Oh ho ho! I enjoyed this book so much, but failed for hours to put words to this very empty WordPress draft…
Hello my lovely peeps🐥! It’s Friday!
And today, it’s my stop on the Blog Tour for The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston hosted by the wonderful TheWriteReads!
(Look at that GORGEOUS cover!!)
Title: The Knave of Secrets
Author: Alex Livingston
Length: 400 Pages
Publishing: 7th June 2022 (US); 9th June 2022 (UK)
Disclaimer: A huge thank you to the author, publisher, the tour host (TheWriteReads) and to NetGalley. An ebook copy was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. This does not affect my review in any way and all opinions are my own.
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…
Valen Quinol is a failed magician, having departed the academy, many years prior, and now using the same magic that he’d been working on as a way to earn his living. In the world of gambling, Valen is a cardsharp and the mastermind behind a small crew of con artists, making money off the misfortunes of other people’s poor luck, a cardsharp. The crew consists of Marguerite, his wife who helps with providing everyone with marked cards or tampered die, an ex-pirate named Jacquemin (Jaq), and Valen’s old classmate, Teneriève (Ten).
I loved this story and found myself unable to put it down. It starts right off with Valen, Jaq, and Ten pulling a small con on a gentleman and we’re put right into the action pages later. There are 5 POVs in this book and it was a bit confusing towards the beginning. I even forgot who a particular person was and racked my brain to come up with their story again. It’s not as bad once you fall in pace, but with the story breaking into these five characters’, it does slow things down a little in the middle and the story may go from fast and dangerous to something that’s a little calmer.
For much of the early parts of the story, Valen has been tasked with (more of by force and threats), by a powerful gang, to participate in the Forbearance Game, an invitation only tournament where players must bet with their secrets once money itself runs out. His job is to win a particularly important/dangerous secret that’s valued at several different characters’ worth of interests; some staking their lives while some are in it for the opportunities it may bring. There’s a lot of politics in this story that I didn’t really focus too much on, nor did the political story keep my interest much. Some of it were info dumps that I had to resist skimming over. It was there to drive the story on why certain characters and sides were SO invested in getting their hands on the secret. It does spread out nicely where different characters piece together the importance of the secret and the climax and grand reveal was the collection of all these discoveries spilling out. The ending though felt somewhat abrupt, but did feel like it could carry on into a second book. If so, I eagerly await it because I have kind of fallen in love with this little group of four.
Characters wise, much of the characters were very well written and I enjoyed reading most of the POV chapters. As I wasn’t as invested in the political side of the story, I was more drawn towards Valen and his crew, and Michel’s (a Brother from the previously mentioned academy) chapters versus the two ambassadors’ chapters. There’s no perfect characters in this book as many of them make, and acknowledge, that some of their problems have stemmed from some really bad decisions and poor luck. Valen himself is still building and learning about his luck magic and ever practicing to be a better cardsharp and cheat. Ten’s chapters were very interesting because her history is one of the most developed amongst all the characters and you can see how it influences a lot of her actions. I love that the characters are older here, too. Their lives have more years of experiences and more stories to tell. Valen and Margo’s marriage was something that was just there, there’s not a lot of gushy love in the middle and I kind of enjoyed that; an old married couple just sipping on their wine to reflect on their day together before hitting the hay.
My favorite thing about The Knave of Secrets was the world building and the magic system. I’ve always been more of a swords and knives kind of fantasy reader versus magic, so I don’t see actual magic systems too often. The magic here had been the most interesting part of the entire book with divination and enchantments being the two main types of magic, though Valen’s magical background involved him trying to perfect a third type: “luck magic”. The enchantments were so special because of what felt like infinite possibilities. Anything could be enchanted for any random purpose including making a building float, necklaces to help against losing one’s breath when running, and cloaks from catching on fire. There’s divination and scrying to see certain things, and witchcraft to manipulate weather or heal wounds. It’s all so fascinating to read and the continuous display of random enchantments throughout the book was like little treasure boxes for me.
I also enjoyed the general world of this book. Aside from the different countries and politics, there’s also themes of different classes and in this society, a person’s status is very important to them. Even the rich need to constantly worry about their “vote” and relevance in people’s minds. I found it to be intriguing on how ingrained casinos and gambling was in this world. It’s everywhere. If not in a casino, there’s gambling at the local pubs and even cafés! Even gangsters settle things with a quick game, and it seems that dueling someone on game floors is so common, people just shove aside tables for a quick second before hands are shaken and things go back to normal. And of course, there’s the whole Forbearance game. Gambling here is so expansive, there’s an appendix in the back of all the different games played in this book/world!
Summary/Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I loved the main characters and found their group dynamic to be pretty interesting. They were family and willing to risk their lives for one another, but are capable of striking out on their own and walk a different path if they choose to. The characters had depth, some of them having really detailed backgrounds and histories. The world building is rich and complex. The magic system was fascinating and vast. The only thing I didn’t care too much for was the politics and the different countries; it was somewhat confusing. Still, while I didn’t care much for it, it was enough to keep me invested, even if it was just as a background tally of minor notes. If you enjoy heists or groups of con artists, with fantasy, politics, magic, and stories revolving on a lot of gambling, this may be a good book for you.
About the Author
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.