My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Length: 411 pages
Release date: 10 April 2018
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.
To say that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Daughter of the Burning City would be quite the understatement. My expectations for Ace of Shades were about as low as they can be for me to still read the book. 411 pages and a pleasant surprise later, I may be ready to forget how much I hated Amanda Foody’s debut and view her new series with fresh eyes.
For sure, Ace of Shades isn’t perfect by any means. Many of Daughter of the Burning City‘s worst features can still be found in Ace of Shades, but thankfully to a lesser extent. Enne may be stupid, naive and prudish as a Regency romance heroine, but she’s nothing compared to Sorina. The world-building is still kind of flaky, but New Reynes is more interesting than the Gomorrah Festival. And in Ace of Shades, things actually happen that aren’t predictable from the first few chapters. After the mess that was Daughter of the Burning City, you can probably forgive me for being a little generous to Ace of Shades–if you blink, this is almost a good novel.
What it definitely isn’t is Six of Crows, and in my humble, sometime unpopular opinion, that’s a good thing. Crucify me, but I thought Six of Crows was too edgy and unrealistic and had a hard time sympathising with the main characters. Ace of Shades does try to be edgy, but somehow it strikes a balance between dark and family-friendly that I find temperately enjoyable. Levi Glaisyer is no Kaz Brekker, and that’s a very good thing. We really don’t need more YA protagonists written as God’s 17-year-old gift to the world. Instead of being a chessmaster kingpin who murders rivals for breakfast, Levi is a fast-talking, street smart small time criminal who gets into trouble all the time. In other words, he’s believable.
Many YA fantasy novels involve overthrowing an oppressive regime. In Ace of Shades, that regime has already been overthrown, and the characters are working within the aftermath. Even if Foody’s world building desperately needs more expansion and maybe a little more originality, the post-revolutionary atmosphere makes for an inspired premise. Cross revolutionary Paris with modern Vegas, and you get New Reynes. Yes, New Reynes is a tad too close to our present day in a way that suggests lazy world building, all the way down to the subway trains and fast cars, but that’s nothing new to the genre. (Hello, Velaris.)
There are some decent plot twists in Ace of Shades. Due to my low expectations, I wasn’t expecting much and so managed to be surprised by some of the big reveals that probably wouldn’t catch a more attentive reader off guard. That said, pacing is quite good, and the story doesn’t turn into a dull slog halfway through the way it does in Daughter of the Burning City. Plus there are a few above average characters, namely Reymond and Lola, who steal every scene they’re in.
I’ll admit that I’m intrigued by the Phoenix Club and the Mizers. Think the Jacobin Club and the Targaryens, purple eyes included. Considering their importance to the story, nowhere near enough time is spent on them–Foody seems to prefer exploring the casinos, cabarets and illicit markets instead. But the glitz and glamour of the underground world have never been her strong point. It’s kind of hard to capture the full sex, drugs, and money depravity when you’re limited by the YA rating. Because, you know, a SFW Vegas isn’t a Vegas anyone cares to read about. Rather, the politics and magic of the revolutionaries and the Mizers make for a much more fascinating story, and it’s this direction that I hope the sequels will take.