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REVIEW: Black Knight, White Queen by Jackie Ashenden

Black Knight, White Queen Jackie Ashenden

Dear Ms. Ashenden:

How many times has there been a chess champion as a hero? Right. None come to mind so I had to read it. I’ve tried two other books by you and I love your voice even if the direction the stories have taken have left me a little dissastified.

This is a short novel or a long novella. My calibre plugin says it is 46,089 words and it feels it. Izzy Cornwall packs up her bags and leaves her New Zealand home after her sister’s suicide.  She’s in Bangkok Thailand, sketching, and trying to lose herself in the city.  Aleksandr Shastin is a chess champion who has been trying to sublimate his own grief at the loss of his former teacher.   The two meet on the rooftop of Aleks’ swanky hotel.

There Izzy propositions Aleksandr who, in his own words, is surprised when he is never surprised.

Aleks always knew what was going to happen. Could always see ten steps ahead. And yet he hadn’t counted on this. Hadn’t counted on her or his response to her.

One of the best features of this story is how in character each person acts. Aleks is this cool headed strategy master and Izzy is a fly by the seat of her pants artist. Izzy pushes Aleks off center and he fights it initially because his whole world is being in control.  When the one time sexual encounter with Izzy turns into something more, Aleks instinct is to close down because when she makes him feel, the loss of his mentor threatens to engulf him.

Izzy’s just the same as Aleks but her grief and emotions are displayed separately.  She wants comfort and thinks in some way she can find it with this very hot stranger.  She wants to both find herself and forget in this foreign land and this foreign man.  Both grief and loneliness and relief are written into the pages of the story.  But because of their emotional state, I wasn’t entirely convinced that either of them were healed through their sexual intercourse which is essentially the only interaction that the two had throughout the story.

I wished we had much more about Izzy’s conflict. Her situation with her family and the loss of her sister was given only abbreviated space.  There were overt traditional themes to the characterizations with Izzy being soft, colorful, nurturing and Aleks being cold, hard, closed off.  It was a bit cliched and while it worked, there were times I wanted to be surprised but was resigned to the predictability of their actions.

Further, the story was very sexy and the two communicated via their bedroom activity, but I had a hard time believing in the HEA particularly when a major emotional movement occurs within the epilogue.  Part of this problem I attribute to the length. If this had been a full length novel, there would have been more space to explore the weighty issues of grief, loneliness and belonging.  While there was some lovely imagery in the prose, I still felt unfulfilled at the end.

She began to move slowly and deeply, and he told her she was beautiful in Russian because he couldn’t remember the words in English. A whole language lost because of her. Because of how she made him feel.


Best regards,


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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. library addict
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 12:34:39

    I liked the h/h individually and as a couple, but often felt they overreacted to things just to move the plot along.

  2. Jayne
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 12:44:46

    How many times has there been a chess champion as a hero?

    Actually, I read a book about a chess playing hero years ago – But I don’t recall one since then.

  3. Mary
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 13:02:27

    I was actually going to mention the book that Jayne did! I really like Marie Treanor, I have several of her eBooks and they were some of the higher quality self-pubbed (I think…) books I’ve read.

    This novella/novel sounds interesting and you’ve sold me on it.

  4. AMG
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 13:16:02

    I would have loved to hear that the chess player was the female and the impulsive, seat of your pants artist was the man. Oh well, just complaining for the sake of complaints.

  5. Jody
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 14:10:56

    Not a book, but a really lovely movie about chess is Queen to Play. The heroine becomes a chess whiz. Yay!

  6. cleo
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 15:33:13

    In This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James (Georgian historical), the heroine is a master chess player (as well as being a Duchess). The whole Desperate Duchesses series has quite a bit of chess in it – think the hero of the last book is also a chess master hero (plus, you know, a Duke).

  7. Janine
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 16:27:55

    @AMG: I wonder how many female chess champions there are IRL? When my brother was a chess champion at the local elementary school / junior high level, I don’t recall him playing any girls. I don’t know if there were any in his school’s chess club, but I suspect that if there were, it was unusual. Chess champions usually start as kids and not many parents get their daughters into it. To his credit, my dad tried with me, but I didn’t have the patience to play with someone as competitive as my brother.

    ETA: I googled and found this. I’m so glad to be proven wrong!

  8. Beth Yarnall
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 17:15:19

    I really liked this one. It reminded me of a Canadian TV show called End Game about an agoraphobic chess master who solves mysteries from his hotel room. I picked up Black Night, White Queen because the chess master in End Game was a really intriguing character as is the hero in BN,WQ. I wished it was longer, too. I wanted more of this couple and an opportunity to see each of them grow together.

  9. Kate Hewitt
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 08:15:24

    My daughter played chess competitively in elementary school, in NYC, and there were quite a few girls. I’m ashamed to say she beat me in four moves, but that is my lack of ability I think rather than her prowess.

    I’ll definitely check this book out. I read Jackie Ashenden when she was a M&B New Voices entrant and I loved her voice.

  10. Ros
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 14:59:47

    @Janine: Well, I think that article mostly proves you right, to be honest. Only one female chess player in the world’s top 100. Judit Polgar is basically the only woman who’s ever really competed at that very top level. She is incredible and had to overcome a ton of prejudice. Garry Kasparov was very dismissive of female chess players, claiming they didn’t have the right kind of brains for it – until she beat him. She’s lower in the rankings at the moment because she had several years of not playing much while her children were young. But other than her, the female grandmasters aren’t quite in the top rank. Several of them are grandmaster only by virtue of winning the women’s world championship, not competing in mixed tournaments.

  11. Phoebe Chase
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 12:56:58

    I’m going to give this one a go, especially after that quote at the end of the review. I kind of love it.

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