Book: Ace of Shades (The Shadow Game #1)
Author: Amanda Foody
Published By: HQ Young Adult
Expected Publication: 17th May (whoops!)
Thanks to HQ Young Adult and Netgalley for allowing me to read this early! This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2018 so reading it early was a dream come true (but in no way affected my review).
I was part of Amanda Foody’s Shadow Gang, the group that did promo for this book and was doing a lot of promo for it over on my Instagram through March leading up to the US release in April, so naturally I really wanted to get to read it early. I only got it a couple of weeks before the UK release, but that was better than nothing and I’m glad to say that I did in fact enjoy it. It was a pretty slow starter, but as the book picked up, I fell more and more in love with it and after the way it ended, I am definitely super excited for the sequel! Here is a short synopsis of the book:
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
So yeah, things started off quite slowly, the chapters were kind of long and there were sections that had a lot of infodumping, so I wasn’t totally enthralled by it at first, but I stuck with it and I would definitely implore you guys to as well if you get stuck in the beginning, the chapter lengths level out and the plot is a slowly unfurling mystery with a great payoff!
I loved the world that Amanda Foody created, I thought it was really inventive and cool, it’s a kind of 1920s Vegas style world, with casinos and gangs and motorcars and everything, so yeah, the setting was definitely very immersive and probably my favourite part of this book. The way Amanda Foody writes, you definitely feel yourself being pulled into the City of Sin, she writes atmosphere and setting so well, it’s like you are there with the characters. I also thought the magic system, with the blood and split talents, each one being inherited from one parent was really cool, although I kind of wish it had been expanded upon more and I hope that it will be in the sequel. This type of magic system allowed for lots of different types of magic, which I loved, because often in fantasies, everyone with magic has one particular type so it was great to get to see lots of different abilities showcased in this book. I could have done with a little more world building, what we did get was good, but I wanted to know more about the history of New Reynes, the Mizers and the talents and how everything came to be and more about how the volts worked, but that’s probably just me being a world building nerd.
The characters were also great. Enne annoyed me at first, but I think that was the idea, because her character development over the course of the book is amazing, she starts off as this uptight, proper girl but over the ten days that this book takes place, she really grows, she becomes this amazing badass girl but still retains her feminine qualities, like loving lipstick and dresses and heels and I loved that! So often authors will only let their female characters be strong and fierce if they’re also tomboys because god forbid a woman can be strong and fierce and still like lipstick, so it was refreshing to see Enne not be like that. Levi, I wasn’t quite as keen on, he didn’t stand out for me as much as Enne, I don’t really know what it was about him, I just didn’t really connect to him and I didn’t find him that convincing as a street lord, he wasn’t fierce enough, in fact I found him to be kind of a wimp and I didn’t think he was really clever enough for me to take him seriously as a con artist. Still I did love how much he cared for his gang, and for Enne, that endeared him more to me. I wished that the main side characters, Lola and Jac had been utilised more, especially Lola, because I found her really interesting and I liked her burgeoning friendship with Enne, so it would have been great to see more of her. Jac was kind of a brotherly figure to Levi, so it would have been nice to have explored that relationship more.
One thing I didn’t love about the worldbuilding was the made up curse words and some of the gang lingo. Stuff like muck, and shatz and missy, I found their use kind of irritating. I get that having some of their own special words is part of worldbuilding but this just felt like a lazy way of avoiding using actual swear words, and like why? This is a YA book, I can guarantee that the teens who are reading it will know swear words! Perhaps it’s me being British, we tend to be a bit more liberal around swearing, but it just really annoyed me!
The villains in this book were great, both freaking terrifying. Vianca, the mafia donna of the casino Levi works at, was awful, her power can be used to literally control people and it’s pretty darn awful, but I loved seeing an unapologetic female character and there are so few female villains in books, so it was great to see one here. The other main villain, Sedric Torren, is just incredibly creepy and is heavily implied (if not outright stated) to be a paedophile, so yeah, pretty horrible and you could definitely understand why both Levi and Enne were so scared of him.
There is some good diverse representation in this book, Levi is black and bisexual, and Enne’s adopted mother Lourdes is gender fluid (although she is kind of more talked about than actually seen so I don’t know if I can exactly call it rep). I think we could have done with some more, but it was definitely a good start. Lourdes is kind of an enigma through the book, but I kind of don’t feel like we’ve heard the last of her, I think she’s gonna pop back up in the next book, even with what supposedly happened to her in this book.
I liked how the plot around Enne’s family unfurled, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but I liked the way things played out there, even if it was a little cliched and I look forward to seeing what she does next now that she knows about her heritage.
The romance was…..I don’t really know what to think about it. It was weird in that it felt kind of like instalove and yet still a slow burn at the same time. Half the time I was screeching at Enne and Levi to kiss already and the other half I was like, why? They barely know each other! So yeah, I haven’t really made up my mind how I feel about Enne and Levi’s potential romance yet-nothing really happened with regards to that in this book, so I’ll see how I feel about it in the next book.
I really liked the actual Shadow Game part of the book, but it felt kind of rushed, because it only came up right at the very end of the book. I understand why, but I wish we had maybe got to it a bit sooner and that the rules had been explained a bit better because I still don’t quite understand how it all worked. That was a problem throughout the book really, the pacing was off all the way through, it was too slow to start with and then the climax was rushed (this seems to be a quite common trend for me in a lot of the books I read).
Like I said earlier, I liked how Amanda Foody wrote the setting, that was cool, but I didn’t always love her writing, there were some overwrought YA type metaphors, like “She was a blade disguised as a girl” etc. It wasn’t so much that I hated it, but it definitely did niggle at me.
The epilogue was so intense, we get introduced to a new character, who seems very interesting and after the way everything went down towards the end of the book, it certainly seems like the sequel is going to be really intense!
Overall, I did enjoy this book. I don’t think it quite lived up to the potential of its premise, but the magic system and the world were really interesting and I loved the character development that Enne had throughout the book and the end of this book sets up for some really exciting stuff happening in the next book. I think this world is quite ambitious and Foody just didn’t manage to fit everything that needed to be explained in, but I’m hoping we will get more of this in the next book. I think it’s a really creative world that Amanda Foody has come up with here and I look forward to seeing what happens next.
My Rating: 3.5/5
Bechdel Test: PASS-Lola and Enne have several conversations in the book that don’t revolve around men.
My next review will be of the second book in the Six of Crows duology, Crooked Kingdom (well maybe, if I don’t finish my e-ARC of A Thousand Perfect Notes first).