Welcome to the City of Sin, where casino families reign, gangs infest the streets… and secrets hide in every shadow.
Partial synopsis provided by Goodreads.
Ace Of Shades
Series: The Shadow Game #1
Author: Amanda Foody
Publication Date: April 10, 2018
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Page Count: 416
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Mystery
My Rating: ★★★½
Enne Salta, a young low-family dancer arrives in New Reynes, better known as the City of Sin in order to track down her mother. Lourdes had gone missing a few months before. Enne had received from Lourdes instructed her to find and speak to a Mr. Levi Glaisyer, a friend of Lourdes, if she didn’t return. Hence, to Ney Reynes she travels.
Seeking out Mr. Glaisyer, Enne stumbles across a boy part of the Iron gang. The boy lead her directly to Levi Glaisyer, who happens to be the Lord of the notorious gang. Levi, in debt to the captain, Sedric Torren, and some other powerful people, looks for any opportunity to make money to pay off his debt–including Enn’s pockets.
However, things turn a severe turn when Levi is handed a Shadow Card, marking him as “wanted” by the Phoenix club. Having only ten days to pay Sedric Torren back, he must do what he can to make the money and avoid the Shadow Game…in other terms, his demise.
Between Enne and Levi, it is a race against the clock to locate Enne’s mysterious mother, and Levi to come up with ten thousand volts in ten days.
All included quotes have been taken from an ARC and may not match the finished publication.
If I’m not home in two months, I’m dead.
I’ve seen mixed reviews on this book. Naturally heading into it, I wasn’t sure what to expect after reading such a wide range of thoughts and feelings from other readers. To my surprise, while I did have some minor issues with the book, the eloquent writing, complex characters, and delicious combination of magic and grit captivated my attention. Hold on to your hats folks, as I try to break down some of the lengthy elements within this story.
“Better be careful, missy. Souls can go black in this city.”
The entire plot is set in New Reynes, better known as the City of Sin. Clearly having a bad reputation for its gangs, casinos, prostitution, and the like, everyone entering the city is made well aware to take precautions.
New Reynes is split up, as the North side of the city has the worst reputation, and the South being the “better” of the two. New Reynes is one city of a larger “Republic” also consisting of territories like Bellamy, and several others briefly mentioned. Bellamy is an island that has a reputation for being quite behind the times and popular trends. Notably, it’s preferences in propriety are much different than fast-paced New Reynes. I’m not quite sure which era this is supposed to take place in. With the lifestyles that people lead and the fact that there are cars and telephones, (or that propriety itself is even mentioned) I’m thinking the early 1900’s?
Much of the city is run by gangs, three total, and casino families. The gangs, the Irons, Scarhands, and the Doves each have established hierarchies and territories within New Reynes. Naturally, they have run-ins with one another in all types of scenarios. These gangs also frequently cross paths with the notorious casino families, the Augustines and the Torrens. Known for being ruthless in their own ways, these groups are constantly battling for power and control in the City of Sin.
Politically, the Republic is governed by a group of elitists known as the “wigheads.” Only having been in power for twenty-five years, they took over when the Mizer reign was demolished during the Revolution. The Mizer kings were feared, as they were gifted with Talents of Mystery–better known as magic. These talents that couldn’t be learned were considered to be a threat, and harsh restrictions were placed upon people with these abilities. These restrictions eventually were the reason for the Mizers being overthrown.
Other Talents that people possess are Talents of Aptitude–skills which can be learned like dancing, singing, arithmetic, and the like. All people have a Talent, technically two, as they inherit them from both their father and mother’s sides.
The most mysterious of these Talents exist among the Talent of Immortality, which belongs only to the members of the Phoenix Club, including Chancellor Semper and other elite.
“Have you ever heard of the Phoenix Club? They’re the most powerful and dangerous people in the Republic. Businessmen, wigheads, scholars…all with a talent for immortality. They’re the ones who orchestrated the Mizer executions. The whole Revolution, even.”
Not a lot of information is disclosed about the Mizers, other than their controversial reign and ultimate demise. While greed and other obvious factors had a play into them being overthrown, more exists to the story.
“Mizers created volts, that was their talent. Being an orb-maker, I was taught a lot about the Mizers–I’m sure I know more than you. We’re different from the metalsmiths or glassmaker families. As you might know, Mizers don’t technically make volts–they make energy. Orb-makers filter that energy into volts, sort of like a by-product. Without orb-makers, no one would’ve ever started using volts as money. Without orbmakers, holding that energy in your skin would be unbearably painful.”
While the Talents hold a high place in the structuring of society, there isn’t much to speak of in terms of there being an established religion. There are brief references to “the old Faith,” but very little is disclosed about what exactly the religion consisted of.
“…Jac was already pulling out his Creed, the necklace he wore that was a symbol of the old Faith. Not many believed anymore; the Mizers had perpetuated its stories for their own gain, and, after the Revolution, the wigheads had declared the Faith illegal…Jac rubbed the Creed–which looked like an intricate knot in the shape of a diamond–between his fingers.”
Artifacts of the old Faith appear here and there throughout the plot, yet again, little information is divulged as to their importance.
Pacing & Readability
While the plot is slower where it involves more information-heavy sections, the pacing remains consistent throughout. Due to the fact that there are complex backstories and world-building, it makes this a very engaging, yet heavy read. It’s worth mentioning to take a few notes here and there (unless you are able to give your undivided attention) to keep track of all that is going on, specifically with the terms and who-is-working-with-whom!
Point-Of-View & Characters
Enne Salta (full name Erienne Abacus Salta (view spoiler)[AKA Enne Dondelair Scordata (hide spoiler)]) serves as the protagonist. A “low blood” dancer from Bellamy, she travels to New Reynes to find her missing mother after receiving a strange letter.
“School began again in September, and this was Enne’s final year before graduation, before her debut into society. All her life, she had perfected her fouettes, memorized her table settings and obsessed over every salon invitation…all to graduate and earn the title of lady. She wanted it more than she wanted anything. It was all she’d cared about…
Until Lourdes went missing.”
Growing up on the reserved island of Bellamy with her loving but strange mother Lourdes, the City of Sin is a major culture shock. Not only that, Enne realizes that she must adapt in order to survive in the wretched place. Surprisingly enough, Enne thrives in the face of adversity. The shy girl who has always been overlooked and had to work extra hard to prove herself discovers a hardness beneath the surface that enables her to surpass obstacles thrown at her. Enne showcases an admirable amount of grit while mostly staying true to who she is.
”Enne had always considered herself someone who rose to the occasion. After all, being from one of the lowest-tier dancing families at her school, every challenge was an opportunity to prove herself. This might not have been ballet, and this certainly was not her finishing school, but her familiar competitive drive began to take over.”
However, Enne quickly learns how precarious each situation is and how dangerous the Talent of Mysteries can be, as an omerta is placed upon her by Vianca Augustine. Hopelessly tied to not only Levi, the leader of the Iron gang, but also Vianca, one of the most powerful women in the city, Enne plays a dance between the two in hopes of finding her mother.
Levi Glaisyer, Lord of the Irons, is an altogether different type of character. While his first encounter with Enne labels him as a self-absorbed, power-hungry thug, he really isn’t.
“What makes a lord isn’t the bravest, the smartest or the first person to whip out a knife. It’s the one who earns the volts and keeps everyone alive. No one else can lead like me.”
While he has confidence, he also understands that there is more at stake than just his reputation.
“He needed to figure out how to deliver ten thousand volts to Sedric Torren before Sedric Torren delivered him.”
Having a strong devotion to his fellow Irons, Levi tries to be as resourceful as possible in order to care for those he oversees. However, his responsibilities begin to strangle him when he finds himself deep in debt to one of the notorious casino family members, Sedric Torren. After evading him for a while, Sedric finally catches up to him and issues him a “warning” shadow card. Knowing that he has only ten days to pay back the debt, the takes on helping Enne find Lourdes.
I know that Levi’s character specifically has been receiving a lot of attention because he’s black and bisexual. However, I wanted to point out that I didn’t read him as he’s been described by others. There were hardly any references to his gender orientation, and once an obvious attraction between he and Enne developed, pretty much all of that labeling fell away. I could definitely be wrong in this because I was rather caught up in other aspects of the book and I could have overlooked some of it. However, if I could read him as being a straight guy for the majority of the book, then I think this is being more hyped up that necessary as it really wasn’t so blatantly obvious?
Lourdes, the elusive mother to Enne Salta is incredibly mysterious. While I can’t say much about her, everything surrounding her and her character made the plot all-the-more gripping.
While Vianca Augustine is not a major character, she is definitely worth mentioning. Being a part of the elite, Vianca has special abilities that ensure both Levi and Enne to do her bidding. Having the ability to place omertas on a select few, she can bend them to her will and carry out her dirty deeds. In a way, Vianca’s vendetta towards the Torrens works in favor of both Enne and Levi–except for when it doesn’t.
“Everything you do, Miss Salta, you do for me.” Enn felt ghostly fingers scrape across her throat, the omerta teasing her.
Sedric Torren, in conjunction with other characters part of the Phoenix club serves as the main antagonists. The Shadow Game itself, or the threat of being invited to play is also a constant intimidator to the characters.
Many, many other characters exist throughout the timeframe of this book, however, I felt it necessary to list only the most prominent of them.
Mostly observed in Enne’s character, she grows up her entire life wanting to be more. She works tirelessly in order to prove herself to others, but more importantly, to herself. In the long-run, her hard work paid off as she is able to distinguish a capacity within her that wouldn’t have existed without her determination to prove that she is capable of being more.
An obvious theme, especially among the different gangs, casino families, and the Phoenix club, the desire for power and control, is evident. Fighting among themselves, these groups navigate the grimy streets of New Reynes with their grimy and selfish intentions only for personal gain.
⇒ Opposites Attract
It is immediately evident that the life in Bellamy and life in New Reynes are like those from different worlds. Enne and Levi couldn’t be more different. Yet, events somehow keep leading them back to one another.
Things that I liked:
⇒ The writing is eloquent, visual, and simply beautiful.
Here are a few examples:
“If St. Morse were a palace, then the Tropps Room was the throne room, and greed was king.”
“His smile was filthy with insincerity.”
⇒ The depth of the main characters and how they were realistically represented (especially Enne). know, I’m one of the few that actually liked Enne.
⇒ The backstory is magnificent, and holds its mystery throughout and really pulled me in.
Things that I didn’t like:
⇒ There is a lot of backstory and world-building in this plot (which is great). However, it could be very info-dumpy at times, making it difficult to keep up with everything playing into the society of New Reynes. With that, some of the world-building needs much more explanation!
⇒ What really is the Old Religion? It’s never really explained and I’d like to know more about it!.
⇒ The Shadow Games, while they were veryintriguing, needed more to them! I felt that there was a lot of build-up to the moment of this game, but was let down by how it played out.
⇒ At times, I was surprised with Levi’s character. Being the Lord of a gang, I’d take him to be some tough cookie. At times, however, he proved himself to be the opposite. I’m not saying it’s wrong for a street lord to be more sensitive, but, I’m not sure if he’d realistically survive?
Overall, I thought this was a fantastic start to the series. The main reason why I rated this 3.5 out of five stars was because of the areas in the world building that felt incomplete. Without them, I couldn’t quite grasp the full picture of New Reynes and exactly what is happening behind the scenes of this dog-eat-dog city (and there’s a LOT, I’m sure.) Despite that, I’m very much looking forward to the next installment in this series!
Vulgarity: 17 words counted altogether.
Sexual content: Considering this is the “City of Sin” there’s definitely some racy material scattered throughout. In particular, there is a weird scene with Enne.
Violence: Quite a bit with some gory scenes.