I was given a copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. I was excited for Gambit, partially because it was the first NetGalley book I received, and partially because the cover is so stunning. I looked online and someone even got a tattoo of it! Gambit focuses on Willow Kent, a village girl hiding a secret ability who discovers her true parentage when a military officer comes to collect her.
The Good Bits.
When I first opened the book I hadn’t yet connected the title to the synopsis and so I was flying blind. C.L. does a wonderful job building up the world, so that even without knowing anything, you get right into the story. We learn that Willow is a waitress in the pub that her parents own and very quickly are introduced to her family and childhood friend Tem. In a short period of time I knew a trait of each of these characters and loved them all. Willow’s feistiness, her sister’s flirty nature, her dad’s softie personality, her mom’s kindness and eye for business, and Tem’s teasing personality were all done so well. And more, these were things you picked up from the character’s actions and a little bit of input from Willow. It never felt like I was reading a character summary.
Gambit reminded me of the Hunger Games in that you have these Outlying lands where people are living very simple olden-time, renaissance-esque lives. And then the Core where people where rich people and those with identified abilities live. Except! The Core also has its share of poverty as well which is sort of swept under the rug. I liked that it wasn’t this perfect shiny area, and that C.L. showed the cracks there.
What about Willow? Willow as a character is the definition of feisty and bold to a fault. There were times where she did things and I would get worried about the fall out. Like when her family is threatened by the military officer Reese (aka future love interest) and she mouths off to him. I was pretty much like “he’s going to murder your entire family!” but she got away with it because she’s Willow. It’s hard not to like a “rough around the edges” type of character. And I was happy that she didn’t automatically hate everyone in the Core just because she was forced to go there. Her anger was focused on people that had actually wronged her. She also has a guardian named Joshua that shows up occasionally. At first the concept seems cheesy, but he grew on me, and he doesn’t often interfere.
I’m disappointed to write that there was a single element of the book that ruined the entire thing for me and that was Reese and Willow’s relationship. What is portrayed in the book goes beyond the level of liking the “bad boy”.
In the beginning of the book Reese scars/burns one of Willow’s friends, imprisons her teacher and beheads the employee from her parent’s pub that she’s likely known since childhood. This was terrible, but they didn’t know each other, and he’s meant to be a brutal military officer. I understood that you aren’t supposed to like him at this point. He and Willow also have a separate altercation in which she stabs him and he forcibly subdues her. They’re butting heads and I have no issue with a lady ready to hold her own. Go Willow!
What did not sit right with me, is nearly every other altercation they had. Why? Because it would always be a situation where Willow would refuse to submit to Reese’s authority and he would first respond with words, and when that didn’t work, he would physically hurt her until she was in so much pain she submitted. Then he would be nice to her (pat her hair or something) with the warning that this wouldn’t happen if she just let her protect him and didn’t undermine his authority. She would then blame herself for getting into that situation by not listening. She excused his behaviour, because he was nice and charming afterwards, and she had trouble comparing that man to the one that hurt her. If that isn’t a textbook example of an abusive relationship then I don’t know what is.
I will say this very clearly, if your partner puts their hands on you because you wouldn’t listen to them, that’s wrong. To blame yourself for “forcing their hand” by being disobedient is wrong. If they are nice to you afterwards, that does not excuse their earlier behaviour. And to put that relationship on display as the main love interest in a novel was completely repugnant to me. Especially because C.L. could have fixed it by having Willow, literally at any time, tell Reese that it wasn’t right to physically punish her for not listening to him. And by then having him either 1) not doing it anymore and using his words or 2) have him keep doing it and have Willow stop engaging in romantic interactions with him. She could have made this a shining example of not accepting abuse and taught people about confronting this issue head on. And while Willow feels conflicted about being attracted to Reese, none of this stops her from pursuing a romantic relationship with him! Instead in a later scene Willow backs down saying she wouldn’t undermine Reese’s authority again. Probably because the last time she did that he gathered a handful of her hair in his hand and pulled until she was in tears and submitted. But it’s okay because he kissed her after and he’s handsome.
The Last Bite.
If you take out Reese and Willow’s relationship from the book, it is a wonderful novel. It’s futuristic while keeping some olden-time type elements. The whole time I read it, I enjoyed it, except when I was reminded of the coupling. And so unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of the series.
Did you ever read a book where one element stopped you from liking the entire thing?
If you’ve read Gambit I would really love to hear your thoughts!
Let’s do lunch again next week!
*please note, if you purchase the book through the link provided I will receive a commission. However, this is not a sponsored post. I was not paid to write it, and all my opinions are my own