cover of knave of secrets with title of book in white agauinst a green background with gold playing cards

The Knave of Secrets – Alex Livingston

‘Never gamble more than you can afford to lose’ is an excellent tag-line, but The Knave of Secrets refreshingly focuses on the losses of a single person. There is no cosmic evil rearing to engulf the world in darkness, no prophesied saviour, but the stakes are high none the less, and the protagonists must make their own luck to stay ahead in the game. Oh, and if you’re into period table-top games – this one’s for you!

RELEASE DATE: 07/06/2022



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… (from Simon & Schuster)


This book is bound to appeal both to fans of Now You See Me and to those who like their fantasy with a side of politics. Like a clever card trick, The Knave… looks good from all angles. For me personally, it is an unusual choice: a book in which the vast expanses of the world are glimpsed in the gaps, and the real action takes place in close rooms and across gaming tables. The protagonist, a middle-aged ‘honest cheat’, is also hardly the type I tend to go for. But for all that, The Knave of Secrets was a wonderfully refreshing read. Despite it’s well-developed world, it scales the narrative down to human concerns and personal choices. Resolutions lie not in force of arms, but in a cleverly played secret.

Livingston’s research of gambling and dishonest play is impeccable, but I have to confess my attention wandered from some descriptions of gameplay. The book reminded me of a Dutch genre painting: a glimpse of a life that is all the more titillating for its brevity and its incompleteness. The characters feel like they’ll go right along with their lives after I’ve turned the final page.

From a metatextual point of view, The Knave… is cognisant of its readership. Subtle choices that problematise nationalism, elitism, and inequalities in education (especially the magical sort) are made to Livingston’s credit. It’s a book of quiet tension, and one I would openly recommend.

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