Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Welcome to the City of Sin, where casino families reign, gangs infest the streets…
and secrets hide in every shadow.
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.
I went into this book with absolutely no expectations and I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed it. I was initially planning to read this over several days, but with the quick pacing and suspenseful plot, I ended up binging the last 3/4ths in one night.
Ace of Shades takes place entirely within the city of New Reynes, a fantasy Las Vegas. The book has a very Victorian feel, with a tiny bit of a steampunk vibe, which I wasn’t expecting. The currency traded is volts, stored under the skin or encased in glass orbs. Whether the city is trading glorified batteries or something else I’m not entirely sure. Each character has two ‘talents’, a blood and a split talent passed down from their parents. Their surnames are determined by which talents they have, and these talents can range anywhere from being naturally good at dancing to lighting fires with a snap. I really enjoyed the worldbuilding that went into New Reynes. I could feel the seediness of the different districts and I like the descriptions of the different casinos the characters visit. There’s also some really horrifying aspects, like the beggers magically confined to certain streets, that I hope get explored in future books.
The best part of this book for me was the female MC Enne, a wealthy sheltered girl from what’s implied to be the countryside about to make her debut into society and finishing (graduating?) finishing school. She travels to New Reynes looking for her lost (and possibly dead) mother, and runs into trouble almost immediately. What I really loved about her character was that she starts the story by constantly reminding herself that she’s a lady, that this whole conflict will pass over, she’ll return to finishing school and make her debut. While the situation changes by the end of the books, she never stops thinking of herself as a lady. I saw a thread a while ago asking for recommendations with female MCs who didn’t break with gender roles like a lot of female fantasy protagonists do and I realized I couldn’t name a single book. Enne is certainly one such protagonist. As she progresses, she learns to use her feminity as a weapon instead of a hindrance and I found that very different.
The other part I liked about Enne was her agency. There’s a lot of YA novels that have the female MC completely rejecting any help from the inevitable male MC. In Ace of Shades, Enne often accepts help from Levi, especially in the beginning when she was completely new in the city. Yet, there was never a time where she felt completely helpless or reliant on Levi to do something. Enne comes to a lot of her important decisions through her own abilities, almost none of which are influenced directly by Levi. It certainly helped that while there were romantic hints thrown here and there, there was not outright romance between the two characters. I really applaud the author’s ability to integrate both of those acts into this story.
Overall, I rate this book a 4/5. I enjoyed the writing, the pacing, and the characters, and I enjoyed the suspense and discovery in the plot. It was not a heist novel as I’d expected, but it was good nonetheless. One detail that bothered me was that Levi’s opening scene is him paying a guy off ~1000 volts and bemoaning how difficult it was to get those volts. But then later in the book, we see him winning almost 1000 volts while gambling in one night. Which is it Levi?? Other than that, I found this book to be a fun and fast read.
/r/fantasy Bingo Squares
- Book published in 2018
- Book that takes place entirely in one city
- LGBTQ+ Database
- Book with <2500 Goodreads Reviews (barely, currently at 2398)