Gambit by C.L. Denault

6/3/15:

Gambit by C. L. Denault

 

In Earth’s battle-ridden future, humans have evolved. Those with extraordinary skills rise to power and fame. Those without live in poverty.

Sixteen-year-old Willow Kent believed she was normal. But when a genetically-advanced military officer shows up in her village and questions her identity, long-buried secrets begin to emerge. With remarkable skills and a shocking genetic code the Core and its enemies will do anything to obtain, Willow suddenly finds the freedom she craves slipping through her fingers. Greed, corruption, and genetic tampering threaten every aspect of her existence as she’s thrust, unwilling, into the sophisticated culture of the elite Core city. To ensure peace, she must leave the past behind, marry a man she’s never met, and submit to the authority of a relentless officer with a hidden agenda of his own.

Her life has become a dangerous game. How much will she sacrifice in order to win?

Gambit lays the foundation for a traditional coming-of-age tale, following Willow Kent’s journey — metaphorically and physically — as she grows from a young woman into the woman she’s destined to become. However, it’s definitely the beginning of a much larger tale, so don’t expect to see that journey encapsulated in this initial book. It’s a trilogy, and this is only the first third.

What you should expect is to be introduced to a world that is at once fresh and yet familiar at the same time. Set in a future where our current society has crumbled and humans have evolved, Willow starts her life in what feels like a medieval throw-back, a village in the remnants of what used to be Scotland. Infused with all the charm of Pixar’s Brave, we’re shown a snapshot of Willow’s life as a tavern keeper’s daughter.

But that life is soon swept away when an officer from the highly technological Core arrives. He’s looking for a missing heiress, a child stolen from one of the prominent Core families and hidden away in the Outlying Lands. That child is Willow. Suddenly faced with an identity she knew nothing about, Willow is forced to sacrifice everything she knows in order to protect the ones she loves and is thrust into the terrifying, fast-paced, intricate world of high society at the Core’s very center, where your DNA defines your worth.

Denault’s prose is captivating, painting her world with a mastery that instantly had me swooning. (Yes, editors swoon over words. Why are you surprised?) And speaking of swooning, the romance. While the hot and cold relationship between Commander Reece and Willow may bother some, it reminded me of the type seen in the classic narratives of Jane Austen and the Bronte Sisters. It evoked a subtler, highly charged and passionate style of romance that is rare in modern literature. The kind where things like differences in social station and perspectives on propriety create tension and subtext that goes beyond physical attraction. Does Willow have a tendency to fall for gorgeous men, feeling pulled in several directions at once? Yes. But you know what? She’s sixteen. That’s what sixteen-year-old girls do.

In fact, that’s one of the things I loved most, that the protagonist, Willow, is actually allowed to be a teenager. She’s sixteen and catapulted into a world she has no idea how to navigate. She throws tantrums and makes mistakes, and it’s okay, because she’s sixteen. Unlike other young adult books that often have characters acting with a maturity well beyond their supposed years, I appreciated that Willow’s struggle felt genuine to her age.

I’ve loved Gambit from the second I stumbled on it on Figment.com (under its then title ofProdigy), and I still think about it, months after I’ve finished reading. It’s engraved in that special part of my brain reserved for all-time favorite titles, and I expect the characters and world will haunt me for years to come in the best possible way. For me, that’s the ultimate goal, finding a book that gives me a book hangover so intense I never truly recover. Gambit fit that bill for me.

One part Pixar’s Brave, one part X-Men, one part Pride and Prejudice, and one part My Fair Lady,Gambit is a magical debut from a brilliant new author. And all I can say is, “Sequel now, please!”

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