Samhain Publishing, $3.50, ISBN 978-1-60504-463-7
Paranormal Romance, 2009
Unless I am greatly mistaken, Marie Treanor’s Queen’s Gambit is a revised and expanded version of her first ever published story. I have not read the original version of the story, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you how significant are the revision and expansion done to this one.
Christian “Christi” Blythe, our heroine, is stuck in a most unhappy situation. You see, long ago, in the 1300s, naughty Christi foolishly struck up an affair with a nobleman who happened to be married to a witch. The witch wasn’t happy, needless to say, and she cast a spell on Christi, causing Christi to be trapped inside a black queen chess piece by day. It is only by night that she is able to become human again. The curse can be broken, it seems, only by a man who will lose a game of chess for her.
You’d think this would be an easy curse to break and all Christi would have to do is to hang around fraternity houses to ask those jocks, “Hey, stud, wanna play a game of chess with me? If you lose, you’ll get to have hot sex with a hotter babe like me!”, but of course, things are a little more complicated than that. The man must deliberately lose the game of chess after capturing the black queen (clearly, he has to play the white pieces in this case). Only then will Christi be free from her curse. It’s like that Meatloaf song, really. The man may do anything for love, but he won’t do that… will he?
When the story opens, it is present day, some 700 years since Christi was caught being naughty by the witch. Christi has temporarily set up residence in Loch Foy, Scotland, in her constant quest to find a man who will be able to help her break her curse. As it happens, the grand hotel is hosting a series of chess tournament between two of the current best players in the world. Is Andrei Zuvaran the guy she is looking for?
I like Queen’s Gambit for pretty much the same reason I like to read this author’s works: Marie Treanor dances to her own tune when it comes to plot and set-up, so her stories are rarely derivative efforts reminiscent of every other story in the paranormal romance market. I also like the way the author sets things up so that love becomes a question of how much the man is willing to give up for the woman and whether the woman is willing to let the man make that sacrifice. The end result is unexpectedly poignant and compelling.
But there is a fundamental problem here. This is a short story. While I feel that the characterization is adequate and the pacing is good for a story of this length, I also believe that the whole theme of sacrifice in the name of love will be better explored if this story has been much longer. In this short story, the main characters supposedly fall in love so quickly, the whole “I’ll do this and that and even that for love!” song doesn’t feel as believable as it could have been.
Still, no matter. This is, after all, an unusual and very readable short story, and therefore this is definitely okay with me.