ARC Review: THE KNAVE OF SECRETS by Alex Livingston

I received an ARC from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinion.

Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 2 stars
Series: standalone


Book cover for THE KNAVE OF SECRETS: title in gold below image of man in bloak with playing cards

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…

Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


THE KNAVE OF SECRETS is a book that I found so disappointing. The SPELLSLINGER series is one of my favourites, full of con men using magic (and pretending to use magic) to win card games (and deal with the tricky situations they find themselves in.) THE KNAVE OF SECRETS sounded like it would be in a similar vein, just adult in tone and content. Unfortunately, THE KNAVE OF SECRETS lacked all of SPELLSLINGER’s charm and ease of comprehension.

This is such a short book, and yet it both felt way too short and way too long as I was so confused. It was so hard to follow what was going on because the action is absolutely sped through, and lots of key bits of information are kept from the reader until a reveal point – except knowing the information (and the context that makes it significant) would have vastly aided comprehension.

And yet, at the same time, there are chapters of backstory exposition about events way before the book that barely touch on the story itself. It really slowed down the pace and dragged me out. It felt like those words could have been better served helping the reader follow the plot rather than understanding a lot of backstory.

There are also a lot of POV characters – five I think? I’m not entirely sure as there were at least three I couldn’t quite keep track of/understand why there were in the story. There’s the female ambassador that doesn’t really come into play until the end, and felt a bit superfluous/like she could have been explained through another POV rather than keep darting back to her.

There are also the two spies (both men) who are on opposite sides of the war? Or maybe double agents on the same side? I honestly struggled to keep them apart because they seemed so similar. Plus the short book and lots of POVs meant there wasn’t much time with either of them.

The overly-tight information control meant that the secrets central to the book never felt fully explained, which undermined the ending somewhat. I didn’t truly understand the importance of what everyone was after, so the ending never felt like it truly resolved.

2 thoughts on “ARC Review: THE KNAVE OF SECRETS by Alex Livingston

  1. Interesting.I’m not aware of this author. It’s good to read negative as well as positive reviews. As an author, if I saw only positive reviews from you I should place less value in your approval, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are definitely times and places for negative reviews alongside positive, and times and places for only positive. It’s about working out what is right for your platform – and I think right now, the mix is right for me and this. It might change with time and circumstance, but I do think the authenticity of “I didn’t personally enjoy it and here’s why” alongside “I enjoyed this and here’s why” reflects me best


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