City of Masks
(Bone Mask Trilogy #1)
Publication date: August 14th, 2016
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
A noble daughter burdened by power she never sought.
Perched on an unforgiving coast, the city of Anaskar is under threat from enemies within. Its own royal family feuds over possession of sentient bone masks of power, leaving Sofia Falco, daughter to the city’s Lord Protector, to foil a conspiracy designed to strip her father of both his title and powerful Greatmask.
A bitter mercenary accused of murder.
Yet when disaster strikes, Sofia is forced to flee the palace and into the city where she crosses paths with mercenary Notch. But Notch has his own problems – accused of murder, he must fight to clear his name, all the while hunted by the city’s robed assassins, the very people who are now searching for Sofia.
A young Pathfinder seeking vengeance.
Meanwhile, far across the western desert, Pathfinder Ain must overcome his doubts and leave on a hopeless quest. To restore his people to their rightful home, he must unlock the ancient mystery of Anaskar’s Sea Shrine and the gargantuan sea beast that lurks beneath its harbour. Yet all who have gone before him have failed…
Follow three unlikely heroes on an epic fantasy adventure where the struggle over bone masks of power threatens to tear their city – and kingdom – into shreds.
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Learn more about City of Masks!
What were your cultural influences for the world creation for The Bone Mask Trilogy? Why those?
The main influence was probably Italy for setting it was the coast of Amalfi in particular. The historical city was perched on the coast and actually slid from the mountain into the sea in the 14th Century so there’s a bit of that influence on the city of Anaskar itself.
I also found smaller details from the region fun to incorporate into the setting, particularly the fire-lemon which is similar to limoncello, and a lot of the naming conventions are Italian-influenced with some Latin too. For a quick example, one character is named Lupo which would make his name “Wolf” in English. I followed such naming conventions throughout the city with people and placenames ─ all save the city itself Anaskar. (It’s not strictly very Italian-sounding because it’s actually a city that has been named by the previous occupants so I didn’t want it to sound too Italian influenced.)
I think Italy has ended up the biggest influence because back in 2011 (when I first had the idea for a city under threat by a sea monster) my wife and I were in Italy and we were immediately smitten by the country ─ it was one of those once in a lifetime trips and I think I was just keen to soak in everything.
City of Masks weaves together politics, history, culture, and the action in this book. What kinds of research influenced the politics of your world?
Thanks! I drew upon monarchies and tribal systems mostly ─ always looking at where power lies in a group, I guess. Is it shared or is it guarded jealously? If it’s disrupted, who takes what is left? Those sorts of questions are fun to explore as a writer.
I remember reading a lot about various royal families who always featured a brother or son (or uncle) keen to knock off a few family members on their way up to the throne. I think it was the shadowy Richard III that I recall the most.
I think all political structures tend to have an undeniable element of personality; the forceful, confident or clever tend to have the ability to direct others, no matter their title or lack of. With the desert-dwelling Medah people, for instance, despite there being multiple elders in the Cloud clan it’s clear that Raila is holds the most sway; she tends to command the most respect in the group.
Do you have a playlist that you used while writing City of Masks?
Sort of! Nothing like a specific playlist on Spotify etc, but here’s some of the albums that I remember playing quite a lot during the writing (and editing) of the story:
Pink Floyd – Animals
Prince – Sign o the Times
Killswitch Engage – Alive of Just Breathing
Opeth – Ghost Reveries
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
Yo Yo Ma – Silk Road Ensemble
Janko Nilovic – Rythmes Contemporains
The chill of prison bars against his temple did little to ease Notch’s headache. Decades of dank didn’t help either, nor snoring from another cell, where someone was impersonating a bear. Or dying. In the poor light it was hard to tell.
Notch squinted. Noon sun barely crept through the small, grated windows on his side of the building. Even cells across the way were shadowed. Sunlight, in addition to a piece of bread and some water, were high points, while the straw ‘bed’ and stale body odour of criminals were typically unpleasant. Worse places than Anaskar City prison existed. At least he hadn’t been beaten yet – a twinge in his shoulder reminded him how much some guards enjoyed their work.
His cellmate raised his voice and Notch turned. The man had probably been speaking for some time; his drawn face was expectant. Years of imprisonment had washed out his Anaskari tan.
Notch leaned against the bars. “What is it, Bren?”
“Did you kill her, truly?”
Bren nodded. “Innocent then.” He knelt in the corner, his fine coat of blue long since gone to grime, his face pressed against the stone wall. “Listen to this one.” He scratched at an armpit with some vigour. “It’s hard to see but I think it says ‘death to the Shields of Anaskar’ and it’s got a signature, but I can’t make it out.”
Notch grunted. Nothing special for a convicted man to write; since waking on a pile of old blankets that morning and meeting his cellmate, he’d heard a dozen similar sentiments. Through Bren’s meandering introduction, Notch had winced, probing his body. Both arms and chest were heavily bruised and his head so fragile he wouldn’t be surprised to learn a wagon rolled over it last night. Possibly twice. He wasn’t drunk, though the smell of ale was on his breath. One damn drink, that was all.
And there was blood.
His leathers and tunic were splattered a dark red. Not his own blood, the City Vigil told him as much when they hauled him off the street, as if he couldn’t figure that much out. But whose? His own memory was unreliable, which made no sense. He hadn’t been drunk, truly drunk, since right after the war. When he bore another name. A name he left on some tavern floor, after making a convincing go of drinking the memories away. A good bath did for the sand on his body, but the blood-soaked sand in his mind? No amount of ale had washed that away.
And now the Vigil were telling him he’d been so intoxicated he had to be dragged to the prison?
“The Shields probably caught him doing something bad, that’s why he wrote this,” Bren continued, tapping on the wall. His too-bright eyes looked up at Notch.
“I’d say so.”
“Like us, Notch. We’ve done bad things, we have.”
“So you keep saying.”
Bren laughed, its shrillness cutting through Notch’s skull. If it hadn’t been unsettling, Notch would have thumped him, but there was something wrong with Bren. Any fool could see that.
“The guards say you’ve got a few days. That they can’t hang you sooner, because there’s too many in the queue. Waiting to hang.”
A moment of quiet fell between them. Distant voices drifted from beyond the prison walls. Notch clenched his jaw. He should have been out there. On his way to another job. The Blue Lady, a fat merchant ship, would have sailed with most of his possessions on board.
His father’s sword.
No chance of seeing it again. He wrapped his hands around cold bars and squeezed.
“The guards say it too, the guards say you killed her,” Bren said, unperturbed.
He crept forward. “So?”
“So I don’t remember.” He frowned. “But I wouldn’t harm a child.”
Blood blossomed on Sofia’s finger and she cursed, chisel clattering to the bench beside an unfinished mask. Bone dust stirred and a row of heads popped up in bright lamplight as young women in the Carver’s chamber turned to her.
“What’s wrong?” Pietta spun on her stool. Both her grey carver’s robe and face were smudged with fine white dust.
“It’s nothing.” Sofia wiped her finger on the rough fabric of her own robe. “Just a tiny cut.”
Pietta pointed. “It’s on your mask too.”
Sofia groaned. A pink smear marred the otherwise pristine surface of the mask. She had completed one eye. The groove for the mouth and ridges for nose and cheeks were already carved, but she’d have to start again if she couldn’t clean it. The Mascare would not accept a mask dishonoured by any stain. Not that it really mattered – the masks were just symbols of office, costume for tradition. A way to honour the past and intimidate the populace.
It wasn’t as though she was carving a Greatmask.
She wound a strip of fabric over her cut and reached for a small vial with a clear solution. A few drops and a dry cloth were enough to remove most of the stain. “That’s better.” She kept rubbing.
“Aren’t you annoyed?”
“Of course. But it’s not so bad.” Sofia grinned. “I’m still one mask ahead.”
Pietta glared at her, but her own smile was not far behind. She kept her voice low. “You know, I heard the Mascare might open the order to common folk. To bolster numbers.”
“That’s just a rumour. Father said it’s only being discussed.”
Conversations hushed and chisels slowed. Two figures approached. Lady Alda escorted a Shield across the chamber. He stared directly ahead, as if unaware of the sets of eyes trained upon him. Captain Emilio. Youngest member of the Honour Guard.
Pietta stared up at him but Sofia saw only the grave expression on Lady Alda’s plump face. “Sofia dear, that will be all for today. The Lord Protector has returned. He wishes to speak with you. Captain Emilio will escort you.”
“Has something happened?”
“Not here.” The two ushered Sofia toward the exit. The scrape of chisels resumed. Alda pulled open the large doors, their beaten-steel surface showing a looming mask and chisel. Sofia glanced back. Pietta’s expression was caught between worry and envy, as the doors swung shut.
Ashley is an Australian novelist, poet & teacher. You might have read his epic fantasy ‘The Bone Mask Trilogy’ or maybe you’re familiar with his other work, the fantasy/adventure series ‘The Book of Never.’ Either way, you can read more about his books and get access to giveaways and free books via his newsletter below 🙂
Ashley occasionally dabbles in film, is addicted to 80s cartoon shows and Studio Ghibli films, and finds himself constantly awed by the simple beauty of haiku. He is also convinced that ‘Magnum PI’ is one of the greatest TV shows ever.
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