Formats available: ebook, mass market paperback
Genre: Fantasy romance
Series: Hearts and Thrones, #1
Length: 400 pages
Date Released: April 2, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
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.…
Take Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study and mix it with a bit of Guy Gavriel Kay’s classic Tigana, and throw in some of Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera for spice. Or maybe there’s a bit of Robin LaFever’s Grave Mercy in there too?
Why those elements? It’s the training of the assassin that brings up Poison Study and Grave Mercy. In Tigana, the assassin is also sent to the emperor to save her downtrodden country, and also falls in love with her target. (Tigana is awesome, beautiful and heartbreaking, it is epic and wonderful, read it if you have not, bring tissues.)
This makes for an incredibly heady story, an action-packed epic fantasy with an assassin heroine whose motives are never quite clear, not even to herself.
Vitala has spent ten years, more than half her life, studying the Emperor Lucien. She’s been studying Lucien since before he became the Emperor. Her job is to assassinate him and destabilize the Empire in the hopes that her downtrodden country can win its freedom in the ensuing chaos.
There’s only one problem with this plan; someone within Lucien’s government is also planning to assassinate him, and there won’t be any chaos whatsoever. Even worse, the evildoers who arranged the real coup will blame Lucien’s death on Vitala’s people, ensuring even more destruction.
At least, that’s what she tells herself when she rescues him instead of killing him.
But when she takes him to her people, in the belief that they can join forces, she discovers that she has just led a man she believes can save them all into a trap. So she goes rogue and rescues him again.
Is she right to put her trust in the man she was supposed to kill? Or has the assassin finally made a fatal mistake?
Escape Rating A-: Assassin’s Gambit blew me away. I’m glad I started it on a day off, because I finished it by toting it around the house all day until I finished it. I’m not sure what I would have done if I’d been at work.
Vitala and Lucien are fascinating characters because their motives are not clear. Not just because Vitala starts out by thinking she’s going to kill Lucien, but because they spend most of the story uncertain whether they can trust each other. And uncertain whether they can trust themselves.
These are two very wounded people. Two people who have little, in Lucien’s case, or no, in Vitala’s case, experience of being loved for themselves, and lots of experience in being abused. Trust is hard and suspicion is easy. Their efforts at even a political alliance are constantly under attack from within their own camps.
This story is not just a fantasy take, but also a fantastic take on the enemies-into-lovers story. And so much more.