|Book Review: GAMBIT (C.L. Denault)|
|Series/standalone||The Prodigy Chronicles #1|
|Category | Genre||Young Adult | Fantasy, Dystopian|
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?
Disclaimer: I received an e-galley from the publisher.
From the premise, Gambit, the debut novel from C.L. Denault, seems to be simple enough. A girl discovered her secret identity and was forced to leave her family and live another life in a place alien for her. That sounds like… every dystopian-light novel out there.
However, judging Gambit from that simple premise will most likely mislead you. It’s a complicated book, exploring things that made me feel conflicted. Let’s get to it.
At the front and center, we have Willow Kent, a sixteen year old girl who’s hiding a big secret. It was not long before her secret was discovered and she was forced to leave her hometown and everyone she’s familiar with. Willow is a strong character, flawed and stubborn, and there’ll be times you might want to strangle her, but she’s too sympathetic and brave to dislike. Despite her flaws and asides from how you feel about her, one simply cannot deny that she has very strong personality and growth. She started out at a tavern girl who thinks she has it all under control, then she found out that her life was not her own. The entire arc of Gambit focused on it.
There are other characters: the best friend who got left behind, the little sister and two little brothers, the alpha love interest, the parents, etc, but they all don’t seem matter much because this is Willow’s story. I do, however, have to say something about the love interest. I do not approve of him and his actions, but I do understand why Willow fell for him despite everything. He is more complex that he seemed to be when we first met him, but in this matter, my opinion still stands, an apology and a gift don’t make it all go away. I hope Denault did something drastic with him on the second book because the romance might become disturbing otherwise.
Plot and world-building
Did I say this was a debut? Yes, I did. Gambit was surprisingly well-written for a debut. Usually, you can spot a debut author by their willingness to use certain tropes and stay in safe zone by following the check-list. Not Denault. What she did with the plot was beyond the simple “girl with superpower left her hometown and save the world” because she is a special snowflake. Okay, she is kind of a special snowflake :P, but there were many people far more experienced than her to match her strength. Everyone also has their agenda, and the way Denault told her story kept you guessing everybody’s motives and secrets. Because of this, at the end of the book, I’m still not sure where everyone stands. The book used the chess analogy to explain Willow’s position and I think it’s a fitting one.
As for the pace, this one is a very well-paced book, making it an unputdownable read for me. Something is always happening even from the first chapter, so if you’re the type of person who got bored with lengthy description of the world, don’t worry, what world-building you get with Gambit was only the necessary one.
Speaking of world-building, I haven’t talked about one of the more interesting aspect of the book, the dystopian society. What you get with Gambit was a society divided by genetic code. The prodigies are people with mutations in their genetic code that cause them to have some skills. These prodigies live a wealthy life in the Core, with genetic engineering colored their entire life while the normals live in the villages barely scraped by. Gambit is not the first book I read that uses genetics as its core theme. However, it’s the one that felt truly dystopian in the sense that you could totally see the difference in societies. And the normals are not the only ones who got affected by the social politics. Here Denault presented hierarchy and a set of rules even in the prodigies society. Just because you’re a heir of a wealthy family, it doesn’t mean you get to do everything you wanted.
Gambit is an exciting read from start to finish. There are things I don’t agree with, but at the end of the day, you might disagree with the protagonists, but you will understand her, what is her motive, and why she did what she did. And I think that’s a great thing to have.
4 stars (out of 5 stars)