Deborah Chester,
The Queen's Gambit
(Ace, 2002)

In Deborah Chester's latest book, The Queen's Gambit, set in the fantasy kingdom of Mandria, the young princess Pheresa struggles for recognition as a contender for the position of queen. The plot to keep her powerless is driven by the church knights and the cardinal.

King Verence chooses Pheresa to take his place, but there is a price to be paid. Pheresa must marry Lord Lervan, a charming scamp with a yen for power and the trappings of royalty. Pheresa has misgivings.

Who is the serious young knight with his squire and his page who comes to the field of combat to vie for the position of protector of Pheresa? Part of the palace guard, he has the skills of an expert swordsman and something more, a fervent desire to serve the crown. The princess is free to choose among the finalists in the grueling skills test. In a flash of intuition, she chooses the good knight, Sir Talmor. In the days that follow, she watches him as closely as he watches her.

The king has a fatal accident, Pheresa becomes queen and Lervan is her consort, a man to be watched. In the rush of events, the barbarians arrive from the sea and chaos reigns. The queen flees with her guard to the castle of an old ally. No help is forthcoming. Instead, she is scolded for leaving her castle and her army without a leader to rally the troops. Does she return to become a real leader? Will Talmor advise her? Can she oppose the church knights and the sorcerer's magic? What about her disastrous marriage?

The Queen's Gambit is a pleasant pastiche for readers of romantic fantasy. With the components of a mythical kingdom, creatures of magic, a determined heroine, a hero beyond reproach and a cardinal with his own agenda, the stage is well set.

I liked the settings, though the castles, lit by candles and braziers, are drafty and oddly repellent. The nobles wear silks and velvets that hint of trade with another culture. This is pre-Industrial Revolution stuff, so it is tempting to wonder about trade routes and market economies.

Choose this book for a long weekend and if it pleases, there is a trilogy that precedes it. Look for The Sword, The Ring and The Chalice.

- Rambles
written by Jean Marchand
published 25 January 2003

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