Title & buy link: The King’s Mate
Author: Ashavan Doyon
Cover Artist: Catt Ford
Amazon buy link: here
Genre: M/M contemporary
Length: Novella (64 pages)
Rating: 2 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: Lacklustre May/December romance with chess used more as a throwaway plot device than anything integral.
Russell Pine goes to the cafe every morning to enjoy his time chatting with Sam Tesh, the cafe owner, a friend made over the past twenty years. So when Sam asks a favour, Russ reluctantly agrees to play in a chess tournament. But the contest isn’t the real challenge: Russ finds himself the focus of a secret courtship in words and pictures left for him to discover each morning, leading him to the question: In a cafe full of young and beautiful minds, who is looking at the graying chessmaster?
Part of Dreamspinner’s Daily Dose: Make a Play package for June.
The King’s Mate is a quiet story, a coming together of two men, both of whom have been hurt. Russ and Sam have been friends for years. Sam’s cafe is a hang-out for preppy college kids, so to increase custom, Sam decides to set up a mystery chess tournament. He asks Russ to play six games simultaneously, making a move each morning before the kids come in and then responding to their moves the following day. Russ is reluctant to take part, but eventually agrees. Some players are better than others, and as the matches draw out, more customers come to the coffee shop. But even so, Russ’ heart isn’t really in it.
Sam’s son Justin has a crush on Russ and sees the chess tournament as his way of making Russ notice him. He draws pictures and leaves messages beneath the chess boards for Russ to find. His father warns Justin that Russ is too old for him and might not be ready for a new relationship. But Justin has been hurt too, and with or without his father’s blessing, he’s going to try to win Russ over.
I picked this book up because I like chess (yes, really) and I like May/December stories, so I’m disappointed to say that the book doesn’t deliver on either front. The narrative is pretty much all tell and no show, which distances the reader from the characters and events, and so I didn’t feel much of a connection with any of them. I liked Sam the best, who has a hard job reconciling the fact that his son has the hots for an older man. Sam’s a good guy who tries to balance his care as a father with ties of friendship, and I found him quite sympathetic.
The plot could have worked, but it fell short of the mark for me because I didn’t feel like I knew the two main characters. Russ has been going to Sam’s cafe for twenty years, yet Justin isn’t aware of the tragedy that makes Russ so reluctant to play chess. Sam does say that Russ is a private man and that he doesn’t know everything about him, but I can’t believe that Justin wouldn’t have heard about what had happened, especially working in a coffee shop.
I also wondered how long Justin had been crushing on Russ and why it’s taken him so long to do something about it. How long has he been working in his dad’s cafe? We’re not told how old Justin is, but there’s a ten year gap between him and Russ, and we’re told that Russ is ‘over thirty’ as well as having some grey in his hair. From Justin’s behaviour he seems to be about 21, but even so, it’s a young 21.
Justin’s first boyfriend was abusive and hurt Justin badly, which explains some of his reactions. I must say though that when the ‘abusive ex’ part came up, I wanted to stop reading. Let’s just say it came too close to the Magical Healing Cock trope of fanfic for my personal tastes.
The actual chess games were peripheral to the story once the tournament was established. We get a few brief mentions of game-play, but I found myself wishing that Justin would challenge Russ and make the chess part of their developing romance rather than sidelining the game and having the romance run along separately.
There was a nice idea behind this book, but unfortunately it didn’t work for me. For readers who enjoy emotional hurt/comfort stories, though, The King’s Mate may well appeal.