Author : C.L. Denault
Published by : REUTS Publications
Publication date : March 31st 2015
Genres : Dystopia, Young Adult
Note : I received an e-copy of this book from xpressobooktours in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis (From Goodreads):
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?
The book has a lot of elements you would expect and be familiar with from a classically modern-day dystopian novel. But the first few pages gave me a queasy sense of deja vu with its all-too-familiar introduction of a girl in her teens living with the simpler folks from the outer villages who are governed and at the mercy of scraps from the oppressive main city. However, the story took off amazingly well and set itself apart due to the author’s deft handling of all the revelations about Willow’s identity and the murky politics of the Core city. We are never given all the information completely and yet enough to keep us inquisitive and interested. I quite liked reading Willow’s peaceful, normal life with her siblings and parents in their family-owned pub and her friendship-with-romantic-potential relationship with Tem. And then there is the school in a slightly decrepit building that she attends where she also gets a bit of defence training from her instructor Kane. The stable life that she knows turns on its head when Reece, an officer from the Core pays a visit to their pub. She is forced to leave everything that she has grown up with and move into an uncertain future.
The world-building is pretty cool, I totally dug the idea of the Core city run by powerful councils and families who own the major power and medical industries. Some of the futuristic initiatives by the Core such as an almost-complete reliance on solar energy and tree conservation (by entirely doing away with paper) gave me a vibe of a utopian-tomorrow for a fleeting moment. I loved the whole concept of the Surge, which takes place when kids turn sixteen and may or may not result in them developing a “skill” (translation: superpower). The first half of the book is pure adrenaline rush, very entertaining and everything that a first book of a dystopian-fantasy series should be like. I loved the power-play between Reece and Willow. I liked how Willow was written; she was angry, conflicted, rebellious, and almost felt cheated that she has no control over the rest of her life. I thought the way she reacted was raw, natural and just the way I would expect a sixteen year old to react when told that she has to leave behind her family and country ways and take on another identity.
So what didn’t I like? Well, pretty much most of the second-half of the book. It turns Willow-Reece centric and let’s just say, it is something I couldn’t wrap my head around. Why? Well, the author does too good of a job establishing Reece as a cold-blooded, abusive, murderous and manipulative guy, so it is difficult to see past that later on in the book. I honestly found him nothing less than loathsome. Is he a layered, interesting character? Yes, definitely. And that’s what made all the Reece-Willow (and Reece-X/Y/Z) confrontations so chillingly effective in the first half of the book. But their equation starts changing after the story shifts to the Core city and that’s when I felt both the pace and narrative of the book drops. We meet new characters, but they are just not allowed more breathing room. Some of them are in a position of power and actually seem nice and capable of empathy, so I couldn’t understand how they seemed undisturbed by some of the violent goings-on. There are a lot of “Willow settling in and getting used to her new surrounding” pages, and while it is nice and also a bit amusing to see her staring and questioning about all the new gadgets and stuff, it gets a bit boring after sometime. I started missing some of the characters from earlier part of the book. And as I said, there was way too much of Reece-Willow, and to be honest, it turned into more of a Dystopian-Romance. The romance bit troubled me, because Reece does too many things in the beginning of the book which is hard to forgive and brush over, so the attempt to humanize him in the second half of the book and Willow softening towards him didn’t sit well with me. Nor did his blow-hot-blow-cold, physically and emotionally aggressive behaviour towards Willow.
At over 550 pages in paperback, it is a long book but there is enough meat in the first half to go through the entire book easily. Gambit ends on a promising note, with the significance behind the title revealed and Willow trying to ascertain herself in the position of being able to make more choices. It is clear that there is a lot more to the series in terms of Core politics and Willow’s destiny. I always find it a bit irksome when the romance ends up taking away the focus from other (and, in my opinion, stronger) aspects of the story. But keeping that aside, it is a pretty decent series-opener.