21 October 2014
I received this novel directly from the author, in exchange for an honest review.
“No substance has a more contagious nature than fear,” whispered Miss Madulina. “It builds upon itself. It casts a magnified shadow, choking out the light.”
The heroes of The Silent Deal, Romulus and Viktor, return for a second outing in The Card Game series. Having discovered the secret of the cards in the first novel, they seek more answers on the origins of their enemy, The Leopard. Viktor has unfortunately been estranged from his family following his decision to advertise his exposure of The Silent Deal around Aryk. The family home having been burned to the ground by The Leopard’s henchmen, they now live in squalor in a deprived area of town and want nothing more to do with Viktor.
The blood brothers travel on horseback to Great Perm with Romulus’ faithful wolf guardian Blizzard, to inspect Saint Demetrius Academy. Before he became The Leopard, the boy Nockatyl attended the school, and it is here that the fate of some of his unfortunate classmates appears to have been death by his hands, so the rumours and Nockatyl’s own hidden notes say at least; they became Ghosts. It points to the very early stages in what would become the boy’s descent into madness and murder, ultimately becoming The Leopard.
The academy is housed in a dilapidated mansion, and the boys pose as prospective students in order to gain access. Headmaster Antipov himself appears to have descended into madness; seeing enemies round every corner, and blaming the disappearance of the students on the dwindling reputation and crumbling condition of the school.
“‘Leo Pardus means to lock us away forever,’ ‘to turn us into true Ghosts,’ ‘the Seven come to take us.’”
The dusty secretary Miss Madulina allows the boys access to see part of a document she sequestered pertaining to the investigation into the disappearance of the three classmates, sending the boys on another quest for information. Who or what are The Seven? And what part did they play in the legend of The Leopard?
Meanwhile back in Aryk, a mysterious circus – the Bizarre Bazaar - appears, and at the same time some new Brass Art graffiti appears on the door of the town hall: “The betrayer of cards is in our midst”. The House of Cards – the headquarters of the Cards from the first novel - fell on the eve of the revolution, due to a spy betraying the four kings, the betrayer mentioned in the graffiti. Just who is the betrayer, and what does he/she want? And is the circus part of The Leopards plans or something much more sinister?
The serf children of Aryk face new dangers, as a new “Apprenticeship” program is created by Master Molotov to replace the school. It could lead to Viktor and his friends – if chosen - facing the nightmarish prospect of returning to Staryi Castle to receive tutorship ahead of a series of secret trials. This could be a great opportunity for Viktor to get back inside the castle to find answers on the fate of the Ghosts, or it could be part of one elaborate trap set by The Leopard. The stakes just keep getting higher and higher.
The book is yet another masterful tale by Levi Stack in The Card Game series, as it appears that the high standard of the first novel will be maintained throughout the series. Like its predecessor, I read this book in one lengthy sitting, mainly because I couldn’t stop once I had started! In spite of Viktor and Romulus’ breaking of the deal in book one, there was no dilution of the tale and the series continues to gain momentum heading into book three.
The Crossbones Clan reveal more of their origins, and we see a different side to Charlotta, who was not so strong a character in the first novel. With Romulus heading down the mines to gather information and seeking allies among his father’s cards, the blood brothers are largely separated, and the book slightly misses their previously great chemistry.
This doesn’t hamper the book really; it allows Viktor to step out of Romulus’ shadow, though he doesn’t always feel overly comfortable in being isolated from his blood brother. It also allows for fringe characters to take more page time as they carve out their own story in the series. We encounter some new frightening enemies, and yet more intriguing set locations.
Stack has a real knack for creating vibrant and colourful, as well as grim and creepy scenes. This time around it is the Bizarre Bazaar and Saint Demetrius Academy stealing the show, as well as the return and further exploration of Staryi Castle. With it being so easy with Stack’s flowing prose to really visualise each scene, it makes me wonder if the series has a future on the big screen at some point down the line.
Rating: 5/5 stars