“People do not play this game to win, my dear. They play this game not to lose.”
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.
TW: violence, pedophilia (completely condemned, thank god)
Honestly, the fastest way to get me interested in a book is to say, “Hey, Meaghan, look at these con artists!” They’re magic words, and as soon as you say them, I will materialize somewhere in your general vicinity with money stuffed in my hand and a desperate need to BUY THE BOOK. It happened with The Lies of Locke Lamora. It happened with Six of Crows. It happened here. It will happen again.
Basically, I just love books with thieves and con artists getting into heaps of trouble. It’s chicken soup for my particular soul, which is why I had a blast here.
First of all, the con artists in this book? As professional as they pretend to be, they’re caught in the middle of a con gone EXTREMELY sideways, and that is the BEST possible way to start. A good, smooth con? Fun. A BUMPY CON THEY MIGHT NOT SURVIVE? EVEN BETTER. And this book is definitely in the latter category because the main characters come close to dying. Repeatedly, in some cases.
The con was really helped along by the world Foody made in New Reynes. You can just feel how gritty and grimy and seedy it’s supposed to be, which of course makes the good deeds sprinkled here and there seem all the more important. Calling it an underbelly sort of city is the best way I can think of to describe it, because it’s not a hot vacation spot. There is death, there are cons, and there’s a lot more that isn’t exactly appealing to most folks who enjoy staying on the right side of the law or in the territory of comfortable morals.
And the characters!! I’ll admit Enne was not my favorite at first (the prim and proper start grated on me, but she once she started to adapt to New Reynes, I found myself very, very pleased with her), but Levi grew on me pretty quickly. He’s trying his best to provide for his gang, but also making some really stupid decisions along the way, which is fair for someone who’s all of seventeen? Eighteen? Young, in other words, and reasonably prone to bad choices, which gets progressively more exciting as the consequences grow progressively more dire. Now that’s a good combo.
I was also super happy with how Levi’s bisexuality was treated (and I’ve been calling him Lebi in my head all day, sorry). It’s not made into a big deal, he flirts with another guy very clearly on the page while getting with a girl by the end of the book (sorta?), and it’s just a fact. I’m always up for more genre fiction where characters are LGBTQ in some way without their storylines focusing on that, and this hit that mark dead on. Also, this may be the first time I’ve seen a bi POC in YA lit (though I will admit to being really behind on recent releases), so that’s also really awesome!
It wasn’t a perfect book, though, and I think it fell a little short on the execution. It is supposed to be part of a trilogy, so maybe some things are being held back for later plot purposes, but I felt like there were some loose threads (especially in later plot points) that could have been resolved or at least developed just a bit further. There’s also a character who appears to be important, but he doesn’t show up again (though I have a theory he’ll come back in the next book). On top of that, the biggest plot twist regarding Enne was…predictable. I think I guessed it in the first third of the book and was right, so that took a little fun out of the official reveal. There is possibly a second twist on the horizon, though, if my other theory is right, but that’s a spoilery one, so I’ll keep quiet on that.
Another thing that I wasn’t overly fond of was the substitution of “muck” and “shatz” for “fuck” and “shit,” but given that it’s a world thing and there were bigger issues to worry about, like WHO’S GONNA SURVIVE, I really didn’t care too much in the end.
At the end of the day, Ace of Shades was fun and exciting and man, I can’t WAIT to figure out exactly what was up with that scene at the end of the most important game (anyone who’s read this? you know what I mean, I’m sure) because whatever is going on with Enne Salta, it’s not completely out in the open as of the end of the book. I’m definitely going to be on board when King of Fools arrives.
What are your favorite con stories? Card stories? Also, why do you think people are up in arms about this being a pale shade of Six of Crows when the only real similarity is the street gangs and the seediness of the city?