THE KNAVE OF SECRETS by Alex Livingston.
Rebellion. h/b. £14.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
A run-down farming establishment with a broken door for a table. Not the place you expect to lose a fortune, but Valen Quinol is not the only one out of pocket this evening. It is his deck but at this moment, not his game. Not yet, anyway. For the hunter who came seeking shelter from the rain, Valen will turn out to be more than he appears. Unfortunately for Valen, the hunter, too, may prove more than he appears. Our cardsharp hero may need more than a marked deck and his luck to survive this one.
Teneriève had known cards from when she was a young child of travelling merchant stock. What began as the simple reading of fortunes had grown into much more. Rather than marry and settle, she had determined to study at the Séminaire academy, despite being a woman. There she befriended Valen before his fall from grace. They would never let her be a Brother, but she had learned some of their skills… and their secrets.
The Knave of Secrets follows Valen and his partners-in-crime as they swindle their way to uncovering expensive and terrible secrets at the high tables of Valtiffe. Each has their own specialism, from marking decks and counting cards to using sailor magic and scrying futures. Valen is developing a magic all of his own: luck magic, or at least he thinks he is, and above all wants peace and a casino of his own to test his theories and develop his skills.
Valen’s character and his never-wavering nobility and loyalty to his friends, despite being a cunning criminal, are the core of this novel. He is supported by an interesting cast, and the worldbuilding allows the reader full immersion into Livingston’s world of varied magics and temptations, grandiose nobles, and power plays.
This is one of those novels where you cannot predict where the action is going and moves at a good pace as Valen (exhibiting perhaps a very slight touch of the Locke Lamora cunning) steers himself and his friends from one ploy to the next obstacle and so on, keeping the reader intrigued. The ending felt a little rushed for this reader, and one can but hope there will be more of Valen and his crew to come.