Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending a picnic hosted by Hachette Australia x The Bookish Type, where they were distributing copies of #BookTok star Ali Hazelwood’s new novels. I scored a copy of Check & Mate, billed as a chess-themed rivals-to-lovers young adult novel. It sounded cute, so I dived in straight away!
The story is narrated by 18-year-old Mallory. The girl has the weight of the world on her shoulders. There’s some trauma with her dad, her mum is sick, and she has to work full-time instead of going to university to support her two younger sisters.
Mallory used to be a chess prodigy, but she gave it all up. The charity tournament she attends with her bossy bestie is the first game she’s played in years. And that’s where she meets Nolan, the “bad boy” Grand Master. Before she knows it, Mallory is swept back into the world of high-stakes competitive chess, and seems to be facing Nolan at every turn. Is he the arsehole she’s always assumed him to be? Or could he be the King to her Queen?
(Does that analogy even work? I don’t know, almost everything I know about chess I learned from Check & Mate, so if I’m getting it wrong, blame Ali Hazelwood.)
Even though Check & Mate will probably be shelved in the Young Adult section, I’d call it New Adult – and it’s definitely adult enough to interest older readers. It’s a well-paced romance novel, with enough sparks flying to keep the pages turning. I also loved the family relationships and the dialogue that plays out between Mallory and her loved ones – it felt very realistic, and kept Check & Mate out of talented-girl-makes-stupid-career-decisions-because-of-a-boy territory.
That’s not to say it all felt realistic; even knowing as little as I do about the world of competitive and professional chess, I doubt Mallory could go all the way to the World Championships on little more than raw talent and a bit of encouragement from her boss, but that’s the nature of the beast. Check & Mate was a fun read and a couple of plot and prose blips did nothing to take away from my enjoyment of it.
Buy Check & Mate on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Get the Check & Mate audiobook from Libro.fm here. (affiliate link)