focus of The Mask is Anne and Galen. There is little mention of or interaction with the world outside Thornbury, apart from the next village and the repeated references to the siege of Acre. Also, the intricate social structure of feudal society does not influence the characters overmuch. To be quite blunt, the only markers for a medieval setting, besides mention of the Crusades, are words like gown, brychan, and the presence of a castle.
The Mask is a read I liked in spite of many things. For some readers, those same things will likely push this book into the category of wall indention tools. For other readers, it will be a pure pleasure read. Although I liked it, I will likely not return to The Mask: I’ve had my dose of dark chocolate for now.