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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Checkmate by Nicki Bennett and Ariel Tachna

Checkmate by Nicki Bennett and Ariel Tachna
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (294 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Sex
Rating: 3.5 cherries
Reviewed by Phlox

When sword for hire Teodoro CiĆ©za de Vivar accepts a commission to “rescue” Lord Christian Blackwood from unsuitable influences, he has no idea he’s landed himself in the middle of a plot to assassinate King Philip IV of Spain and blame the English ambassador for the deed. Nor does he expect the spoiled child he’s sent to retrieve to be a handsome, engaging young man.

As Teodoro and Christian face down enemies at every turn, they fall more and more in love, an emotion they can’t safely indulge with the threat of the Inquisition looming over them. It will take all their combined guile and influence to outmaneuver the powerful men who would see them separated... or even killed.

I can’t think of too many things more enticing than a handsome Spanish swordsman who sees honor as just as vital as air and water. Add to that a beautiful, headstrong Viscount who needs his protection, the hot Spanish sun and the volatile political climate of early seventeenth century Europe, and the ingredients are firmly in place for a passion-soaked intrigue.

This is a charming story with characters whose lives and motives unfold slowly for the reader, each new revelation giving us another piece to Teo and Christian’s hearts. Of the two, Teo is much more complex. His actions are often driven by past mistakes that haunt him, his reactions tinged with old hurts still festering. But Christian is an equally intriguing character. He’s led a more sheltered life compared to Teo, and doesn’t have the years to match his experience, but Christian’s a determined soul who knows what he wants. And what would that be? He wants a) Teo, b) to be able to stop looking over his shoulder for kidnappers, and c) his father’s respect, in that order.

The story rolls along at a good clip, for the most part, in a good mix of external peril and internal struggle and I became engrossed in the tale. If this piece were ever re-vamped for a later release, however, a couple of issues might be addressed at that time. In a romance, I tend to forgive a little head-hopping. It’s generally accepted during love scenes, and often can be handled with a minimum of distraction. Here, unfortunately, the head-hopping was a tad excessive.

Certain POV’s made sense—Teo’s and Christian’s, of course, Teo’s friend Raul, who acts as an excellent mirror for us to see the principles. Even Hawkins’ POV, towards the end, is necessary. But the authors chose to show us the story from everyone’s eyes. The thug in the alleyway, the Inquisitor, the guard, even the most minor characters had paragraphs written in their POV, sometimes at confusing moments, pulling the reader out of the story. I found it distracting, and it pulled me from the story more than once.

The other issue was not quite as distracting, but I was a little disappointed that the plot did not explore the historical aspect of the actual happenings of the time a bit more. Philip IV had a difficult reign, full of conflicts and economic issues, and his court was populated by fascinating people. We have some inkling that Spain has been at war, but nothing specific. Granted, Teo, as a mercenary, might not have much of an interest in politics and the market value of chocolate at the time, but Christian, as the son of an important diplomat, would certainly know, sheltered life or not. I would have liked to see more of that history addressed.

However, the story is most successful in its personal portrayals. The characters held my interest, won my sympathy, and had me hoping all would be well. And in a romance, isn’t that the crucial point? That we invite the characters into our hearts and chew on our fingernails until the dust settles and the right hearts have found each other. Checkmate fulfills this covenant between romance writer and reader and then some, with swashbuckling charm. An enjoyable read that made me smile.

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