I was intrigued by the premise. After suffering withdrawal symptoms after the completion of Sebastian de Castell’s wonderful Spellslinger series – see my reviews of Spellslinger, Shadowblack , Charmcaster, Soulbinder, Queenslayer and Crownbreaker – I thought another fantasy adventure involving card games and magic would be fun.
BLURB: 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…
REVIEW: I’ll be honest – I wanted to love this one more than I actually did. There is a huge amount of explanation regarding the world, which is full of complicated names, a tangled and even more complicated political situation and characters who all have complicated backstories. Livingston’s insistence of giving a lot of the information in big lumps throughout, rather than letting the reader absorb it alongside the unfolding action meant that I always felt distanced from the characters.
The writing style favours telling over showing, which isn’t my personal preference. And while the characters are all layered and nicely ambiguous, I didn’t ever feel particularly close to them as Livingston tends to keep them at one remove from the reader. The same applies to the action scenes – while they were vividly depicted, some of the urgency and snap was diluted by yet more explanation that should really have gone elsewhere. The overall plot, which was suitably twisty and surprising, worked well and came to a solidly good conclusion – although I did feel the ending was a tad abrupt.
That said, for those who are fans of detailed worlds with huge amounts of background detail, including maps, historical events and long explanations of a variety of fantasy card games – this is a solid treat. I was particularly impressed at the sheer intricacy of the games Livingston constructed and the appendices make fascinating reading. While I obtained an arc of The Knave of Secrets from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.