Hello humans! I have to salute whoever is in charge of marketing Ace of Shades (and, I suspect, Amanda Foody herself did a heck of a lot of work) because they’ve managed to create a lot of hype for this book. I was glad to have managed to read a review copy before a lot of the hype had taken hold as I wanted to avoid a Caraval situation. Ace of Shades is a book with many different aspects to it and I wanted to be sure that I gave it it’s due.
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 unravelling 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.
Content warning (borrowed from Amanda’s website): high violence, mild sexual content, mild profanity, mild drug content, inferred (and highly condemned) paedophilia, alluded parental abuse
I know there are going to be a lot of comparisons between this book and the Six of Crows duology, but drawing comparisons between books isn’t always helpful as you can’t guarantee that people who read and enjoyed Six of Crows will like Ace of Shades (and the opposite could also be true. So instead of this entire review being comparisons between the two, I’ll try to sum it up in a sentence or two. Ace of Shades has fever POVs than Six of Crows, the magic systems of both books differ in quite a few ways, the world these characters inhabit within the story is much smaller in Ace of Shades. There are a plethora of similarities and differences I could churn out but essentially these books are similar in a few ways but I wouldn’t have called Ace of Shades an imitation of Six of Crows.
Now that’s over and done with, let’s talk about world building. The world that we actually get to explore in this book is quite small, one city within a wider world. This is something that is quite common in first novels such as this, letting you get to know the characters while also allowing for a wider scope in later books. I think it works well in such a character-driven story to limit the amount of geographical and political detail you need. I think it’s interesting that both of Amanda Foody’s books have these self-contained places in which there are pockets of wealth and pockets of debauchery (and a lot of places where those things intersect). I thought that the way that spaces across the city were used was great. I love the idea of old theatres, casinos and that speakeasy vibe so it suited me down to the ground.
There are other smaller world details that stuck out to me, the idea of volts as a currency (and the necessity of having voltmeters to measure them) was clever and not something I had encountered before, certainly not in a setting such as this. I also thought that the way in which different street gangs were marked and distinguished, and the ways in which they communicated with the other gangs was interesting. I’d almost like to read the guidebook that Enne carries around with her, in a similar way to the Quidditch Through the Ages book written by J. K. Rowling. I think I could have done with a tiny bit more scale, I don’t think I could tell you the scope of the city and how large it is compared to other territories. I don’t know if the physical edition has a map as I read an electronic version, something to be investigated!
I thought this book was going to be multiple POV but it is dual. The action is split between Levi and Enne, giving you both the insider and outsider perspective of the city. At the beginning and end of the novel, this is more interesting as the two are on somewhat different paths, I’m not sure it was as successful in the moments where they were together. I did think these were good characters. Enne was, of course, my favourite of the two, I enjoyed her character development through the book and I thought she was the most relatable of the two. I found Levi a little predatory at times, I think some of the ‘oh so dreamy and brooding’ moments read more as ‘oh what an arse’ moments for me, a matter of personal perception I’m sure.
I would have liked more information and time spent on the side characters who are arguably more interesting than the main characters in this story, certainly at times. I hope that they are given their due in later books.
The plot is split into ten sections (a countdown of the ten days until Levi has to pay back a huge sum of volts or his life is forfeit) which works well, I thought this helped to keep the pace of the book and also (as someone who always has a hard time grasping the passage of time in books) it made it much easier for me. What it did also exemplify was just how quickly these two characters fall for each other. It’s not quite insta-love more insta-attraction but it does fall into that trap of ‘my world is crumbling around me but let’s not worry about that and instead fantasise about this hunk’. Not as bad as some other books I have read (not to be named here) but worth noting.
This is a good story, it’s certainly interesting. It has a couple of ‘chosen one’ elements and it does get a little complex towards the end but it still kept my attention through to the epilogue!
Overall, I think this is a really strong book, it has an interesting setting, a fast-paced plot, a bucket-load of intrigue and the bones of a great story to continue into a later novel. It isn’t quite perfect but it is a hugely enjoyable read and I would recommend it to anyone for whom this ticks a box (be it gambling, magic, light romance, gangs or something else).
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a digital review copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Are you intrigued by Ace of Shades? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!