As can be recognized by my rating, I did not enjoy Gambit (though I did read it to the end). The book is a surprisingly quick read despite the page count and I didn’t find any areas where it really slowed down or dragged. The first 50% read like a YA medieval fantasy (complete with swords, taverns, and traveling merchants) and the second like a YA dystopian (London being rebuilt after war with high tech gadgets and automobiles). Throughout it all is a fairly unrealistic romance that pretty much takes over the worldbuilding (such as it was – prodigies/surge aren’t really explained) and plot.
Story: 15 year old Willow ekes out a living in a small village, working in her parents tavern serving miners, merchants, and travelers. With a childhood friend asking her to marry him, life is pretty good for Willow. Until a perfect and super handsome and young soldier commander brings a small contingent into her village looking for someone. He spots Willow immediately and soon their fates will be interwound as she finds out she is a missing heiress, bethrothed to a handsome heir of a competing company, and possessing super special DNA that gives her super powers.
Rather than a full summary, I find it better to list the issues/likes for this particular book (so I don’t give away too much of the plot):
– Pacing was excellent
– Writing was solid, if straightforward
– Decent amount of action
– Yet another speshul snowflake with TSTL (toos tupid to live) syndrome who is rude to everyone, overreacts, rushes into danger to get saved, yet inexplicably all guys are in love with her. Cue love triangle which includes a commoner, a prince, and her special bodyguard soldier. Sound familiar?
– A heroine I just can’t like or respect or want to follow. The Japanese have a slang word for this type of character: tsundere. She’ll insult and deride, injure or try to maim the love interest and others just to prove she has ‘spirit’. E.g., also see the ‘spitfire’ trope in romance. Logic, intelligence, resourcefulness? Nope, she’s got none of those.
– It’s hard to respect a hero who falls for this girl. Or believe that he does. She’s mean, nasty, and honestly stupid – well beyond 16 years and veering much more into the 10 year old category (including stamping of feet and tossing of hair when she doesn’t get her way).
– Love interest was supposed to be an evil guy – a la Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me. But all I could ever pull up as a reference is Channing Tatum in the lamentable Jupiter Ascendant movie (just throw a black wig on him). Mila Kunis could easily have played the main character here as well – a thoroughly shallow and silly character.
– A lot of secrets are hinted at but no one really presses to get answers. They take evasions at face value and move on. Even though it greatly impacts their life and could make a huge difference in how things are perceived. But hey, it means drama, right?
– There’s a magical deus ex machina figure that saves our heroine from herself all the time (actually, he’s just there so there are drama scenes between the main character and love interest). He’s like a christian-themed guardian angel named Joshua – but I kept reading as Jesus. His ‘mysterious’ character was just too odd for the story as a whole and I felt like I was reading a Christian YA romance at times.
– The usual slutshaming that is so old. Because yes, the ex girlfriend of your love interest just has to have loose morals.
– Other than being dead stupid, the heroine is perfect – beautiful hair, super powers, the attention of all the guys. Blah blah. I wanted more nuance to her than as a very prototypical Mary Sue.
– Every character uses an endearment they use when talking to her alone. Dear, love, butterfly, ogre, dearie, lass, sweet, butterfly, etc. etc. etc. I would wince every time after while, it was so egregious. Why a different endearment from every.single.character?
– Too many metaphors. The metaphor of a tiger inside the main character ‘watching’ or telling her what to do was just odd. Hinting at psychotic issues rather than being powerful. And then the love interest always compares her to a butterfly coming out of her cocoon and calls her his little butterfly all the time (barf). And the name of the book, from chess but here also inexplicably used in reference to being a wild card, as she refers to herself (both a gambit and a wild card). The mixing of metaphors was strange.
– I believe this was set in futuristic Scotland – so our main character says ‘och’ a lot. I kept thinking Disney’s Brave since our main character acted about the same age and the same way as Brave’s Merida. And had a lot of reddish hair.
– Random “Gattaca” movie moments where everyone was super protective of her/their DNA at the city (e.g., there was a guy who followed the protagonist everywhere just to ‘sweep up’ any stray skin cells/hair that she left behind). Which was weird because those rebels who wanted her DNA could have just gone to the tavern where she grew up (they knew her location already) and easily found hair/skin etc. in her bedroom, comb, or other articles she left behind. It was odd logic holes like this that bothered me.
– Instaluv. Enough said. Didn’t believe it, didn’t buy it, didn’t like it.
For me, I just didn’t find anything new here and didn’t really like any of the characters (or believe them/in them). Do I understand the many 5 star reviews by other reviewers? Sure, it’s a fairly typical YA dystopian in that the romance is heavy and the raison d’etre of the book (rather than the plot) and it moves briskly. But for me, I won’t be continuing with the next in the series. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.