Rating: 3.75 stars
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Teodoro Cieza de Vivar is a sword for hire with honor and he is more than willing to walk away from a job he doesn’t like. He certainly doesn’t trust the man who hires him to retrieve a wayward Englishman from a dalliance of dubious intent. Still, the job seems easy enough until Teo actually meets Lord Christian Blackwood and understands he’s been set up to kidnap the man.
Blackwood has been on the run, protected by a loyal bodyguard, while his father finalizes critical negotiations with the king of Spain. Meeting Teo is no accident and though their initial encounter is fraught with misunderstandings, both men realize they have become pawns in a much more sinister plot. Surrounded by the enemy and pursued by the Inquisition, Teo and Christian struggle to maintain their morality and humanity in a world seemingly gone mad. Only together can they discover the truth and ensure their freedom.
Checkmate is a historical novel replete with wonderful scope and excellent characters and a great premise that…well, it bored me to tears. And I hate saying that! There is so much about this book that works! The authors have done a wonderful job of creating a historical sense of time and place and giving readers the essence of Spain during the 17th century. Teo and Christian are well-developed, dimensional characters that seemed vibrant and suited to one another. They are occasionally flat, but these are momentary blips and generally all of the characters, even secondary ones, fit into the world the author has created. The plot is well thought out, though an excess of sex scenes between Teo and Christian occasionally hinders it. They’re passionate to be sure, but their romantic interludes do go on a bit longer than necessary.
With so much to recommend it, what went wrong? Despite the general thoroughness of the plot, it tends to lag. There are long periods of time with little action and only surface exposition between the characters. Much of the book, while written well from a technical standpoint, feels extraneous and easily a quarter of the text could be trimmed without affecting the plot. The overall tediousness of the pacing really choked the life out of what should have been an excellent read. Additionally, the conversationalist language leans toward the flowery and excessive, which disappeared during the wider narrative. Had the authors simply toned down some of this, the characters would have felt more natural and yet another dimensional layer would have shown through. And as for the chess connection? It’s almost non-existent. It’s mentioned on a few occasions, but the title is perfunctory rather than connected.
There are at least two additional books planned involving characters introduced in Checkmate. I’m interested in trying the next in the series because Checkmate has all the hallmarks of a potentially good read. Strong characters, and intriguing plot premise, and enough historical flare to satisfy most lovers of period fiction, all combine to give this book some very strong bones. Unfortunately pacing issues and excessively purple prose kept Checkmate from reaching its full potential. This series seems to have great possibility and perhaps the next book will resolve some of the issues that dragged this novel down. All of this said, Checkmate has something to offer readers and if you enjoy historical novels with strong protagonists, then you might find this one worth reading.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.