About the Book

Title: Ace of Shades (The Shadow Game #1)
Published: 2018
Series: The Shadow Game
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Cover Story: House of Cards
BFF Charm: Eventually x2
Talky Talk: Shady
Bonus Factors: LGBTQ+, Superpowers and Magic, Bad Boys
Factor: Series Starter
Anti-Bonus Factor: Abuse
Relationship Status: Intrigued

Content Warning: There are scenes of both mental (magical gaslighting) and physical abuse (fights and beatings) in Ace of Shades.

Cover Story: House of Cards

For a book set in a seedy, casino- and crime family-run town that stars a card shark as one of its main characters—and a lot of tenuous situations for all involved in the plot—a house of cards is super appropriate imagery to put front and center. And the fact that the cards’ shadow is the town? Well done, cover designer.

The Deal:

Enne Salta’s adopted mother has gone missing, and Enne is on a mission to find her, even if it means traveling to the shady city of New Reynes—referred to by most as the City of Sin. Enne’s no shrinking violet, but she’s grown up in society and, naturally, is immediately in over her head once she arrives.

Her only lead is a name in a letter her mother left behind, but when she meets Levi Glaisyer, a street lord and “friend” of her mother’s, Enne begins to realize that her mother might not have been completely truthful with her … about anything.

BFF Charm: Eventually x 2

BFF Charm with a sweatband on

Enne is a sweet, naive girl who’s had a pretty easy time of things in her seventeen years. Although she was orphaned at a young age, her adopted mother raised her in “proper” society and gave her a very good life. At first, I thought she might be too sweet and innocent to really be that interesting, but her time in New Reyes brings out a lot of different elements of her personality, many of which make her a much more appealing friend prospect.

BFF Charm with a sweatband on

Levi, on the other hand, was dealt a crap hand. He’s been on the streets since he was quite young, forced to fend for himself. Thankfully, he’s a gifted con man, and his self-taught skills are useful to many in the higher echelons of power in the City of Sin. Making a name for oneself by being a criminal comes with severe drawbacks, however, and being friends with Levi could be a seriously dangerous situation.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

When Levi and Enne first meet, he thinks her a useless “missy” who’s nothing more than an easy mark. And she thinks him a degenerate who’s only use is to help her find more leads about her mother’s whereabouts. Both are wrong—as YA characters often are at first impressions—and both can’t help but be drawn to each other, in more ways than one. The timing’s never quite right, and neither can get up the courage (or the stupidity?) to make a move, but the heat is there, in spades, and I was a little bummed to not see them take things to the next level. That said, I can be impatient with slow burn. But I have a good feeling that Foody won’t let us down in the subsequent novel(s).

Talky Talk: Shady

Foody throws both Enne and the reader headfirst into the strange and suspect world of New Reynes, and as Enne learns about the city, the people in it, and herself, we, too, learn the rules of the world. It’s a little confusing at first, and I’m still uncertain about how certain aspects work (see Bonus Factor: Superpowers and Magic), but I was entranced by Foody’s characters and the super seedy New Reynes, from its street gangs to its criminal enterprises.

I sometimes struggled with the novel’s slang—Levi calls Enne “missy” or refers to her as “a missy” a lot, which made me want to punch him in the face—but I can see how Foody was trying to create a “new” language that wasn’t totally foreign to modern, real world readers.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ+

Pride flag being waved in a parade

Levi is bisexual, and Enne’s mother is described as being gender-fluid (but uses she/her pronouns). It’s really great to see the non-straight, non-binary characters in YA books, particularly when their sexual and gender identities aren’t made into A Thing.

Bonus Factor: Superpowers and Magic

In the Ace of Shades ‘verse, people’s last names denote their “blood talents,” or traits/skills they’re preternaturally gifted at. Enne’s full name is Erienne Abacus Salta; the Salta means she’s a dancer and Abacus means that she’s good at math. Levi’s last name, Glaisyer, indicates that he’s a glassmaker—specifically Orbs, small glass spheres that house the world’s currency, magical currents of electricity called volts.* There are many other abilities portrayed in the book, too, from brainwashing to acrobatics to seeing people’s auras. It’s a fascinating and unique system of magic that leans more toward the fantastical than the superhero.

*I think. I honestly got a little confused about what, exactly, volts are.

Bonus Factor: Bad Boys

Christian Slater in a screenshot from Heathers

On the surface, Levi’s the kind of guy that parents warn their children to stay far away from. He’s a con man, a leader of a street gang, friends with criminals, and more than willing to get his hands dirty to propel himself up the ladder of success. Of course, he’s also very handsome and oozes confidence, so he’s also the kind of guy that most, if not all, of those children will find themselves attracted to, regardless of their parents’ warnings—and common sense.

Factor: Series Starter

Stack of YA book series

The ending of Ace of Shades, while not exactly a cliffhanger, leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Abuse

Clenched fist pounding into a table

I said as much with my Content Warning at the top of this review, but there are a few characters in Ace of Shades who are seriously problematic, if not downright evil. They manipulate people into doing their bidding through violence and coercion, make advances that are unwelcome (although nothing devolves into rape, thank goodness), and more. Although they fit right in with the themes and setting of the book—New Reynes is the City of Sin, after all—it’s never easy to read about such terrible people.

Relationship Status: Intrigued

Although we had a bit of miscommunication, Book, I’m very interested in getting together for additional dates. You left me wanting more, but I also feel like our relationship could develop into something deeper, something more than just friends with benefits.

Literary Matchmaking

Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1)

If you liked the criminal/con-man aspects of Ace of Shades, you’ll also enjoy Six of Crows (and Crooked Kingdom) by Leigh Bardugo.

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle #1)

If it was the brutal, seedy nature of the City of Sin you found most fascinating, check out Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight (and its sequel, Godsgrave).

Roar (Stormheart #1)

And if you want more young ladies discovering their inner badass (and another unique magic system), give Cora Carmack’s Roar a read.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Harlequin Teen, and got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Ace of Shades is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.