The Write Reads Tour -The Knave of Secrets
Hello Book Nerds
Today I am coming to you from Fantasy Book Nerd Central to take a look at The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston. This is part of the tour run by the fabulous The Write Read and is published by Rebellion on June 7th, so this is way ahead of time.
Right, let's get down to it.
A twisty tale of magicians, con artists and card games, where secrets are traded and gambled like coin, for fans of The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Mask of Mirrors.
Never stake more than you can afford to lose.
When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play, and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.
Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are, and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…
Whenever a con and a heist are mentioned there is that immediate harking reference to Loch Lamora. Whilst there are echoes of this, The Knave of Secrets did not particularly put me in mind of Lynch’s seminal fantasy book, but (and this is only my opinion and not in anyway fact!) it put me in mind of The Sting, crossed with the politicalness of The Councillor.
Now you might be asking yourself why compare it to anything? Is it not its own book? Well of course it is, but sometimes our brain works in mysterious ways, and it will inevitably recall certain things that seem relevant and try to organise experiences in the indices of our memory, and if a certain thing has a particular emotive quality that reminds it of experience blah blah blah, it will inevitably evoke these comparisons. And like I said, these were the things that The Knave of Secrets stoked in me.
So, onto the book itself. The story revolves around a group of card sharps (which having grown up on a diet of American films, always thought it was card shark, so the book gets a plus point in educating me), who spend their time and resources eking a living at the local gambling dens.
We are immediately thrown into the book with a set piece in which Valen is out to con some local lordling or other out of his pot of cash, resulting in some quite negative effects. As we leave the initial set up, we are then introduced to the world of Valen & the gang.
Now if you have read the blurb for the book, that is pretty much the plot of the book, and I don’t think I need to reiterate that here.
In terms of structure, the story revolves around five different points of view, all with different impacts on the story. Some of these give a bit more clarity into the wider political machinations of the story as a whole, and I think that this is one of the things that the book does well in that we have both the more intimate story of Valen and the gang and how they are going to complete the task set out for them, but then there is the widening of the lens to show the much larger picture of what is going on in terms of the political machinations of other parties (I don’t want to give too much away!)
The plot moves along at a steady pace. After we start with the initial opening scenes the story moves along building its momentum, and generally having high points at certain key stages, such as when the team are at The Forebearance Game. Foe me, there were times that the flow of the narrative became sluggish, particularly when imparting information to the reader about the massive amount of card games that were played. And let me tell you there is a lot! It is like a Bicycle Compendium of Card games at times.
I felt at times that character depth was sometimes missing in favour of plot and world building, although, I generally liked the characters, I wasn’t highly invested in some of the ensemble cast that is in the book. There were certain characters that I liked, such as Jac for instance, and others that I was didn’t really feel much of anything for.
However, one of the things that did stand out for me was the partnership between Valen and Marguerite. There are too few happily married couples in fantasy, and I always find it refreshing to see this component in a book.
I equally admired how Alex Livingston has attempted to bring something different to the fantasy genre that does not rely on swords and massive battle scenes. It is not to say that there aren’t battle scenes, it is just that they are more understated and take place at the card table rather than muddy fields lined with opposing armies.
Another thing of note is that the setting of the book is quite interesting. The quasi 17th Century French world that the book is set in adds a different flavour to the story and works quite well.
On the whole, the book is an enjoyable read that brings something a little bit different to the fantasy table, and whilst (for me!) there were some bits that didn’t quite work, I would like to see this world expanded and would definitely like to revisit it.