A Perfect Rivals to Lovers in a Chess Match
“I…Checkmate.” That’s when he lifts his eyes to mine for the first time. They are dark, clear, and serious. And they remind me of a few important, long-forgotten things.”
Ali Hazelwood is an author whose writing style is deeply in-sync with my own personal reading tastes. There’s no doubt that any new release from Hazelwood hits a gold star-level of standards in my opinion, and Hazelwood’s latest release, Check & Mate, hits every sweet spot and can be enjoyed by all adults as well as teens and YA readers.
Was anyone else a fan of “The Queen’s Gambit”? Check & Mate felt of the same vein, but much less angsty, and nothing in the scope of the sex, drugs, and rock and roll vibes that the movie portrays, but at the most basic level, Check & Mate paralleled “The Queen’s Gambit” by featuring a young woman in a male-dominated game. In truth though, the chess aspect is more of a vehicle for the character interactions and plot line than the actual story, and it totally works.
The story begins with our protagonist, Mallory Greenleaf. We meet her during the summer after her high school graduation. She’s our reluctant heroine, one who has taken up the mantle of caregiver and parent to her two younger sisters while her mother deals with a chronic illness, and her father is out of the picture due to an accident (that happens off page and before we meet Mallory). Having once sworn off playing chess, Mallory is begged by her best friend to play in a chess tournament. In a turn of events that made me entirely giddy, Mallory ends up playing against the reigning Chess World Champion, Nolan Sawyer. And the best part? She ruthlessly beats him.
He’s so assured. So effortlessly at ease. You’d expect a known sore loser with temper problems who spends 90 percent of his time studying opposite-colored bishop end games not to excel in social situations. And yet.
After causing a whirlwind of news, speculation, and general chaos in the chess world, Mallory is more determined than ever to stay away from chess. But the thrill of the game, and an offer she can’t refuse lands in her lap. With an offer to work for one year developing her skills as a chess player as well as playing in tournaments, Mallory would both be helping her family, but also giving into her true desires even if that comes into direct opposition to what she believes is the right course of action to her. Part of the themes of Check & Mate is introspection and looking at the internalized beliefs and limitations we unknowingly place upon ourselves.
Hazelwood’s Check & Mate brilliantly addresses misogyny and bias within chess which also provides us all with some truly awful, but wonderfully written antagonists. I also admire how Hazelwood has written about how relationships suffer without communication: siblings, best friends, work colleagues, and even parental relationships are all key parts to Mallory’s transformation as a character throughout Check & Mate.
My favorite aspect of the entirety of Check & Mate is, without doubt, the relationship between Nolan and Mallory. A World Champion versus an amateur, Nolan’s approach to Mallory is never one of spite or arrogance. Every single chess match, interview, and interaction he approaches Mallory with respect. The way I read into literally everything he said was on par with how I analyze Mr. Darcy or Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. Mallory doesn’t know if she can’t trust her love of chess, nor her admiration and growing feelings for Nolan so this transformation (in particular) is one that I find entirely delicious and satisfying.
“I’ve got you, Mallory. Nothing bad is going to happen. You can let yourself want this, because you already have it. You have me.”
Between all the side characters, the introduction and acceptance from Nolan’s friends, the hijinks and comedic relief from Mallory’s work colleagues, how her relationship with herbest friend from high school evolves, and witnessing how her sisters blossom on the page, Check & Mate is easily a must read for any Ali Hazelwood fan regardless of age. Check & Mate was my slump breaker, and it features a storyline, romance, and so many well-developed characters that I cannot stop thinking about it. Ali Hazelwood writes romances that take up space in my entire heart but Check & Mate is one that lives rent free in my heart and mind as well. Do not miss out on this stunning new release.
Jes is a self-proclaimed bookworm, who recently moved from the PNW back to the Midwest. When her nose isn’t in a book, she’s spending time with her husband, two kids, and her three fur babies, or exploring the globe. She also firmly believes that you should start the day with coffee, and end the day in bed with a good book.