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Joint Review – Assassin’s Gambit (Hearts and Thrones #1) by Amy Raby

Assassin's Gambit cover image
Where did you get the book: E-arc from publisher via Netgalley
Publisher: Signet
Release Date: Out now

Vitala Salonius, champion of the warlike game of Caturanga, is as deadly as she is beautiful. She’s a trained assassin for the resistance, and her true play is for ultimate power. Using her charm and wit, she plans to seduce her way into the emperor’s bed and deal him one final, fatal blow, sparking a battle of succession that could change the face of the empire.

As the ruler of a country on the brink of war and the son of a deposed emperor, Lucien must constantly be wary of an attempt on his life. But he’s drawn to the stunning Caturanga player visiting the palace. Vitala may be able to distract him from his woes for a while—and fulfill other needs, as well.

Lucien’s quick mind and considerable skills awaken unexpected desires in Vitala, weakening her resolve to finish her mission. An assassin cannot fall for her prey, but Vitala’s gut is telling her to protect this sexy, sensitive man. Now she must decide where her heart and loyalties lie and navigate the dangerous war of politics before her gambit causes her to lose both Lucien and her heart for good.

**Blurb from Goodreads**

E: I have a soft spot for assassins, man or woman. I also have a soft spot for assassins who fall for their targets. So when I read the blurb I was eager to give this a read. The blurb was accurate but my imagination failed to live up to everything Raby fit into this story. I enjoyed the world-building and the vivid characters. I did have a few issues with continuity and some predictability but overall it was an enjoyable read. Both Vitala and Lucien had their strengths and blind spots so watching those merge and conflict was very interesting. I also enjoyed the setup of an empire facing internal rebellion from both subject states and from the senior leaders.

Has: Yep! I am sucker for the assassin heroes too, and my interest was definitely perked up when I read the premise – and I WAS so glad I decided to pick this up because I literally inhaled the book. It definitely lived up to its promise of a fantastic assassin heroine, and I loved the fact the hero had a disability and relied on his wits to deal with the political intrigue and the rebellion he faced. The premise and backdrop of an empire that is starting to fragment due to the previous weak leadership,and with a new emperor trying to handle the aftermath. The intrigue was great and I loved how Amy Raby used a game like chess called Caturanga, which in many ways reflects the political/war like games being played around the characters. And I really liked how this element plays out throughout the story with both Lucien and Vitala using their wits to survive amongst their enemies and their plots.

E: I also enjoyed the inclusion of Caturanga and how it was interwoven throughout the story. Lucian’s disability was one of the elements that I never expected but I thought it was incorporated quite nicely. He had to deal with all sorts of aspects of his disability not to mention struggling with leading when his people judged others on their physical perfection. Even with that, I thought he was a bit naive to the excesses others could and would inflict on the defenseless. I also think he misjudged how difficult it would be to change a culture or to stay in power long enough to enact change.

Vitala had been brainwashed since childhood and trained as an assassin. One of the issues I did have was that she had focused on Lucian as a target for several years but I didn’t get the feeling that he had been in power for several years unless she was to target him regardless of his place in the hierarchy. I did like how she overcame her blind loyalty to the Assassins’ Circle and worked towards the best solution but I was disappointed in her superiors and how they were willing to lie on more than one occasion to her yet expect her to continue to be loyal. I think some of that was motivated by jealousy and a sense of possession or ownership that could continue to cause problems.

Has: I love love love the fact Lucien had a disability and that it was dealt realistically and it really added another dimension to his character. Especially like you said that with his culture, it is not a sign of strength of him being not perfect, but I loved that he used his intelligence to outthink the enemy and those who underestimated him. I agree about him being naive and complacent to some extent but he is young even though he was pretty smart and savvy. So I think it explains why he misjudged others because he wasn’t as experienced as he thought he was and it was during his fightback to regain his throne with Vitala where he learned a lot more about the kingdom and human nature.

I also loved the fact that Vitala who was emotionally and psychologically affected due to her training which led to PTSD was interesting and I liked that her own ‘brokenness’ was mirrored with Lucien. I also found it interesting how this affected her becoming intimate with Lucien, and with her brainwashing it made sense and I loved how those issues was explored. I really enjoyed their journey over the course of the book, was one of acceptance, and healing and I loved how those themes played out because it enriched their romance.

E: I also liked the PTSD part because it showed how PTSD doesn’t have to affect everything about you just certain parts but that is enough to make things not quite right. I also found how the initial “therapy” used between Vitala and Lucian is one that can be effective but doesn’t promise a magic cure. I do think the Circle needs to come up with a better way of killing people that doesn’t traumatize the assassin as much particularly since the side effects were not limited to Vitala. On a different note I enjoyed watching Lucian grow as he saw the world through the eyes of a subject instead of a ruler. He learned to trust, to protect, to defend and to compromise on some things while trying to get his empire back.

One of the other aspects I thought was very well done was how they described magic with threads, webs, and colors. I looked forward to the description each time because it struck me as being so vivid and there yet only for some people. I also liked that the laws of magic were consistent it was just the application that varied. In Assassin’s Gambit, Raby really only discussed warding, war magic, and death magic but I got the feeling that other forms existed. I hope she has a chance to continue fleshing that out in future books set in this world.

Has: I totally agree about the magical system! It felt like we got only a small glimpse but the aspects we saw, was rich in detail and very well thought out. I think the whole book, was vivid and multi-layered with information about the world-building. I loved the different mish-mash of elements taken from the Roman Empire, and other time periods which really gave the setting an imaginative backdrop. I could also feel that Amy Raby spent a lot of time and effort in fleshing out these details which was a huge highlight for me in the book for me. But I do agree that there is more to cover in the next book which actually is a prequel because it starts off previous to the events in this book.

E: Has, I agree the world-building was pretty impressive. All of the different elements and flavors. I am looking forward to the next book as well. It seems from the excerpt that it will explain more about Lucian and his family dynamics. As I said initially I had a few issues with Assassin’s Gambit but overall I enjoyed reading it. I think the addition of magic along with normal military technology/might made an interesting backdrop. Raby has written a strong debut novel which has captivated my interest.

I give Assassin’s Gambit a B.

Has: I think Assassin’s Gambit for me was the best debut book/author this year and I love discovering a new series which basically hits it out of the ballpark! I adored the characters who were well fleshed out and multidimensional especially dealing with complex and emotional issues which added so much to the story. The political intrigue and the buildup to war also added to the epic tone, and this is what I call a fantasy romance because the world-building was so rich and vibrant I was immersed into this world. But overall, I loved the romance between Lucien and Vitala, even though it was a subtle one, at the heart of the book they both played out the themes of healing and acceptance. Assassin’s Gambit for me was a wonderful epic fantasy romance and I am definitely putting Amy Raby on my auto buy list!

I give Assassin’s Gambit an A.

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By E_booklover

E is addicted to books. She discovered at an early age that not only were they her transport to far off worlds, adventures, and exotic cultures, but that she ran into far fewer objects if she walked while reading then if she wasn't reading. She reads across several genres, such as: romance, western,mystery, SF/F and its derivatives. She isn't too picky except for good characterization, settings she can imagine, and a story that flows logically... umm so ok -- she wants a good story. Have any to recommend?

18 replies on “Joint Review – Assassin’s Gambit (Hearts and Thrones #1) by Amy Raby”

Oooh – this sounds GOOD! Thanks for the review . . races off to check it out . .

Trots back . . . not available in UK ebook. Rats!

I am new to your site and love your format of feeding off each other in your review. It’s like I’m sitting down to coffee with you. I also read AG and LOVED it! It’s on my keeper shelf for shizzle.

I loved your insights into Lucien’s disability and Vitala’s PTSD. I think those are just two of the several aspects that make AG really stand out as an exemplary fantasy and an exemplary romance. Oh, and the world building was just so detailed and yet not over-told with too many words. Amy has an amazing economy of words you don’t usually see in fantasy, and it does wonders for the novel pacing. She tells an epic story in 400 pages. Hard to do!

Have a great weekend!

Nice joint review. PTSD in a romance book, sounds interesting. The blurb of this book also grabbed me, who doesn’t like an assassin? Any Assassin’s Creed fans here?
I am so ready to check out these characters, espeically Lucien!

@Jessi Gage: I am so glad you enjoyed reading this review and the book :). I have a lot of fun doing these joint reviews because it is like we are sitting around talking about the book which obviously we like to do. Have a great weekend too!

*grin* I think that since you took the time to put a comment on my review I can make the time to reply to it. Thanks for commenting.

You are very welcome and thanks for the update on international rights.

@Amy Raby: Thanks for the reply . . . *sobs into tissue*

International rights sounds so . . . exciting! Will keep my eyes open for it 😀

Nice review ladies, thank you. Putting this on my wishlist for when the international rights are sold. So Amy, don’t forget to sell to Netherlands as well 😉

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