Gambit is the first in a dystopian series by author C.L. Denault and is also her debut novel. Gambit follows Willow Kent, a girl who has fully embraced her life in the Outlying Lands far from the Core. Blending in and avoiding the gazes of the miners in her town is the worst threat that she has to deal with until a Core Commander comes calling. Searching for a traitor, Willow and her parents try to hide her from the man, fearful of him finding out that she doesn’t quite belong. When her identity is uncovered, Willow is forced to take the long trek to the Core. Along the way, she discovers that things aren’t always so black and white and how she adjusts and acts toward them may be the only way she can survive her new world.
I’ve let this book sit in my review queue for a few days because I’m not quite sure how to review it. I enjoyed the world that Denault built. It built up in a way that I Iove–in bits and pieces as they came to Willow’s attention. She didn’t know everything from the get-go, and as her world became larger, she adjusted her perspective of it accordingly. It wasn’t done in a way that was overwhelming or boring for the reader. I loved learning more about the people with the abilities and how they could range anywhere from sensing genetic matter to creating earthquakes. I can see why Gambit has been compared to books like The Hunger Games and other popular young adult dystopian novels. Although there are similarities, I felt that the concept and story was new enough for me to enjoy it.
I think that Denault also has a talent at breathing life into characters. I loved all of them. Willow went through a natural progression of growth both mentally and power wise. She was stubborn and her reasoning was flawed at times, but that didn’t stunt her. She changed. I wish that more time had been spent with her family and best friend Tem. The short time we spent with them was enough to make me like them. The characters from the Core were just as well done. Reece was delightfully horrible and I enjoyed most of their interactions. Watching as he went from this character she hated and didn’t trust at all to someone she considered a friend was really well done. But, that’s also where my problems lie.
I mentioned in a previous review that I am a fan of the aloof love interest thing. Probably because it doesn’t have the issues of instant-love that drives me up a wall. I get that we’re meant to see Willow as someone who doesn’t understand the ways of the Core. As such, her interactions with Reece are fraught with butting heads and moments where they both push each other too far. This is normal when they don’t know each other, but when they did know each other and these interactions kept occurring, it made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Reece went from pulling her hair to prove his point to caressing her gently. There is a point when being aloof for the sake of safety passes over the line into outright cruelty. And then he’s giving her gifts the next moment. So it became an issue where I didn’t understand why the heck Willow fell for him. A little bit of remoteness, I understand. But when it became cruelty, I just got the creeps. What was worse is that I didn’t feel that any of his actions were explained in a way that made sense. It was just “Oh, he doesn’t usually act this way, guess he likes you.” I’m very confused about how I feel about their relationship. On the one hand, I thought there were cute moments; on the other hand, I’m not sure that I can ignore the cruel moments, because they’re signs of an abusive relationship.
Overall, I did enjoy the characters and story enough that I am interested in reading the second book in this series. I hope that the issues I have with Reece and the romantic relationship will change and be addressed in the second novel. If they continue, I’m not sure that the good storytelling will be enough to keep me interested.
I received a copy of Gambit from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Gambit is available now.