Review: Ace of Shades by Amanda Fooley

Ace of Shades follows the finishing school to-be-graduate, etiquetly trained, ballerina poised Enne as she visits the back streets, gang headquarters and sleazy casinos of New Reynes, aka The City of Sin. What could go wrong?

And if you think those are a juxtaposition, then you’re not alone.

After the revolution New Reynes, once home to the royal family, fell into poverty. A few years on and it’s overrun by gangs, drug abusers, gamblers and casinos, making money the only way it knows how: sleaze. Desperate to find her adopted mother, Enne travels to The City of Sin and teams up with her opposite: street gang leader and card shark Levi. Together they brave some of New Reynes’ most rotten bolt holes (and that’s really saying something) in a hopeless search for a woman who is most likely dead. Oh and to make things worse? Levi owes the most powerful man in the city £10k, due in ten days.

Ace of Shades offers a rare addition to fantasy YA: it’s post revolution. I’ve read countless YA that depict the fall of a once horrible tyrant, we’ve followed teens with bows, staffs and magic as they all attempt to overthrow whatever horrible government rules them. But I’ve never seen before Ace of Shades the other side. The aftermath. The struggle of a new government getting on it’s feet and what sort of government you’re putting in power if they rise through violence.

These questions are presented to the reader as the sense of a foreboding second revolution shrouds the novel. The current PM plays a deadly card game called “The Shadow Game” where there are no winners, just survivors. Betting your life instead of chips, this intimidating game is the technique the new government use to swiftly execute their rivals and we reluctantly watch our protagonist teeter on the edge of playing.

“The worst hurt in the world was the kind you grew to accept.” – Enne, Ace of Shades

Enne made for an interesting protagonist. She has seemingly very few initial survival skills and doesn’t have the strong resolve I’ve come to expect from a YA lead. She cries when things go wrong, is lead around more than makes her own choices and runs rather than fights. But that isn’t to say she’s soft. There’s a constant hint she’s something more, and the further she goes into New Reynes underbelly the more she comes into her own. Her character developments are fast and resolute as she becomes more adapted to a city she shouldn’t be in at all. With the world constantly stacking against her and her life unravelling as a lie throughout the novel the changes make sense, although they do scare both the reader and her fellow characters.

Levi’s stays more consistent than Enne’s. He starts the novel as a hopeful card dealer, determined to make it big in a city that is unforgiving. Even with an impossible debt to pay he believes he’ll still be able to become something great, and his optimism never really fades. Despite having seen all the streets have to offer and surviving the worst, Levi, unlike Enne, still fails to grasp that there are no winners in New Reynes.

“He’d bet everything he had in the game, and he’d lost. But the city wouldn’t greive for him. The city would find a new con man, some new boy who called himself a lord, and the city would play again.”

My main issue with this novel was the plot falls. In an attempt to keep this review spoiler free I won’t go into all of those here, but too many times did subtle details not make sense. Why important government officials made it their business to personally execute teenagers or why seeing auras conflicts with a glass blowing career were just two key plot points that made no sense to me. I wasn’t sure if the author had glossed over facts that were necessary for the plot of if she’d had to cut detail due to lack of space, but a lot of points didn’t make obvious sense to me. The book had some clever twists and turns that did seem to make sense but it felt unrefined on many plot points.

The writing style is easy to read and simple, with small snippets of details that helped keep the reader captivated. The plot was dotted with romance which wasn’t very subtle but didn’t detract too much from the story. This romance felt a bit forced on the characters, with little more substance than finding the other one attractive. The characters didn’t obviously pair well together and had seemingly little in common that would make them work as a couple. Although this was a minor key in the story telling and didn’t take away from the book.

“How did you put it earlier?” He grinned. “Oh, right, ‘You’re one of the villains, now.'”

Overall, I enjoyed Ace of Shades. The pacing was good, the story was fun and the setting was unique. I felt the plot needed refining but the unusual characters and exciting backdrop helped mitigate this.

⭐   /5