Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston hosted by The Write Reads! If you read my First Lines Friday post, you’ll know that this book drew me in pretty much immediately. Now it’s time to tell you about my full thoughts on this fantasy novel filled with cards and political intrigue.
Before we get to my review, though, I have to thank Dave @ The Write Reads and all of the crew for giving me a spot on this tour. It’s always great working with everyone involved with The Write Reads! I also want to thank the publisher, Rebellion Publishing, for sending me an ARC of the book so I could be a part of this tour. All opinions in this review are my own.
Now, let’s get to the post!
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…
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.
I do love when I read the first chapter of a book and I just know I’m going to love it. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s such a great feeling when it does. And that’s certainly what happened when I picked up The Knave of Secrets!
This is a story of gambling and politics where we are following a cardsharp named Valen Quinol and his small crew. Valen is out to prove that the magic that got him kicked out of a prestigious magical academy is real and make some money while he’s at it. He has a small but dedicated group of compatriots to help him along the way, including an ex-sailor and an ex-classmate and his wife. But then, Valen is roped into a scheme that throws him and his crew into a political mess that is far above his head. Now he needs to figure a way out of the mess while keeping himself and the people he cares about alive.
There is something about a story surrounding a crew of miscreants that I can’t help but love. Valen, Margo, Ten, and Jaq captured my heart pretty much immediately and are a large part of why I loved this book so much. It’s that found family aspect that gets me every time! I thought they were incredible characters, with the nuance and vibrancy that made them come to life on the page. I would have liked to get more of Margo and Jaq’s POV because I felt like we didn’t get to know them quite as well as the other two, but I still loved them all!
I also enjoyed all the twisty politics in this story. I love a story with layers and layers of intrigue and this certainly delivered in spades! It wasn’t to the point that I was completely confused, but it definitely kept me on my toes. It was like watching a particularly brutal game of chess unfold. Which makes sense as this book and the world within are very much centered around games of all kind. I thought the complex system of card and dice games that are played throughout this world was so fascinating! I will admit to getting a bit lost in what was popular where and which deck was used for what, but I still found it an interesting element of the story. And the appendices at the end certainly helped.
Final thoughts: This is an compelling world built around some fabulous characters! I loved the found family aspect that we see with our main group of cardsharps. I thought they were a complex and interesting group that made me love this book all the more. The world-building is incredible, with a magic system and politics that could get a smidge confusing, but still had me absolutely intrigued. If you enjoy fantasy novels that focus on a group of cheats somehow getting embroiled in a deadly game of politics, I think you would enjoy The Knave of Secrets!