The Liar's Knot


By M. A. Carrick

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A clever con artist, a legendary vigilante, and a dashing crime lord must fight to free their city from the clutches of a dark and ancient magic in the second novel of M. A. Carrick's “utterly captivating” Rook & Rose trilogy. (S. A. Chakraborty, author of The City of Brass)


In Nadežra, peace is as tenuous as a single thread. The ruthless House Indestor has been destroyed, but darkness still weaves through the city’s filthy alleys and jewel-bright gardens, seen by those who know where to look.

Derossi Vargo has always known. He has sacrificed more than anyone imagines to carve himself a position of power and influence among the nobility, hiding a will of steel behind a velvet smile. He'll be damned if he lets anyone threaten what he's built.
Grey Serrado knows all too well. Bent under the yoke of too many burdens, he fights to protect the city’s most vulnerable. Sooner or later, that fight will demand more than he can give.
And Ren, daughter of no clan, knows best of all. Caught in a knot of lies, torn between her heritage and her aristocratic masquerade, she relies on her gift for reading pattern to survive. And it shows her the web of darkness that traps her city.
But all three have yet to discover just how far that web stretches. And in the end, it will take more than wits and knives to cut themselves free.

Praise for the Rook & Rose trilogy:

“Lush, engrossing and full of mystery and dark magic . . . Jump in and get swept away.”BookPage

“Will catch hold of your dreams and keep you from sleeping.” —Mary Robinette Kowal, author of The Calculating Stars

“I was unable to put it down.” —Andrea Stewart, author of The Bone Shard Daughter

“Exactly the fantasy adventure novel you're craving.” —Tasha Suri, author of The Jasmine Throne

“A fantastically twisty read.” —Fran Wilde, author of the Bone Universe trilogy

"Immersive…a feast to savor slowly." —BuzzFeed

"For those who like their revenge plots served with the intrigue of The Goblin Emperor, the colonial conflict of The City of Brass, the panache of Swordspoint, and the richly detailed settings of Guy Gavriel Kay."Booklist (starred review)


Dramatis Personae

Ren—aka Renata Viraudax, aka Arenza Lenskaya, a con artist


House Acrenix

Eret Ghiscolo Acrenix—head of House Acrenix, Caerulet in the Cinquerat

Carinci Acrenix—his stepmother

Sibiliat Acrenix—his daughter and heir

Fadrin Acrenix—a cousin

House Coscanum

Faella Coscanum—sister of the head of house

Marvisal Coscanum—her grandniece

Bondiro Coscanum—her grandnephew

House Destaelio

Era Cibrial Destaelio—head of House Destaelio, Prasinet in the Cinquerat

Eutracce Destaelio—one of her many daughters

House Extaquium

Eret Sureggio Extaquium—head of House Extaquium

Parma Extaquium—a cousin

House Fintenus

Egliadas Fintenus—a cousin

Nencoral Fintenus—a cousin

House Indestor (disbanded)

Eret Mettore Indestor—former head of House Indestor, former Caerulet in the Cinquerat (deceased)

Mezzan Indestor—his son and heir

Breccone Simendis Indestris—married in from House Simendis (deceased)

Meppe Indestor—a cousin

House Novrus

Era Sostira Novrus—head of House Novrus, Argentet in the Cinquerat

Benvanna Ecchino Novri—her latest wife

Iascat Novrus—her adopted heir

House Quientis

Eret Scaperto Quientis—head of House Quientis, Fulvet in the Cinquerat

House Simendis

Eret Utrinzi Simendis—head of House Simendis, Iridet in the Cinquerat

House Traementis

Era Donaia Traementis—head of House Traementis

Leato Traementis—her son (deceased)

Giuna Traementis—her daughter

Letilia Traementis—her former sister-in-law, originally called Lecilla

Colbrin—a servant

Suilis Felsi—a servant

House Vargo

Eret Derossi Vargo—crime lord and upstart nobleman

Master Peabody—an unusual spider


Tanaquis Fienola—an astrologer and inscriptor working for Iridet

Agniet Cercel—a commander in the Vigil

Ludoghi Kaineto—a lieutenant in the Vigil

Facosse Dimiterro—high commander of the Vigil

Rimbon Beldipassi—a rising success

Quaniet Scurezza—head of her house

Idaglio Minzialli—a wealthy gentleman

Orrucio Amananto—a ubiquitous gentleman


Koszar Yureski Andrejek—former leader of the Stadnem Anduske

Ustimir Hraleski Branek—his rival and new leader

Idusza Nadjulskaya Polojny—loyal to Andrejek

Ardaš Orsolski Ljunan—loyal to Andrejek

Šidjin Drumaskaya Gulavka—loyal to Branek

Dmatsos Krasnoski Očelen—loyal to Branek

Tserdev Krasnoskaya Očelen—his sister, head of the Crimson Eyes knot


Grey Serrado—a captain in the Vigil

Kolya (Jakoslav) Serrado—Grey’s brother (deceased)

Alinka Serrado—Kolya’s widow, an herbalist

Yvieny and Jagyi—their children

Dalisva Mladoskaya Korzetsu—granddaughter of the Kiraly clan leader

Mevieny Plemaskaya Straveši—a blinded szorsa of the Dvornik

Ivrina Lenskaya—Ren’s mother, an outcast (deceased)


Nikory—one of Vargo’s lieutenants

Pavlin Ranieri—a constable in the Vigil

Arkady Bones—boss of the biggest knot in the Shambles

Dvaran—keeper of the Gawping Carp

Oksana Ryvček—a duelist

Fontimi—an actor known for playing the Rook

Tess—Ren’s sister

Sedge—Ren’s brother

Ondrakja—former leader of the Fingers, also called Gammer Lindworm (deceased)


Diomen—a Seterin inscriptor

Kaius Sifigno—aka Kaius Rex, aka the Tyrant, conqueror of Nadežra (deceased)

Varuni—sent to safeguard an investment in Vargo

The Rook—an outlaw

A Note on Pronunciation

Vraszenian uses a few special characters in its spelling: č is pronounced like ch in “chair,” š like sh in “ship,” and ž like the z in “azure.” The combination sz is pronounced like the s in “soft,” and j has the sound of y.

Liganti names and terms have the vowels of Italian or Spanish: a = ah, e = eh, i = ee, o = oh, u = oo. The letters c and g change before e and i, so Cercel = cher-CHELL and Giuna = JOO-nah; ch and gh are used to keep them unchanged, so Ghiscolo = gee-SCO-loh.

Seterin names share the same vowels as Liganti, but c and g are always hard, and the ae vowel combination sounds like the English word “eye.”

The Story So Far

(Or, this is their past, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither… )

Five years after poisoning her gang leader, Ondrakja, and fleeing Nadežra, the half-Vraszenian con artist Ren returned with her adopted sister, Tess, in tow. Their plan was simple: Ren would masquerade as a relative of the noble but declining House Traementis. Once adopted and inscribed into their register, she and Tess could skim enough wealth to set themselves up for life.

But none of it went as planned. Ren found herself caught between the Traementis leader, Donaia; the Vraszenian Vigil captain Grey Serrado; the crime lord turned respectable businessman Derossi Vargo; and the Rook, a vigilante who opposes the nobility. To win acceptance with the Traementis, she had to gain them a new charter to replace the broken numinat responsible for cleansing the West Channel of the River Dežera—a magical structure destroyed through Traementis corruption some years before.

Polluted water was only one of Nadežra’s problems, though. A sudden rash of street children dying from an inability to sleep led Grey to stories of “Gammer Lindworm,” a monster from Vraszenian folklore, while Vargo uncovered evidence of a new drug called ash, which gave its users nightmarish visions with the power to kill. On an evening later dubbed the Night of Hells, someone poisoned the city’s leadership and visiting Vraszenian dignitaries with ash—and Ren along with them. But instead of giving horrible visions, it pulled them all into the shifting realm called Ažerais’s Dream. Together with Donaia’s son, Leato, Ren attempted to escape… but they encountered Vraszenian creatures called zlyzen, and a twisted hag Ren recognized as Ondrakja. Although the Rook pulled Ren from the dream into safety, ending the nightmare, the zlyzen tore Leato apart.

In the aftermath, Ren found herself incapable of sleep. With her con threatening to unravel around her, an unlikely set of allies came together to save her life. Vargo ultimately journeyed into Ažerais’s Dream to bring back the missing part of Ren’s spirit, restoring her ability to sleep. Because the Rook had discovered her con during her sleeplessness, Ren speculated that Vargo might be the vigilante and had saved her to protect her secret. She also learned that Leato’s death was no accident: The decline of House Traementis was due to a long-standing curse—one that had somehow managed to strike Ren as well. Although the astrologer Tanaquis Fienola was able to remove the curse, its source remained unknown.

Ren, Grey, and Vargo realized that Ondrakja had survived the poisoning and become Gammer Lindworm, and that she was creating ash by letting the zlyzen feed on children’s dreams. Before they could capture her, an agent of Mettore Indestor, Nadežra’s military leader, sparked a riot among the restless Vraszenians of the Lower Bank. Quelling it caused a schism among the Stadnem Anduske, a group of Vraszenian radicals, which left their leader, Andrejek, near death.

But even the riot was only a cover for Mettore’s true plan. Working in partnership with Gammer Lindworm, he planned to use ash to destroy the Wellspring of Ažerais, the holy site of the Vraszenian people, and then to blame it on the Anduske. While Vargo dismantled the magical numinat around the wellspring and the Rook fought Mettore, Ažerais’s Dream transformed Ren into a masked heroine, the Black Rose, and she confronted Gammer Lindworm. Betraying Ondrakja a second time, Ren turned the zlyzen against their mistress.

For Mettore’s crimes, House Indestor was disbanded. For his assistance in saving the city, Vargo was elevated to nobility. The events at the wellspring had proved to Ren that he was not the Rook… and worse, she discovered he had betrayed her. Vargo was secretly working with another nobleman, Ghiscolo Acrenix, and he’d sold her out to Mettore on the Night of Hells. Realizing that Vargo had also killed Grey’s brother, Kolya, Ren vowed revenge.

As did the Rook. For the man who wears the hood… is Grey Serrado.


Three kinds of business ran out of the Attravi dyeworks in Froghole. There was the legitimate kind that stank of urine and starch, overseen by workers with faces steamed red and rough from the dye vats. There was the illegal kind that took advantage of the stench and proximity to the fouled West Channel to smuggle aža, saltpeter, papaver, and other illicit goods into Nadežra.

Then there was the business that came with no questions asked.

Vargo learned about the third sort the afternoon a foreign-sounding cuff came to the dyeworks.

His head was shaved bald like a plague victim, but he dressed as fine as any man from the Pearls, in a velvet coat dyed a plum so dark it could have been mistaken for black. The gaze that fell on Vargo when he darted forward at the foreman’s snap was like a fen vulture’s: dark and void of emotion. “This isn’t your usual boy.”

“Jaršin came down with the shivers. En’t getting back up again,” the foreman said, scowling at the rudeness of Vargo’s predecessor, dying like that. “This one’s solid, though. Running three months and he en’t filched or scarpered yet.”

Not that the foreman knew, anyway. Vargo stood straight and did his best to look trustworthy.

“I see.” That black gaze narrowed at him. “How old are you?”

“Near eleven,” Vargo said. It wasn’t quite a lie; for many rookery kids, guessing took the place of knowing.

“Good enough.” The man handed Vargo a tightly wrapped bundle, the strings webbing it sealed with wax, and a letter tucked under the bindings. “Eastbridge, along the Pomcaro Canal, number seventy-one. It’s from Balmana and Schiamori. You’re not to leave until he’s tried it on, understand?”

No, but who could suss out the strange demands of cuffs? Easier to just nod. So Vargo did, and the cuff left, and the foreman sent Vargo off to the Upper Bank.

And if Vargo made a stop on the way, wasn’t anyone going to be the wiser.

Even before he’d started running contraband for the dyeworks, Vargo knew the uses of steam—one of many secrets shared among the runners of Nadežra. Like reading. If delivering a message could only hook you a mill, knowing its contents might earn you a decira. Someday, someone at the top of the heap was going to realize the untapped potential of the runner network, and there wouldn’t be a secret in Nadežra that was safe.

But for now, Vargo only cared about the secret of the day. Hunched in his squat on the roof of a dumpling shop, he held the letter next to a vent and waited for the steam to soften the sealing wax enough to peel it open.

“Who do you think that was, Peabody?” he asked the bottle tucked away in an inner pocket of his coat. He’d lifted it from a merchant last month, hoping for some zrel to warm him against the spring rains. Instead he got a baby king peacock spider no bigger than a pea, living in a little glass world of twigs and moss. Better than zrel in the long run, even if Vargo was the one doing the warming.

The spider couldn’t answer, of course, and the letter didn’t explain much more: thus-and-such merchant wanted some cuff’s custom, and please accept this token blah blah. Vargo sealed it back up and went to work on the strings of the package.

A bit of wiggling got him a corner of midnight velvet, with onyx and smoke-dark topaz worked into the embroidery. Before he’d slipped into Jaršin’s old job at the dyeworks, Vargo had run packages for a laundry in the Shambles. Before that, it was a tailor in Westbridge. If they had anything in common, it was that customers rarely noticed a few loose gems… and if they did, it wasn’t the messenger who took the blame.

“You’ll be dining on the finest grubs in Nadežra tonight,” Vargo told Peabody. Drawing his thumb knife, he carefully snipped the edge of the embroidery, taking his cut of Nadežra’s wealth.

“Where did you say this comes from?”

The townhouse Vargo stood in was like nothing he’d ever seen. Books lining every wall, a desk messy with scribbled-on papers, and spiraling around the slate floor, enough prismatium to keep Vargo in porridge and dumplings until the day he died.

The cuff seemed surprised to be receiving anything, and baffled at Vargo’s insistence on waiting for a response. “Balmana and Schiamori,” Vargo repeated.

“And you’re an… apprentice there?”

At the cuff’s skeptical look, Vargo stood taller. His trousers were well-darned, his coat shapeless and oversized. Nobody with sense would mistake him for a tailor’s apprentice. “Hope to be, altan,” he said, doing his best to scrub the rookery stain from his accent.

It must have worked, because the cuff nodded absently and said, “There is no shadow so deep, nor ignorance so embedded, nor sin so great that it cannot be revealed and redeemed by the Lumen’s light. But one should strive to improve oneself in this life.”

His yammering faded as he snipped the last of the cords and midnight velvet spilled out of the package. Vargo had only seen a corner; the whole was like the starlit Dežera on a summer night, flowing through the cuff’s gloved hands. Almost made Vargo wish he was apprentice to a craftsman who could make something so beautiful.

He wished even more that he could punch the critical frown off the cuff’s face. “You should inform your potential masters that cloaks of this cut haven’t been in fashion for at least a decade.” The man lifted it to the light to get a better look at the embroidery. “And their attempt at numinatrian figures are muddled and ill-informed. These lines here—completely unnecessary.”

Ass. Vargo pasted a stupid look on his face. “En’t supposed to leave until you try it on.”

The cuff glared as if a dirty look was enough to push his unwanted visitor out the door. He sighed when Vargo stood firm as the Point. “Very well.”

Swinging the cloak around like a Vraszenian veil dancer, he settled it on his shoulders and fumbled with the two halves of the smooth enameled clasp before clicking it into place. The light caught the scatter of gems as the cloak settled, flashing and winking at Vargo like a fall of meteors. “Now will you—”

His words choked off. Coughing, the man clawed at the collar like someone had stepped on the trailing hem. His chalk-pale face darkened to a sickly purple as he dropped to one knee. The gems burned like stars.

“What did you do?” the cuff rasped. He caught Vargo’s wrist before Vargo could bolt, his grip surprisingly strong for someone who lived among books. “Get it off. Get it off me!”

Vargo did his best. But the clasp seemed fused together, burning his fingers when he tried to pry it open. “Maybe if we cut it off?” he said. Panic beat in his throat. He’d done this. He’d mucked up some numinat in the embroidery, and now the man was going to kiss Ninat good night.

“Cut off what, my head?” the man snarled.

“No, the cloak!” When Vargo wedged his thumb knife into the collar, though, the velvet held like woven steel. The only thing he cut was the skin of the cuff’s throat.

The cloak wasn’t strangling the man, not if he could still breathe enough to berate Vargo. But something was badly wrong; the plum bruising his cheeks was burning into grey ash by the moment. Something dangerous and desperate bled into the man’s eyes. “I have an idea—I’ll need your help. Open your shirt.”

Any other time, Vargo would have told him to shove his glove up his own ass, but fear and guilt drove him to comply.

Snatching a pen and inkpot from his desk, the man said, “Hold still.” His hand trembled as he inked a numinat onto the skin of Vargo’s chest.

“How’s this gonna help?”

“Don’t distract me.” The man lurched over to a mirror and repeated the process on himself. Then, slopping ink onto a tiny chop, the cuff pressed it to the center of the figures: first his own, then Vargo’s.

Pain erupted through Vargo from the hot core of the numinat. The smell of flesh burning singed his nose. Someone caught him before he crashed into the ground, dragging him toward the prismatium spiral laid into the floor. He blinked up at the cuff, whose ashy pallor had broken into a flush. Sweat shone on his brow. “I promise, this is only temporary. I just need you to share the burden of the effects until…”

He trailed off as he moved about, the ominously twinkling cloak still sweeping behind him. Now the whole floor was his canvas, chalked with an increasingly complex web of lines. Vargo tried to move, tried to watch, but he kept fading in and out of consciousness. When he reached for the brand burning on his chest, his hand bumped against something hard in his coat. The flask, with Peabody inside. Vargo clutched it tight to the burn, wishing the cool glass could leach away the pain.

Finally the man lurched to a halt and knelt, chalk in hand, straining to reach the outer circle so he could close it without moving from his place.

Primordial agony engulfed Vargo. Worse than any burn, than any cut; it felt like the flask had shattered, driving shards of glass into his heart. His vision went black. Vargo screamed. He’s killing me. He’s killing me to save himself.

And then the world was gone.


The Face of Gold

Tricatium, the Pearls: Fellun 15

The precise elegance of a numinat reflected an orderly cosmos: one where each person and thing had their place, and the relationships between them could be measured to perfection.

Donaia Traementis knew all too well that order was often nothing more than a mask over chaos. The long scroll of the Traementis family register connected names with the lines of marriage, adoption, and descent… and far too many of those names were overlaid with the Ninat of death. For past generations it was only natural, but the truncated limbs of Donaia’s family tree gave mute testimony to the curse that had haunted House Traementis in recent years.

A curse now lifted, thanks to the name Tanaquis Fienola was inscribing into the register.

Three women stood around Tanaquis as she wrote: Donaia; her daughter, Giuna; and Renata Viraudax—soon to be Renata Viraudax Traementatis. Ordinarily a registry inscription would draw a crowd of observers and well-wishers to ring the participants. Instead, the Tricatium echoed around the small cluster that had gathered, all empty benches and soaring arches of polished oak that gleamed like satin and smelled of linseed oil.

Scaperto Quientis was there as Fulvet, the Cinquerat seat that oversaw civic matters like adoptions. Utrinzi Simendis, who held the religious Iridet seat, had emerged from his usual seclusion to oversee the inscription itself. A handful of trusted servants had come in the place of family members. And the friends of House Traementis, all two of them: Sibiliat Acrenix and Derossi Vargo.

Donaia’s house had done a fine job of alienating half of Nadežra, long before the curse began reaping them like grain.

A final sweep of Tanaquis’s compass inscribed the closing circle around the newest register entry. “It needs only your mark, Alta Renata. One moment—”

Renata rocked back on her heels to stop her forward momentum as Tanaquis stepped out of the silver circle embedded into the floor and set the closing arc in place. Like a sluice opening, the power of the Lumen coursed through the figure, the warm welcome of honey in tea.

“There.” Tanaquis dusted her hands, though for this numinat she’d used no chalk. “Now you may sign.”

Renata glanced at the register, then at Giuna and Donaia. Once, she had hesitated to accept Donaia’s offer of adoption. Once, Donaia had hesitated to offer. Now she nodded, and Renata stepped forward and signed the register with economical flourish.

And so she became family, as Leato had so earnestly wished.

Donaia hid her trembling hands under the apron of her surcoat, a tight ball of grief pressing into her stomach. Not even a month since her son had died, and so much had changed. Some of it for the better, yes… but all of it brittle and colorless now that her sweet boy’s light had returned to the Lumen.

He would want this to be a bright occasion, though—a rare moment of growth and celebration, a new dawn for their house. “Welcome to the family,” Donaia said to Renata as Tanaquis deactivated the circle and retrieved her quill. Giuna was already flinging herself at her new cousin with unseemly enthusiasm. Clasping her hands tight to keep from doing the same, Donaia asked, “About the rest… Are you certain?”

“It’s only until next fall, when Giuna comes of age,” Renata said over her new cousin’s shoulder. “I should be asking you and Giuna—are you sure I’m not treading on toes by doing this?”

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to remain heir,” Giuna said softly.

Before Donaia could think of a way to scold her without embarrassing Renata, Scaperto Quientis interrupted. “Ninat willing, this precaution won’t be necessary,” he said, setting a sheaf of pages down on the podium abandoned by Tanaquis. “I hope to cross wits and disagree on civic matters with you for many more years, Era Traementis.”


  • "Utterly captivating. Carrick spins an exciting web of mystery, magic, and political treachery in a richly drawn and innovative world."—S. A. Chakraborty, author of The City of Brass
  • "The Mask of Mirrors kept me up reading way past my bedtime. A web of intrigue, magic, and the art of the con this novel will catch hold of your dreams and keep you from sleeping."—Mary Robinette Kowal, author of The Calculating Stars
  • The Mask of Mirrors ushers you into the fascinating city of Nadezra, replete with complex politics, intricate magic, and mysteries that readers will be racing to unravel. Wonderfully immersive—I was unable to put it down.”
     —Andrea Stewart, author of The Bone Shard Daughter
  • "For those who like their revenge plots served with the intrigue of The Goblin Emperor, the colonial conflict of The City of Brass, the panache of Swordspoint, and the richly detailed settings of Guy Gavriel Kay."—Booklist (starred review)
  • The Mask of Mirrors is exactly the fantasy adventure novel you're craving: an escape into a vast, enchanting world of danger, secret identities, and glittering prose.”—Tasha Suri, author of The Jasmine Throne
  • “The richly layered city of Nadezra, combined with the deeply intertwined politics and rivalries of its residents, creates a perfect backdrop for the enchantment of Carrick's plot and characters. A fantastically twisty read.”
     —Fran Wilde, author of The Bone Universe trilogy
  • "Lush, engrossing, and full of mystery and dark magic, The Mask of Mirrors is sure to please fantasy readers looking to dial up the intrigue....Jump in and get swept away."—BookPage
  • “From the first page, I was utterly entranced by this glittering world filled with masked vigilantes, cunning conwomen, and dark magic. A sheer delight!”
     —Katy Rose Pool, author of There Will Come A Darkness
  • “An intricate, compelling dream of a book that kept me turning pages, with a world and characters that felt deeply real and plenty of riveting twists and turns. I loved it!”
     —Melissa Caruso, author of The Obsidian Tower
  • "A magnificent tale set in a brilliantly constructed world. Political intrigue, social long-cons of the very best sort, hidden identities stacked two and three deep, telepathic spiders, sparkly gowns and masked balls, and chosen family in all shapes and flavors. The plot is subtle, the social commentary thoughtful, and the whole tale is a featherbed that you want to sink into, disappearing from the world until the reading is done."—Ancillary Review of Books on The Liar's Knot

On Sale
Dec 7, 2021
Page Count
672 pages

M. A. Carrick

About the Author

M. A. Carrick is the joint pen name of Marie Brennan (author of the Memoirs of Lady Trent) and Alyc Helms (author of the Adventures of Mr. Mystic). The two met in 2000 on an archaeological dig in Wales and Ireland, including a stint in the town of Carrickmacross, and have built their friendship through two decades of anthropology, writing, and gaming. They live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Learn more about this author