[Review] Check & Mate by Ali Hazelwood

Mallory Greenleaf is done with chess. Every move counts nowadays; after the sport led to the destruction of her family four years earlier, Mallory’s focus is on her mom, her sisters, and the dead-end job that keeps the lights on. That is, until she begrudgingly agrees to play in one last charity tournament and inadvertently wipes the board with notorious ‘Kingkiller’ Nolan Sawyer: current world champion and reigning Bad Boy of chess.

Nolan’s loss to an unknown rookie shocks everyone. What’s even more confusing? His desire to cross pawns again. What kind of gambit is Nolan playing? The smart move would be to walk away. Resign. Game over. But Mallory’s victory opens the door to sorely needed cash-prizes and despite everything, she can’t help feeling drawn to the enigmatic strategist…

As she rockets up the ranks, Mallory struggles to keep her family safely separated from the game that wrecked it in the first place. And as her love for the sport she so desperately wanted to hate begins to rekindle, Mallory quickly realizes that the games aren’t only on the board, the spotlight is brighter than she imagined, and the competition can be fierce (-ly attractive. And intelligent… and infuriating…)

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Ali Hazelwood writes Young Adult

Will I follow this author in whichever genre she takes us? Absolutely. Will I like it? Let’s take closer look at this first example. A few years back, my fascination for the game of chess arose with The Queen’s Gambit. First, the show made me extremely emotional. Then, the book deepened my understanding for Elizabeth even more. The way the author implemented chess into the character’s mind intrigued me all throughout the story. It illustrated her inner emotional development, was solution and drive for Elizabeth’s plot. Given that Ali Hazelwood is known for starting out as a fanfiction writer, I accepted and could find few parallels to this predecessor. I was even looking forward for her to take this pattern into a new genre with more humor and romance, youth and quick-wittedness.


Similar but different vibes

For fans of The Queen’s Gambit who also enjoy reading romance, this is an excellent choice. Our protagonist has an affinity for chess but a backstory that keeps her from playing. Already the prologue sets up quite an interesting dynamic between the two main characters. Only in the course of the book, we learn about the reason for her despise for chess.

Nonetheless, she finds herself in a tournament and soon in a position that requires her to even take a job in this profession. Of course, her love for this sport is predetermined and only needs to be demonstrated openly. It is further complicated and discouraged by the sexist environment she finds herself in when others notice her talent. And that is very typical for Hazelwood and very welcomed in her books. Her female protagonists prove themselves to their society or realize that it’s not necessary for them to do so. Just as much as Elizabeth, her protagonists challenge the patriarchal system, but finds a romantic and professional equal on her way.


Love, Friendship, and Family

More than simply focusing on Mallory’s professional development, the story also invests in quite some interpersonal contacts. Mallory’s sense of duty makes her work hard for her family, while their dynamic causes her to emotionally struggle. Especially her sisters drive her motivation and her despair but are nonetheless not overdramatized but well-written. In the other part of her life, I grew increasingly fond of even her initially less likable chess colleagues. Rivals do become friends and even more.

Only one character stays unlikable and is, unfortunately, German. This stereotype was not too welcomed on my side. Neither was I a fan of the repeatedly very intense dialogues being interrupted by others. Despite these thus overdramatic moments, I enjoyed every one of Mallory and Nolan’s encounters. I loved the tension in their “play,” the way they get to know each other, and how Ali develops their relationship. More than their interactions, I adored the side characters’ vivid engagement with each other and our protagonists.


In conclusion,

It was thrilling, humorous, romantic, but also authentic. I loved this refreshing take on the chess profession and its sexist society, balanced with an endearing romance, a beautiful family dynamic, and delightful friendships. Some repetitive patterns only slightly spoiled the overall entertaining narrative.



The author:

Ali Hazelwood is the New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author of The Love Hypothesis, Love on the Brain and Love Theoretically as well as a writer of peer-reviewed articles about brain science, in which no one makes out and the ever after is not always happy. Originally from Italy, she lived in Germany and Japan before moving to the US to pursue a PhD in neuroscience. She recently became a professor, which absolutely terrifies her. When Ali is not at work, she can be found running, eating cake pops, or watching sci-fi movies with her two feline overlords (and her slightly-less-feline husband). Source

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