Friday, April 19

Buddy Review: Assassin's Gambit by Amy Raby

And we have another buddy review this week, yay! This week, I welcome Jan from Notes from a Readerholic. Jan is a fairly new blogger and this is her first buddy review, so I hope everyone will enjoy the discussion :)

Ames and I are trying hard to keep Breezing Through going :) We're always on the look-out for people who would like to buddy review books... and it's very simple! You can do like Jan and just let us know what books we are looking forward to in common and voila, buddy review! :)


Assassin's Gambit by Amy Raby
published by New American Library (Signet) in April 2013

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.
Genre: Fantasy romance
Series: Hearts and Thrones, Book #1

The Story: Because of her mixed lineage - half Kjall and half Riorcan - and her magic, Vitala Salonius has been trained from a young age as an assassin by a secret organization called the Obsidian Circle. Her ultimate goal  is to kill the emperor to free the Riorcans from slavery. Her opportunity finally arises when she wins the Caturanga tournament in Beryl and is invited to the imperial palace to meet the new emperor, Lucien. Because of his war-magic, Vitala's only chance to accomplish her task is during sex and as such, she must seduce him with her charms and wiles. However, before she gets the chance, there's a coup from inside Lucien's court and instead of killing him, Vitala ends up rescuing the charismatic emperor as she realizes working towards freedom will be much easier with Lucien who's willing to negotiate than the Usurper. Now, Vitala and Lucien must work together to get what they want.

Nath: First of all, a big thank you Jan for agreeing to buddy reviewing Assassin’s Gambit with me! I’m always excited to find new people with whom to discuss books! :)

So Jan, I was wondering why did you pick up Assassin’s Gambit? For me, I was looking for a fantasy romance, something a bit like the Chronicles of the Warlands by Elizabeth Vaugan. Also, I love court intrigues and political machinations and when I stumbled across the blurb of Assassin’s Gambit, I thought I’d hit the jackpot! :)

Jan: I first saw a review at All About Romance and thought it sounded good. I also like Elizabeth Vaughan’s books. This book reminded me quite a bit of her books and I’m also always on the lookout for new fantasy books and authors.

Nath: Nod nod. Yay, another fan of Elizabeth Vaughan! LOL. Although I’m going to be honest and get it out right away, I don’t think Assassin’s Gambit was anywhere near as good as Warprize ^_^; It’s perhaps not a fair comparison given they have very little in common, but the feel simply wasn't there. Know what I mean? I thought there’d be a bit more plottings, more fightings... and in the end, things just happened too quickly and fell into place a bit too easily :(

Jan: Yes, I thought it was a more simplistic plot than Warprize. I did like Lucien and Vitala, but agree that things fell into place easily. Apparently, this is a series, but the next book looks like it takes place before this one which I thought was odd. I tend to read more urban fantasy where the romance is not the focus. I think sometimes the time spent on the romance makes the world building and other parts of the plot less intricate.

Nath: Yes, the next book seems to take place before the events of Assassin’s Gambit which I thought was odd as well. Although I have to say, I am curious about Rhianne and Janto’s story :P Seriously, I’m not sure I would pick up the next book in this series if it wasn't theirs ^_^;

I know what you mean about about romance sometimes being a detractor from the world building. However, in the case of Assassin’s Gambit, I don’t think you can blame it on the romance as I thought the romance was also under-developed! Yes, Lucien and Vitala did fall in love, but really, Ms Raby sure did not expand on it. It was very sequential: they met, they were attracted, they jumped into bed and oups, coup!! Heroine saves hero, next thing you know, they are in love. Then add in the conflict and a touch of reconciliation and that was pretty much the romance ^_^;

If you think about it, everything seemed half-done in this book. The world building, the romance and the story. What took up the most number of pages was the development of Vitala - her background, her training to be an assassin and her mission. It was a lot of development for a character that essentially, we won’t see in the next book. In my opinion, for Assassin’s Gambit to a be a winner, it should have been at least a duology. That way, Ms Raby could have spent time on the world building and expanded on the story - make it more complex - and romance - more satisfying.

Jan: Up until the end where things got pretty much resolved I thought there would be at least one more book about these two characters. Toward the end of the book, Bayard took on more personality and I thought he was going to have more of a role in this book or the next one, but then that kind of fizzled out, too. I think I liked the book a bit better than you did. :) I’ve been reading lots of urban fantasy which sometimes have some romance, but usually not a lot so the romance was kind of fun for me! I admit it was pretty fast and they didn’t really know each other.

I liked the game Caturanga which was how the characters met. Of course, it’s very much like chess, but it did show some insight into their characters--both bold and willing to take chances. When Vitala saves Lucien she sees it as a strategic action to save her country.

Originally, when I read about the book I not only thought of Elizabeth Vaughan, but also Jacqueline Carey and her Kushiel series. (I admit that since I haven’t read that series that is a little suspect! lol) Other than a few superficial details, I’m sure this book isn’t like Ms. Carey’s books.

Nath: I do read a lot of urban fantasy, but the bulk of my reading is romance... So I guess that’s why I thought the romance was a bit lacking. I just wanted more and I needed more to believe that they were in love.

The game of Caturanga was a good idea and I liked that it was the reason of Lucien and Vitala’s meeting. It was a clever idea. Then again, when you think about it, it didn’t make that much sense. Vitala started her training of Caturanga at a young age... Does that mean that Lucien’s father also invited the Beryl Champion every year as well? For some reasons, I have my doubts.

Overall, I really thought the premises and the world building had potential. It’s just too bad they weren’t fully exploited. Especially the world building. There was so much I’d like to know more about such as the history between the two countries and how does the magic works.

Also, what did you think of Vitala as an assassin? I have to say, the fact that she assassinated them during sex is not something that I really liked :( Also, does that mean that’s the MO of all the Obsidian Circle’s assassins? And I’m kind of disappointed how the issue was handled with Lucien. Yes, he was unhappy, but again, it wasn’t develop. Just swept away, sigh. By the way, I think the fact that she had to seduce her target is the reason you were reminded of the Kushiel series (I have not read them either).

Jan: For me, the lack of world building was the biggest problem with the book. I wanted to know more about the world they lived in and the two countries. More history and a map would have helped.

I think the reason Lucien invited the winner of the Caturanga tournament to his palace was to become a better player because he hadn’t gotten a chance to play very much when he was younger. I thought it was strange after about the first third of the book Caturanga isn’t really mentioned again.

I thought the way they trained the women assassins was pretty awful. It’s no wonder a lot of them had “visions.” They had been abused. And yes, Lucien accepted Vitala and trusted her very quickly even though she’d been trained for years to assassinate him. That’s not natural!

In fact, if I hadn’t read the AAR review I might not have read this book, because the premise sounds really dark--seducing a person and then killing him while you have sex. The book wasn’t that dark though. Vitala didn’t view what she went through as abuse so I finally decided in their society it wasn’t considered strange to treat children this way. She was damaged by it though. When they finally talked about her problem they were able to get past it pretty quickly.

Nath: If it was a regular child, I don’t think the way she would be trained would be acceptable. However, as assassin and part of a secret organization, that changes thing. That whole killing during sex was the only thing that made me hesitated to pick Assassin’s Gambit and at the end of the day, I still found it distasteful. I figured out it was because of Lucien’s kind of magic - a war mage - but I would rather have Vitala be a good assassin because of her skills and superior intelligence than her looks and how seductive and efficient at luring men she is. By the way, it was never explained what skills Lucien had as a war mage, right? :(

Speaking of Lucien, what did you think of his character. I thought as a fantasy hero, he was refreshing. I surely didn’t expect his handicap. However, like everything else, I think there was a lack of development. I wished we had seen him more in action, the political changes he was trying to install, him leading people. For sure, he is smart... but quite frankly, he lacked charisma and that was a bit disappointing.

Jan: You’re right about Vitala. I hadn’t thought about the fact that even though she’d been trained to fight that wasn’t why she was an assassin. The Obsidian Circle had male assassins who were war mages and killed other war mages by fighting them. Women were only able to defeat the men through sex. Ugh.

The abilities of war mages and Lucien in particular were rather vague. He was quicker and could sense when something was about to happen and I think he was stronger because of his mage stone, but it wasn’t really explained if war mages had all the same abilities or different ones. Lucien had been in power for about three years I think, but it didn’t sound like he’d accomplished much. We are told in the book he’s charismatic, but that wasn’t shown very well. I did like the way he handled his handicap though.

Nath: I liked it too, especially as the ruler of a nation that prizes perfection. When you think about it though, it’s a surprise that there wasn’t a coup before. Also, were we ever told what happened to Lucien’s father? It doesn’t seem to me he simply died.

Anyway, just way many things about Assassin’s Gambit that were too vague. It seems to me that Ms Raby bit off too much for her debut novel :( As a result, Assassin’s Gambit gets a C- from me. What saved the book for me was Ms Raby’s writing as her style was quite fluid and readable and the setting for Spy’s Honor, as I’m quite curious about Rhianne and Jantos’ story :)

What about you Jan? What grade do you give Assassin’s Gambit?

Jan: I think Lucien’s father was deposed, but that was vague. Perhaps that’s what Rhianne and Jantos’ story is about. It is surprising Lucien wasn’t deposed before. :)

As I mentioned before I liked Assassin’s Gambit more than you, Nath. However, I don’t know that I will pick up the next book even though I liked Rhianne. I don’t want to read a book that takes place before this one, I guess. Anyway, I gave the book a C+.


Leslie said...

Wonderful review ladies! I got my hopes up when Elizabeth Vaughan (love her writing) was mentioned but now I think I'll skip this one. I'd just end up comparing and find it lacking.

Li said...

I thought the premise for this sounded really interesting, shame the execution didn't quite work from the sound of it!

Interesting that the next book is set before the events in this. Very few authors do that (and pull it off).

SciFiGuy said...

I too was intrigued by your initial comparison to Elizabeth Vaughan (I'm a fan). But when you stated that the world-building and other elements seemed only half-formed then I realized it wasn't for me. When you write fantasy you have to do the necessary work. After all it is an investment and foundation for any series to thrive on.

Quite liked the shared review format. Nice job!

nath said...

Leslie - Nod nod, that's what happened to me ^_^; Perhaps if I went in without the Warprize series in mind... but the thing is, the Warland Chronicles series is pretty much teh only fantasy romance out there for comparison ^_^;

Li - The premise was definitively promising... Just too bad the execution wasn't there.

I know Li! That's why I'm so curious to see how it'll turn out.

SciFiGuy - I agree. When you write fantasy, you definitively need to have all the elements in our world worked out. That's why I think Ms Raby should have split this book into at least two books and really worked in the details necessary. Especially since she had a lot of different aspects to her world building. Ah well :(

Glad you enjoyed the review!