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Checkmate by Nicki Bennett and Ariel Tachna

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When sword-for-hire Teodoro Ciéza 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.

https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/checkmate-by-nicki-bennett-and-ariel-tachna-7296-b

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Why We Love Historicals

Ariel:

I have always been fascinated by history and historical fiction, whether that fiction was historical because it was written in the past or whether the publication date was recent but the setting wasn’t. I devoured Barbara Cartland along with Swiss Family Robinson, my grandfather’s collection of Zane Grey westerns, the Wagons West! series by Dana Fuller Ross, and more bodice rippers than I could begin to name now (although I can still tell you the name of the first—but that’s a different story). It shouldn’t come as any great surprise, then, that I love writing them as well.

I love the research—yes, I just wrote that. I love the challenge of figuring out what would be in the medical repertoire of a seventeenth century ship physician or in the pouch of a Rom healer from the same era but a different country. Would they wear breeches or pantaloons? Jackets and shirts or tunics and doublets? What about their swords? One-handed, two-handed, straight, curved? How long would it take them to get from place A to place B if they were riding, in a carriage, walking? Did this building or that park exist yet? What did they eat? What were the housing conditions like?

Sorry, I get a little carried away because to me, this is fascinating stuff. Think Errol Flynn. I was so totally in love with him when I was a teenager. And now I get to write books that he might have starred in if they were turned into movies. Okay, that’s probably wishful thinking, but Teodoro was certainly cut from the same cloth as any of Flynn’s swashbuckling roles.

It’s more than the swords and swashbucklers, though. I love the chivalric code that drives even a mercenary like Teodoro to reconsider his stance when he discovers that the job he’s taken goes against his personal ethics. And I love the challenge of writing a happy ending for a same-sex couple in a time and place where being found out by the wrong people could have resulted in them being ostracized, if not killed. Yes, it’s a sword that hangs over most historicals, with the exception of Ancient Greece and possibly a few others, and for a lot of readers, that’s a turn-off. I get that, but for me, it’s an extra layer of challenge, because I know people found ways to live and love. They were confirmed bachelors or spinsters, soldiers who shared lodgings to save funds, boon companions, or some other term they used to hide the reality of their relationship. Or else they were the king of France (depending on who you ask, Louis XIII was probably gay. Certainly his second son, Philippe, duc d’Orléans was, quite openly despite doing his royal duty and marrying twice to sire four children.) Writing those happy endings in a way that’s believable is at least half the fun.

Nicki:

This is another example of how Ariel and I share a brain. When I was haunting my local library branch as a child and outgrew the Andrew Lang fairy books (which I suppose qualify as historical in their own right), I turned to adventure stories like Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (like Ariel, I adored Errol Flynn) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The White Company and Dumas’s musketeers and The Scarlet Pimpernel and its many sequels by Baroness Orczy. I always thought the heroines were vapid and boring, but I loved the heroic, noble, brooding heroes. As I got older I discovered Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters and the sparkling regencies of Georgette Heyer. The heroines were stronger and more clever, but it was still the heroes who stole my heart. When I read now as an adult, real-life history and historical fiction are still my first choice.

Like Ariel, I love researching the era in which we set our stories. I create timelines of the events that would have shaped the heroes’ lives. I want to know what they wore and what they ate and what they read and how they would earn their livelihoods if they weren’t fortunate enough to be nobly born, or how they would have interacted with their tenants and their peers if they were.

The settings of the All for Love series let us explore a swashbuckling period of history in three different countries, and the sometimes tortuous interrelationships between them. None of our heroes are powerful men, or at least they don’t start out that way, but they’re drawn into the affairs of kings and have to make hard, sometimes life-and-death choices. That they must navigate not only treacherous political machinations but also the dangers of loving other men adds to the risk but also to the rewards if they succeed.

And as Ariel says, we get to write the endings we always wanted to see in the books and movies we love. What could be better than that?


Excerpt:

Sir Lowell St. Denys stood in the shadows of the dank alley outside the seedy tavern in Madrid, waiting impatiently for his contact. He searched the face of each person who passed, but none gave the gray-haired man a second look. That suited St. Denys fine. The last thing he wanted was to be recognized here, in this setting, except by the man he was supposed to meet. Teodoro Ciéza de Vivar had been recommended to him as a sword for hire, a mercenary with enough honor to complete the job, but not so much as would prove troublesome. With that thought in mind, St. Denys had worked out the perfect story to get the swordsman to go along with his plan.

Movement at the corner of his eye caught his attention. A man stood at the entrance to the alley, clothed in dark leather over a paler linen shirt despite the heat. The brim of his hat was wide and slightly tattered, and he wore a sword at one hip and a dagger tucked in his belt on the other. As the man approached, St. Denys took note of the thick moustache that obscured his upper lip and the expressionless brown eyes that pierced even the deepest of shadows for any threat. St. Denys’s eyes lingered appreciatively on the breadth of the shoulders revealed by the leather jerkin, the trim waist, the narrow hips and long, long legs, a frown marring his face only when he reached the battered, mended boots. With a regretful shrug, the Englishman stepped out of the shadows. “Ciéza de Vivar?”

Teodoro Ciéza de Vivar had been watching the older man for some time before he was ready to approach him. His finances were always uneven, and the coin for this job, if he decided to take it, would be most welcome, but he had enough in hand at the moment that he could afford to decline the offer should it come to that. He did not always have the luxury to be so discriminating, though there were some undertakings to which nothing could compel him to agree, but this did not feel like one of them. Teodoro had learned that observing his would-be employers could often reveal to him whether he would agree to their task, even before hearing the details or the terms. His instincts told him that this richly dressed, silver-haired gentleman would at least be worth hearing out. “I am Ciéza de Vivar,” he replied. “And you?”

“St. Denys,” the noble said with a courtly bow, seeing no reason to admit his title to the swordsman. It would likely only raise his price. “Lowell St. Denys. I’m hoping you can help me, señor. My friend is most distressed at his son’s behavior.”


CheckmateFS_v2

Review by Elaine White

Book – Checkmate

Author – Nicki Bennett, Ariel Tachna

Star rating – ★★★☆☆

No. of Pages – 294

Cover – Intriguing!

POV – 3rd person, multi POV, omnipresent

Would I read it again – Probably not.

Genre – LGBT, Historical, Magic, Spanish Inquisition, Romance, Adventure, Hired Sword


This was an interesting read and I’m of two minds about it.

On one hand, it’s really, really long, with not a lot to show for that length. I mean, about 40% was about the adventure aspect and the other 60% was the romance, which I’m not sure was strictly necessary. But, saying that, a lot of my issues with the book were because there was a lot that wasn’t “strictly necessary”. On the other hand, I did enjoy the overall story, but it’s not something that I’d rave about to a friend or bother to read the next two in the series, either.

First off, the omnipresent POV. I’ve got a lot of experience with it, but this time, it was just unnecessary. Half of the omnipresent POVs – by which I don’t mean when whole scenes or chapters were occasionally dedicated to one character – were pointless and added nothing to the story that couldn’t already be known or shown through their actions and words. Here, I’m specifically thinking about St Denys, Esteban and the times when Teodoro and Christian are in the same scene; we don’t need both their POV’s.

Omnipresent, in this case, is a problem for two reasons. 1 – we get told things twice; once in one paragraph that is Teo’s POV and again in Christian’s POV which is the next paragraph, literally. 2 – one paragraph reveals something to us which, in the next, we’re not supposed to know. It makes it hard to follow the story and keep track of what each character knows or thinks. Particularly when the two MC’s often have alternating paragraphs; Christian, Teodoro, Christian, Teodoro. When you get into a rhythm of that, it’s okay to follow, but more often than not, it happened for one solid chapter, then changed format in the next and again in the next. It was constantly confusing and difficult to keep track of what POV the paragraphs were supposed to be told in, when not immediately made clear, until halfway through the paragraph/scene.

Half the space taken up by this constant repetition and re-experiencing of a situation through both (and sometimes triple, when Esteban is involved) sets of eyes makes the book much, much longer than necessary. It’s also pointless. Half the time we already know what is going on, who feels what and so forth. I’d much rather the author(s) showed us these varying perspectives in either one whole scene/chapter dedicated to one character’s POV or by SHOWING us through their words and actions. This constant telling grew old very quickly.

St Denys, as a baddie, was tame and boring. I mean, we got one chapter which included his POV (unnecessary) and after that, he was referred to as this big, bad villain, but he was never seen and did nothing that actually put the characters at real risk of danger. The same could be said for the el conde de la Rocha, who was nothing except an off-page tool to spur on the action, but only entered the story for about a page.

And, quite honestly, St Denys POV at the beginning ruined part of the story – as did the blurb. How? Because the big revelation of St Denys plotting to kill the King is a major plot arc, which is haphazardly thrown into the blurb, so that it’s neither a surprise or all that shocking to the reader when the “big revelation” is made. Which jars with the fact that the author(s) make it very clear throughout the story that this is supposed to be a huge surprise to the readers. Except that St Denys’ POV and the blurb remove all mystery, giving far too much away in a story that, shockingly, goes to painstaking lengths to keep this information from us until the big reveal. It makes absolutely no sense.

On top of that, there were no translations. This book is littered with Spanish phrases and not one of them is explained. There also isn’t a glossary anywhere in sight, that I could turn to while reading. If I were to highlight all the Spanish terms, to look them up later, I’d be highlighting half the book. Instead, I chose to remain ignorant and look up the most confusing (in that they held some sort of meaning to the characters) when I was done. If I hadn’t done that, I would have been putting this book down every five minutes to check Google Translate. As it was, the scenes would have made so much more sense had I known what they were talking about, but I’ve never even flirted with Spanish, so I had no hope in hell of ever guessing what all those curse words and endearments meant.

To keep going with the negative, but be a little more brief with it –

  • there were continuity issues, e.g. someone was standing but was talked about as though they were seated
  • spelling and grammar issues, as well as misplaced punctuation. (A good example is when Esteban and Gerrard are both, at different points, mentioned as “the Esteban” and “the Gerrard”)
  • unbelievable abilities, in terms of being interrupted in flagrant after a big build up (and one MC with a lot of serious injuries), only to immediately jump up, with no problems, and be able to talk freely. Also, an issue is their ability to be free with movement, have sex and jump out of bed with no issues, after being tortured with whipping and the rack, at least.
  • facts were skimmed over that were important. Often they weren’t mentioned at all, until well after the fact, when it was thrown in as though we should have known it already. (the best example is St Denys)
  • there was so much sex that I got sick of it. I literally began skim reading the sex scenes to get to the next big of dialogue or storytelling, because one they got together it was excessive and…again…unnecessary.
  • the story ends at 94%, with the cover, blurb and excerpt of book 2, cover and blurb of book 3 and a long list of books by the author(s) that I could just as easily look up online, if I were so inclined. Which I’m not, at the moment.

~

Overall

I could absolutely sum up this book with one word – unnecessary. The actual plot was great, as were the characters, but the execution of putting those two things together didn’t work. The biggest issue was the omnipresent POV, which caused a lot of the more serious problems I encountered. On top of that, the actual plot aspect – the threat to the King – was so easily resolved that it almost felt…you guessed it…unnecessary, to have a book of nearly 300 pages tell the story. I mean, I could easily have cut 200 of those pages without impacting the story at all. That’s how little drama, danger etc there really was, though it was all made to feel very important and dangerous. It just…wasn’t.

Though I enjoyed it, it was more along the lines of – Meh. I could have not read it and been just as happy with how I spent my day, but reading it didn’t exactly kill me, either.

In another POV, this could have been fantastic, without all the head hopping and repetition, without the excessive sex and the over-exaggerated danger. I’m giving it a 3 because I enjoyed it and, overall, Christian was my favourite character, but the fact that I didn’t understand 30% of the words in the book (which were Spanish) really detracted from that enjoyment. On top of the other issues, nothing over a three would have been appropriate.

And, no. Sorry, but I won’t be reading books 2 and 3. I’m happy with how things ended, even for Raul, so I don’t feel there’s a need to read about his story in book 3 and I barely saw a glimpse of the main character for book 2, so I’m not really sure why I’d be super excited about going ahead to read about a guy who had about three lines of dialogue, was introduced at the end of the Epilogue and had no impact on the story or me, as a reader, whatsoever. Even if I was interested in Raul, I wouldn’t be tempted enough to force myself through book 2 just to get there.


Meet the Authors

Growing up in Chicago, Nicki Bennett spent every Saturday at the central library, losing herself in the world of books. A voracious reader, she eventually found it difficult to find enough of the kind of stories she liked to read and decided to start writing them herself.

Visit Nicki:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100011754789784

E-Mail: nickibennett1@gmail.com


When Ariel Tachna was twelve years old, she discovered two things: the French language and romance novels. Those two loves have defined her ever since. By the time she finished high school, she’d written four novels, none of which anyone would want to read now, featuring a young woman who was—you guessed it—bilingual. That girl was everything Ariel wanted to be at age twelve and wasn’t.

She now lives on the outskirts of Houston with her husband (who also speaks French), her kids (who understand French even when they’re too lazy to speak it back), and their two dogs (who steadfastly refuse to answer any French commands).

Visit Ariel:

Website: www.arieltachna.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ArielTachna

E-mail: arieltachna@gmail.com

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