- Genre: Fantasy
- Length: 400 Pages
- Publishing: 7th June 2022 (US); 9th June 2022 (UK)
- Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1786186071/
- Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59365822
A twisty tale of magicians, con artists and card games, where secrets are traded and gambled like coin, for fans of The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Mask of Mirrors.
Never stake more than you can afford to lose.
When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play, and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.
Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are, and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…
What’s it about (in a nutshell):
The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston is a fantasy story about a world of gamblers, cardsharps, and conmen, with a touch of magic and a plethora of secrets that will leave you guessing until the end.
Initial Expectations (before beginning the book):
When looking at the cover and the blurb, I’m first intrigued by how well the two go together. The title sounds like a playing card, and the figure on the cover looks mysterious and secretive, and he is holding a card. I haven’t read or seen either of the two comparisons mentioned in the blurb – The Lies of Locke Lamora and Casino Royale, which offers me no clues as to what to expect. I find the dark grittiness of the described world an intriguing juxtaposition to the magical world alluded to. Overall, I anticipate a dark and gritty thriller with a fantasy angle.
Actual Reading Experience:
As I sometimes do, I am going to start with the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the last thirty percent and the twist at the end. The action picked up, and the dialogue flowed naturally. Whereas there is a bunch of information about the world and characters in the early chapters that made it hard for me to immerse myself in the story, the later chapters quickly pulled me in.
The card game aspect of this story is fresh and creative. I like that this world has a Secret Broker that assigns value to different secrets and that this can be used in the card game to bet with. It intrigued me and kept me wanting more. I also enjoyed the enchanted objects and the creative use of these objects to both cheat and find cheaters. This definitely helped keep the pace high after the first few chapters.
Unfortunately, I struggled to find my way in this world. The world-building, in the beginning, presented a challenge for me that I was only partially able to overcome. I had trouble with the abundance of details in those early chapters because they were hard for me to follow, process, and put into context.
The story is mostly as I anticipated. It is dark and somewhat gritty but a bit different than I was thinking. There are thrills and a magical angle, and I enjoyed these aspects most of all. Most of the plot is covered by the blurb, which is a bit surprising but considering, it’s no wonder that my expectations were pretty spot on.
The story is told in third-person but also in a focused point of view (POV), and that POV changes from chapter to chapter. The following are the characters from whose perspective leads chapters:
- Valen, the main character, is married to Marguerite, a proud and clever woman. He practices what he calls luck magic which he uses to stack the deck. When he wins the secret of Skyndiferth, his life takes on a whole new peril.
- Teneriève is an associate of Valen’s. She took to “the social aspects of chicanery like she was born to it: the lies and false identities and playing on people’s prejudices.” I liked Ten, as she is a strong female character in ways that compliments Marguerite’s strength. eI found her relationship with Jac a fun part of the story, though he could be gross at times.
- Dona Ariadna de Alodesal y Juegon—‘Ria’ is grandee of Ombria, Gamesmaster of Torreçon, and Regal Ambassador to the Independent Country of Valtiffe. She gave me a look at the social classes from someone in the upper class.
- Omer-Guy Bendine is the Cadois Ambassador to Valtiffe and representative of Empress Oceane Caraliere de Flechard. I don’t feel like I really got to know him very well, and he seemed a bit of a bungling fool to me.
- Michel Alcippe is a Brother and Third-Honor Faculty, Order of the Sjónleysi. He represents the world of magic in the story which seems to be housed with the Order. Different social classes practiced different magic, and, as I understood it, the Brothers were the keepers.
I found that the number of POVs didn’t confuse me or disrupt the story as can happen. I enjoyed the different perspectives as they each lent a bit more information about this unique world and the world of card games within it. Though, on the downside, I can’t say any of the characters are developed deeply through multiple POVs.
To Read or Not to Read:
If you are looking for a different kind of heist story, you will find The Knave of Secrets just what you are looking for.
Alex Livingston grew up in various quiet New England towns before moving to Buffalo, NY to study English at Canisius College. He writes SFF prose and interactive fiction. Alex is married and lives in an old house with his brilliant wife and a pile of aged videogame systems.