Lucia’s Masks by Wendy MacIntyreLucia's Masks by Wendy MacIntyre
Published by Thistledown Press on September 30th, 2013
Genres: Dystopian, Science-Fiction
Pages: 356
Format: Paperback
Source: Ottawa Library

Lucia’s Masks follows a group of six strangers who meet by chance while each one is fleeing the barbaric and thought-controlling totalitarian regime of The City. As they journey to the North, where they hope they can be free of the ever-present Eye and establish a free society, their individual stories are interwoven dexterously by author Wendy MacIntyre.

The principal voice belongs to Lucia. A sculptress and lover of art, Lucia is forced to clean office buildings for the regime and to hide her beloved potter’s wheel from sight. When she finds her most precious possession destroyed, the final straw has been broken and Lucia flees The City. She takes with her a ball of potter’s clay and a copy of the death mask of John Keats; both constant reminders in a desolate, art-starved world of the inherent power humankind possesses to create great beauty.

Lucia’s companions on the road to freedom include: the Outpacer, a former extreme hedonist and philanderer who now hides his identity behind a monk’s cowl; Bird Girl, a young woman constantly hunting for books as all but a few have been destroyed by the regime; Harry, an 88 year-old survivor of a society that detests the elderly; and Candace, a dominant individual whose repeated attempts to assume control creates one of the primary sources of tension in the novel.

In addition to battling forces of the regime, the group must confront their own minds which have become so contaminated by the world they long to escape that their own psyches threaten to become their most insurmountable obstacles. Then, one day, with the bickering and frailties increasing, they encounter an old box with six Greek tragedy masks inside. These masks, possessors of uncanny powers, are destined to be the key to their fortunes.

Now that I have read Lucia’s Masks, I’ll take the saying “don’t judge the book by its cover” very literally. This cover looks a bit cheap and the photo couldn’t be more misleading about what the book is about. There are indeed some masks mentioned in this story, but I don’t see anything else that would remotely relate to the novel on this illustration!
What I mean anyway is that Lucia’s Masks was a good surprise. It is a dark and creepy dystopian novel centered on a few people trying to get out of hell, reflecting on their horrible past and trying to get back some humanity on their way to a new life.

The opening chapter is absolutely stunning. Lucia introduces us to a society ruled by the EYE, a faceless dictatorial government whose mere preoccupation is the “economical imperative”. That means profit at all cost, if you wonder. Lucia witnessed their putsch as a child, she was in school when the “elite” started brainwashing kids under torture, she saw the world crumbling and go decadent from then. 20 years later people die of a variety of synthesized diseases, rumours of mutant humans living underground terrifies them, the street is the stage of daily, arbitrary and utterly violent crimes, and the population is kept under control by means of terror and… porn movies cast in public giant screens in the sky.
Lucia’s world was so horrendous that I couldn’t stop reading. Might not be absolutely healthy.

However, Lucia’s Masks is not only about a young woman running away from a dictatorship. The novel’s main focus is the individual experiences of the fellow escapees she meets on her way out. They all have been deeply scarred by the EYE society, they are all tormented with gruesome memories and most of them display weird behaviours. Some of them even look like caricatures, yet not in a ridiculous way. You really get to believe they got traumatized into their strange conduct.
Lucia’s Masks‘ narration flies from one character to another, though only Lucia speaks in the first person, which I found a bit unsettling. Since you get into other characters’ mind, why don’t they say “I” too? I couldn’t really understand what was so special or different about Lucia that she would say “I” and not the others.
In any case, discovering each character’s story was incredibly fascinating. They all tell you a bit more about the EYE society and about themselves. They make you understand why they behave in their particular way. What makes them click with this character and hate the other. I really liked how Lucia’s Masks was about people and how their previous experience directly impacted the way they think and act.

She does not like to dwell on how vulnerable human flesh and bone are, particularly at the beginning and end of life. This line of thought too often leads her to the conclusion that human beings must be a mistake. Or worse, that the human species is a deliberate joke perpetrated millennium after millennium by some hard-eyed soak in the sky”.

Also, Lucia’s Masks shows how this mismatched group rediscovers friendship and “normal” human relationship. How, once out of the City’s borders, they all question what it is they want from the future. In a surprising way, the group is healing its members by merely holding together and figuring out as a group how people are supposed to interact.

That being said, there were some aspects of the book I didn’t enjoy as much. First, I have to admit I found some parts lengthy. Each character brings you back in the past and even though it is interesting, sometimes you just want to stay in the present and watch the story unfold!
Second, there was too much sexual violence and perversion for me. I understand that the EYE’s society is supposed to be deviant, but almost every single character in the book had experienced a sex-related trauma in the City. Surely there are other ways a dictatorship and decadent society can hurt you? Why not explore those as well? Finally, I was really disturbed by the relationship between a fourteen years-old boy and a middle-age woman.

That being said, Lucia’s Masks is a remarkable novel. The writing is beautiful. The world is truly unique and terrifying yet fascinating. All the characters are – if not likable – at least captivating. I got spellbound watching the group forming and then re-arranging along the way, power shifting, love and trust slowly peeking out from hurt and defiant hearts. It’s an excellent read if you enjoy slowly deciphering people’s mind.