Title: Ace of Shades
Author: Amanda Foody
Series: The Shadow Game #1
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Pub. Date: April 10th, 2018
Synopsis: Welcome to the City of Sin, where casino families reign, gangs infest the streets and secrets hide in every shadow. Enne Salta was raised as a proper young lady, and no lady would willingly visit New Reynes, the so-called City of Sin. But when her mother goes missing, Enne must leave her finishing school—and her reputation—behind to follow her mother’s trail to the city where no one survives uncorrupted.
Frightened and alone, her only lead is a name: Levi Glaisyer. Unfortunately, Levi is not the gentleman she expected—he’s a street lord and a con man. Levi is also only one payment away from cleaning up a rapidly unraveling investment scam, so he doesn’t have time to investigate a woman leading a dangerous double life. Enne’s offer of compensation, however, could be the solution to all his problems. Their search for clues leads them through glamorous casinos, illicit cabarets and into the clutches of a ruthless mafia donna. As Enne unearths an impossible secret about her past, Levi’s enemies catch up to them, ensnaring him in a vicious execution game where the players always lose. To save him, Enne will need to surrender herself to the city…
And she’ll need to play.
Before we get to the review, I swear I’m still alive. And no, I haven’t given up on blogging. I can’t apologize enough for my excessive absence in this community, but I also can’t say that I’m here to change that at the moment. I’m in the final semester of my senior year, and I essentially have no free time. So, that being said, until school officially ends on May 18th, I won’t really be online. I will be posting some reviews that I have lined up (like this one), but probably not much more than that. Just know how badly I miss seeing all your posts, and I’m so grateful that you guys are sticking with me through this tough time.
But you didn’t click on this post to listen my personal life, so let’s discuss one of my new favorite books!
You all know that I love Six of Crows. Like, LOVE Six of Crows. When I heard of an upcoming YA fantasy all about gambling, political secrets, gangs, and intrigue, set against the gritty backdrop of a dangerous city, you can imagine the immediate and visceral need I had for this book.
I’m thrilled to say that Ace of Shades was everything I dreamed of, and everything I didn’t know I wanted. You could definitely draw comparisons between Ace and Six of Crows, but Ace is more than capable of holding its own.
The story alternates between two perspectives, Enne Salta and Levi Glaisyer. Enne arrives in the City of Sin and she’s quite the unusual sight in her pressed, school-girl clothes and high-class manners. Though she appears innocent, Enne quickly discovers that her mother’s disappearance is steeped in threatening secrets. A strange note leads Enne directly into the territory of Levi Glaisyer, street lord of the Irons, whose own dark entanglements make his life suddenly dependent on Enne’s search.
“Everything was sharp, a place designed to cut. To draw blood. It was the kind of dark where shadows didn’t exist. Wherever she was…she shouldn’t be here.”
Right off the bat, I have to point out that Ms. Foody is a master world-builder. The first 50 pages were a lot to take in, but after the groundwork was laid, layers began to build until I felt completely immersed in New Reynes. I love when I become so familiar with a world’s terminology and magic system that it feels second-nature to me, and that’s exactly what I experienced with AoS.
The actual magic presented in this book is fairly simple—everyone gets two talents based on their parents’ last names. Talents either consist of exceptional skill in a task that everyone can learn if they try (like math, dance, acrobatics), or something that looks more traditionally like magic (ability to tell if someone is lying, mind control). Though everything is fleshed out and understandable, Foody still leaves a lot up to the imagination. I could just sense all the nooks and crannies of New Reynes yet to be explored, and I’m certain we’ll get to see even more in the sequel.
In addition to the more precise world-building, the overall mood and atmosphere is absolutely perfect. Every scene involved smoky gambling dens, mysterious back-alleys, wrought-iron graveyards, glittering showgirls, even appropriately-named hard liquors—I’d really like to try a Gambler’s Ruin, that’s all I’m saying. If you love creating aesthetics or mood boards, this is certainly your kind of book!
Just like the setting, the plot is filled with intrigue and suspense. The pacing is very well-done, I enjoyed the slower moments as much as the action-packed ones. There’s no such thing as guessing plot twists with this book either, I was always kept strung along from one clue to the next, waiting to see where they led. The Shadow Game, or essentially a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, is one of the most mysterious—and terrifying—things I’ve ever read about. I thought I had a good picture of what the ending would look like, but oh friends, I was so wrong. It was even more heart-pounding than I imagined.
Then there’s the character development. I have to admit, at the beginning I was wary of Enne’s reserved personality, but it didn’t take long for me to start cheering her on. Enne really grows into herself and learns to accept all aspects of who she is (even the darker ones), and her journey really captured my heart. I also think that Foody dealt with sexual assault very well through Enne’s character. It’s a tiny part of the book, but it still made a huge impact on me as the reader.
Levi, on the other hand, proves to be the opposite from Enne. My biggest fear was that Levi would turn out to be a watered-down Kaz, but Levi is what I would call a bit more of a softie. His grandiose ideas, impeccable snark, and skills at the card table make him pretty easy to fall for.
“From the moment Levi had arrived in New Reynes, he’d made it his home. Then he’d made it his territory. One day, he would make it his kingdom.”
Levi and Enne’s stories weave together in the most impossible, beautiful of ways. They both play an equal part and act as a counterbalance for the others’ antics. The romance is the slowest of slow burns and my skeptical heart freaking adored it. Their interactions are funny, poignant, and filled with some much dang tension I thought I was going to lose my mind!
My only real criticism is that I wish we had gotten to see more of Enne and Levi’s talents/passions in action. I can’t say much without spoilers, but the scenes with Levi at the card table were my absolute favorite. I could’ve used just a smidge more of that excitement (along with Enne doing her thing, but that’s something you’ll have to read for yourself).
I also would’ve loved for the side characters to get a bit more attention and page time (*ehem* my boy Jac deserved it!!) but I think we’ll be seeing more of them in the later books. At its heart, Ace of Shades really is Enne’s story, so I can’t wait to find out what’s in store for everyone in book two!
What are your favorite books about gambling, gangs, or delicious sin? Do you plan to read Ace of Shades? Chat with me!
Thanks so much to Harlequin Teen for sending me an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.