Release Date: April 2, 2013
Hearts and Thrones #1
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Format(s): Paperback (400 pgs), e-book
Book Source: Publisher/ NetGalley
Vitala Salonius, champion of the warlike game of Caturanga, is as deadly as she is beautiful. She’s a trained assassin for the resistance, and her true play is for ultimate power. Using her charm and wit, she plans to seduce her way into the emperor’s bed and deal him one final, fatal blow, sparking a battle of succession that could change the face of the empire.
As the ruler of a country on the brink of war and the son of a deposed emperor, Lucien must constantly be wary of an attempt on his life. But he’s drawn to the stunning Caturanga player visiting the palace. Vitala may be able to distract him from his woes for a while—and fulfill other needs, as well.
Lucien’s quick mind and considerable skills awaken unexpected desires in Vitala, weakening her resolve to finish her mission. An assassin cannot fall for her prey, but Vitala’s gut is telling her to protect this sexy, sensitive man. Now she must decide where her heart and loyalties lie and navigate the dangerous war of politics before her gambit causes her to lose both Lucien and her heart for good.
Trained to be an assassin from the moment she was sold as a child to the Obsidian Circle by her Riorcan parents, Vitala Salonius is as cold and deadly as the weapons she yields underneath her skin. Armed with her beauty, magic, strength, and intelligence, she’ll do anything to lead her people to freedom from the empire that subjugates them, even if she has to sacrifice herself to do so. But, when a hostile faction within the Kjallan empire itself attempts to murder her target and seize power for itself, her straightforward mission is thrown into chaos, leaving Vitala with no choice but to act on her own in order to succeed. As she embarks on the unlikeliest of alliances, the game changes, and she risks losing something she’d never been allowed acknowledge until now: her heart.
Lucien Nigellus, the youngest, and only surviving, son of an unpopular emperor, is well aware of the sacrifices he’ll have to make in order to hold on to his precarious claim to the throne. More prone to utilize strategy than brute force in his bid to establish stability in the region, he seeks to learn from the reigning champion in his favorite board game, Caturanga, in order to hone his skills, both at play, as well as in politics. As betrayal strikes from within his own inner circle, and war threatens to spread across his lands, Lucien realizes that the one person he can rely on is the last person he should ever trust, and wanting her for his own could cost him everything.
Assassin’s Gambit is largely a tale of strategy. As is true with Caturanga, the game so heavily referenced throughout the novel, the characters themselves act as pieces on a game board, no move being made by either side without thorough consideration of its effectiveness towards the end goal. Every word Vitala speaks, and every action she takes initially has one purpose: to win freedom for her people. But, Vitala, who is a strong and clever woman, knows that she is an expendable commodity in the game, a possibility she’s embraced fully until now. Lucien’s misjudgment of his own situation likewise makes him a pawn in the machinations of others, neither of them being able to exert any real control over their situation until they begin to break the rules they’ve been trying to play by.
While the strategic aspects of Assassin’s Gambit were intriguing, I found a connection to the main characters difficult to establish. Vitala is certainly a strong woman, and worthy of the chance to aid her people however she can, but the aloofness with which she plays her part in the scheme was difficult to empathize with. Lucien is likewise difficult to become attached to, not truly beginning to shine until his priorities began to shift to accommodate his growing attachment to, and dependence on, Vitala.
One of the things I did especially like about the story was that Vitala is the real hero of Assassin’s Gambit, and her ability to outplay Lucien in nearly every respect was very entertaining. Whether they’re playing Caturanga in the palace or mobilizing troops in the field, she repeatedly outmatches him, a fact that proves especially irritating to Lucien when it’s to his benefit. Because of an injury that cost him one of his legs long before this story takes place, Lucien is almost entirely dependent on Vitala during their escape from their enemies, shifting her from the role of assassin to that of defender and provider.
Although I had a few issues with parts of Assassin’s Gambit, I think opens the door for a lot of possibilities for the series as a whole. Having a female lead strong enough to literally carry the role of the hero for an entire novel of this length is both unique and impressive, and I’m curious to know whether we’ll learn more about Vitala and Lucien in future novels in the series. Though it took me a while to warm up to both characters, by the end of the story I was in their corner, and I would definitely welcome the chance to see what Ms. Raby has in store for us next.
Liked it, but I had some issues – recommend (B)