Thursday, February 15, 2018

Amy Raby - Assassin's Gambit

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.

Comment: I got interested in this book back in 2015 for a reason i can't remember anymore. Considering the plot, I can imagine it was because I like stories where the protagonists don't see eye to eye at first but then fall in love and this romantic fantasy seemed to have a good premise.

In this book we meet Vitala Salonius, a young assassin who belongs to a organization of spies in the fictional realm of Riorca. Their biggest enemies are the Kjalls, whose emperors have enslaved the Riorcans and now the chance to kill the emperor finally happens and Vitala is chosen to do that.
In this world of magical people, the emperor is a war mage, which means he can foresee an attack on his person, so Vitala needs to distract him enough for his barriers to be down and through sex it's the only way. The problem is that Vitala spends time with the emperor Lucian so that it can be easy for them to be alone and unguarded and she starts falling in love...will she be able to eventually accomplish her goal?

Obviously, not.
Otherwise the story wouldn't have many pages.
I'm joking but the truth is that, for me, this story wasn't as well accomplished as I imagined. The overall writing style is easy and fluid and does motivate the reader to keep reading but I must confess the story itself had moments I wasn't as captivated to read about and some character traits/choices/actions just didn't make me very sympathetic.

This fantasy world, like many others, is about war and differences between cultures. There's an young emperor, Lucien, who wants to make changes but of course not everyone in power would support his actions and he might face some opposition. But things have come to a momentum because one of those people who more strongly disagrees with him has tried a coup and he is attacked. In the middle of all this is Vitala, a spy and assassin who was thee to kill Lucien so that the unbalance caused would cause Riorca, the country she defends, to become free. Someone else usurping the throne and causing havoc makes her change her mind and she helps Lucien instead, even while going against orders.

These ideas have merit and the adventure side alone would be reason enough to make this an engaging read but somehow I felt there was some distance between the characters and the purpose of their actions so I was a bit bored with some situations from the first meeting of Lucien and Vitala and the moment they join forces.
The political content has interesting details, it's well connected to the countries' differences, the groups that interact to make things happen but since the main characters had a lot going on, I felt there was a bit too much to focus on and the plot seemed more confusing than complex.

One of the elements I was more interested in was, clearly, the romance. I must say I also expected more out of it. Lucien and Vitala have great moments together, as a whole I liked them together but it seems their connection, their falling in love wasn't as emotionally strong as I would have liked. It's almost a given just because they share a love for a strategy board game. As if all the things that separate them, emotionally and politically, were easy details to ignore.
They both have a complicated issue to deal with that affects their behavior (even their intimacy) and although they discuss it, that only happens close to the end, so love declarations feel rather childish if they didn't really trust one another before. Everything felt rather superficial at times.

There's an HEA, some secondary characters are interesting and several scenes important to the plot. But there are also some little details about subjects that I found that were not appealing, like the way assassins like Vitala are trained, the mind processing that goes with it. No matter how justified, their choices just seemed too much like a mafia setting rather than desperate people trying to help or defend the weak. I don't know.

All in all, several unique elements that bring life to this fantasy plot, but too many different details that weren't as appealing just made me eager to finish the book, rather than to simply savor it.
Grade: 5/10

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