- The Knave of Secrets
Author: Alex Livingston
- ISBN: 9781786186072
- Published: June 2022
- Pages: 334
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 10/06/2022
- Language: English
I am not a gambler. All I do is look at how rich the casino and betting companies are to see that the odds are stacked in their favour. If you play the odds, eventually you will lose. However, there are games that require skill. Poker is one. It has elements of luck, but a skilled player is far more likely to win than the average person off the street. In the world of Alex Livingston’s, The Knave of Secrets, gambling is a part of everyday life, but people do not always play for money. They play for secrets yet unknown or, in the case of cardsharp Valen, their own life.
Valen Quinol has been working the gambling joints of Valtiffe for decades and makes a decent living along with his crew. His mixture of skill, card counting, and luck has allowed him to dream of saving enough to open his own gambling joint. However, beating others in cards leads to enemies and when one brutish foe gets Valen an invitation to the Forbearance Game, he cannot say no. Victory will bring Valen all the riches he can dream of, but losing could end not only his life, but the political stability of the entire nation.
In any complex card game, there is always more going on than just the cards. You play the game, but also the other players. Have they got a tell? What makes them tick? If you can understand that another player is aggressive or shy, this can be an advantage to your own game. Valen is an expert in reading others, but he also has secret weapons. One is his team; dotted through the game are allies that steer the game in his direction. The other is his secret ability to be lucky. This goes beyond the natural, Valen can will what cards he requires.
Various games of cards dominate Knave, but although Livingston is writing about a game, they are far more than this. Valtiffe is a land of politics and a lot of it is played out across the gambling tables. Valen has spent his career avoiding the big political players, but this time he is trapped in a game not of his choosing.
Politics can be a dull read if written poorly, but Livingston has written a book where politics is done down the blade of a rapier. Cheating is almost expected, duels are regular. This must be one of the most intriguing fantasy worlds I have read in recent years. Part high magic, part politics and part Alexandre Dumas. The tension broils as the book progresses, several factions all have their eyes on Valen.
In places the politics makes the book murky, so it is up to Valen and his team to help the reader remain clear. Running through the book is friendship and love that may just prove more powerful than nation states. The con is on. Livingston never tells the reader too much. We know that there is some sort of plan, but not all the characters are aware and even we are made to wait until the very end to find out.
There are elements of magic in Knave, but this is not your typical sword and sandals fantasy novel. The card games and politics dominate. This a book of intrigue, backstabbing, tension, and espionage. It takes the grand houses of Game of Thrones and distils their political power into a game of skill, a game of chance, and maybe, a game of magic.
Written on 10th June 2022 by Sam Tyler .