My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Digital ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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.
I had super super high expectations for this book. I think I started following it/Amanda Foody around the time that this book was announced, ’cause anyone who knows me knows that Six of Crows meets Spirited Away is a premise I cannot resist.
It did everything to meet my expectations and then some. The stakes for everyone involved were immediately clear — Enne needs to find her mum and return home before her debut, Levi needs to pay his debts or risking losing the gang he built from the ground up/his life. Every step they made to fix their problems only raised the stakes, as we found out just how interlinked their stories were. Combine this with a wicked world, sweet characters and a magic system I’m still thinking about and well…
My favourite part of the book, though, had to be those characters. Levi is my sweet son and I will protect him fiercely. What I liked most about him is that he royally screwed up (and he knows it), but he’s doing his absolute best to try and fix it. I like characters that mess up, honestly, it’s far more relatable, and you can’t help but root for him when you see how much he cares about the people the fall out would affect.
His overwhelming self doubt, while also trying to play a role that requires complete confidence (gang leader) was really compelling. This, combined with the fact that he needs to sacrifice one to fix the other, creates a really good dilemma for him. It’s like a woobly Jenga tower, it’s perfectly set up to fail, and nothing makes you get behind a character more than when you can see their odds (and they’re awful) but they’re still fighting.
Also the whole Shadow Game deadline was honestly wicked, as the cards were left behind throughout the story, you could feel it growing closer and closer, and his increasing desperation was really well done. (I mean I was ready to fight anyone that hurt him so you know it worked on me)
I’ve got to really highlight my appreciation for Levi’s sexuality, because he’s bisexual in a way that’s actually shown on the page. AND it’s done without cheating, or love interests taking it to mean he’s not interested. (What a surprise, it can be done!!) I don’t know how to properly explain that without giving too much away, but he acts on interest towards both men and women (at different points!!) and I’m all about that.
Enne was a darling, and I honestly really really loved her growth. I liked her motivations, and the influence of her background on the way she saw everything. But also it didn’t restrict her? Like she grew up a proper, sheltered lady and now she’s dumped into the middle of the crime scene in New Reynes, so of course she’s shocked by everything that she sees? But she does not let this turn her into some damsel in distress. Girl’s got a mission, and she’s going to suck it up and kick arse anyway. I love that in a character (esp a FMC).
I also really liked her growing story with her identity. It was really intriguing to see the way that new information about her mother, and new opportunities, like the job with the acrobats, really makes her rethink who she has been, and who she is now. I really liked that you felt her emotional distress, but that she also grew to overcome it, and deal with the cards she’d been dealt (lol).
I don’t think it’s a total spoiler to talk about the slow burn of the feelings between them. I think this is what I mean when I talk about slow burn. Though the book takes place mostly over 10-11 days, the feelings developed so naturally from “I don’t like you, but I need you” to “I guess you’re not awful, and maybe you’ve got some stuff going on too” to “we’re a team now I guess (and your face is kinda distracting” and I’m really supportive of this?? I’m interested to see how this develops over later books (which I need, in my hands, like rn).
I’m also a huge fan of banter (what?? me??), so I love any relationship that is build upon it. Especially when the banter is double sided, and includes both banter between friends and between love interests.
On that note, I do wish we’d seen a little more of the side characters (esp Jac, because I was sooo intrigued by him?? A recovering addict with the ability to take pain? 10000% loyal? Funny? What a guy). I was really pleased to see that other female characters, like Lola, had a growing role in the book. It’s always nice to be able to name more than one in a book~ I don’t know where Foody would have fit more of them… so I’m hoping that’s something that we get to see in future books.
The world itself was really wicked? It was a nice mix of like fantasy tropes that I’m used to seeing but mixed with a history that made it really unique? I mean this comes after a revolution, and is set in a time where electricity and neon light casino districts exist? It’s a good combination, esp when combined with the magic. Which, by the way ,was also really cool. I’m a big fan of inherited magic, and split talents were an awesome way to explore this.
The ooooone critique I’d have (beyond maybe a few places in the plot where I WANTED OTHER THINGS
cough cough Levi be responsible cough cough) was the swearing. I’m Australian, so shit doesn’t even register as a swear word anymore, it’s just a sentence filler. It’s not that I want this book to be full of it, we don’t all have to stoop to my level, just that ‘mucking’ and ‘shatz’ are really funny substitutes. (Like they don’t at all sound genuine to me). I’m giving this a pass because it made me laugh, and because I’m just gonna assume it’s an American thing.
Ace of Shades comes out in a week (ish ish?) and I honestly would really really recommend you to go out and preorder it (or bug your bookstores in a week). If any of this above intrigued you, or our tastes align even a little… I promise you it will be worth it.