REVIEW: The Gentleman’s Gambit by Evie Dunmore

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Bookish suffragist Catriona Campbell is busy: An ailing estate, academic writer’s block, a tense time for England’s women’s rights campaign—the last thing she needs is to be stuck playing host to her father’s distractingly attractive young colleague.

Deeply introverted Catriona lives for her work at Oxford and her fight for women’s suffrage. She dreams of romance, too, but since all her attempts at love have ended badly, she now keeps her desires firmly locked inside her head—until she climbs out of a Scottish loch after a good swim and finds herself rather exposed to her new colleague.

Elias Khoury has wheedled his way into Professor Campbell’s circle under false pretenses: he did not come to Oxford to classify ancient artefacts, he is determined to take them back to his homeland in the Middle East. Winning Catriona’s favor could be the key to his success. Unfortunately, seducing the coolly intense lady scholar quickly becomes a mission in itself and his well-laid plans are in danger of derailing…

Forced into close proximity in Oxford’s hallowed halls, two very different people have to face the fact that they might just be a perfect match. Soon, a risky new game begins that asks Catriona one more time to put her heart and wildest dreams at stake.

Dear Ms. Dunmore,

I never thought I’d be reading this book. Much like our reviewer Layla, I had started the first book in the series only to discover that it was not for me. I didn’t see the point in trying further books that I was sure I wouldn’t finish either. But I liked the idea of this one in that it focuses on the return of stolen cultural heritage. The father of a friend of mine is Lebanese, and when I was a student, he, my friend, and the other Lebanese students at my university embraced me and introduced me to their culture and their food. I would crawl across broken glass for that man’s tabbouleh. Anyway, I’m happy that this book and I became friends as well.

It begins in a way that ::winces:: I usually hate with a “naked heroine caught in public by the hero” scene. Lady Catriona refuses to cower behind anything but her copy of Virgil and orders the strange man off only to discover that he’s the guest her father told her was arriving. Well, &%$#@. But she still doesn’t cower nor (for Reasons) does she kick up a fuss when her father tells her he needs her to journey to Oxford with and act for Elias Khoury in his stead. Elias is a gentleman and The Incident is soon put in the past.

With his cousin urging him to seduce the Lady in order to further their plans, Elias (who has been a victim of love) balks. So he introduces a game of chess in order to reconnoiter the Lady. However Elias’s true reason for being in Oxford will soon cast a pall on the growing attraction and the hot sex between them. Yes, folks there is lots and lots of hot sex here. Catriona has also been wounded in love by users before and here’s a man after something that involves Catriona and her father.The truth comes out but things didn’t go as I, or Elias, expected. Catriona is all in on helping the stolen cultural heritage be returned in addition to her work with her friends for women’s rights. Can everyone here get what they want?

From reading other reviews, I knew that the other three heroines from the previous books as well as their S.O.s would appear which worried me. Fortunately, they weren’t all dumped on me at the same time and there were sufficient explanations of people and past events without these turning into mini-lectures. The fight for certain women’s rights bills was reaching a head and I can easily see the steadfast determination these women had.

As the book focused on repatriation of stolen artifacts, a lot of time was paid to this. Reasons behind why things are taken (particularly patronizing), by whom, and to where are discussed. Past instances – focusing on the Parthenon friezes – were shown. Characters talked about who had the right to sign off on stuff being taken, especially if the creators of these items and cultures that made them are long dead. Yeah, some of this is repeated a lot but it’s important to know why Elias is so determined to reclaim these things. Yet, the brilliant plan that was dreamt up and worked out to do this was not shown! We were told “There’s a plan” and saw a little behind the scenes maneuvering but the actual execution … nope. That was a let down.

Overall, I liked both Catriona and Elias together. One thing bugged me about Catriona and her father. The estate was falling into ruins but these two seemed far more interested in archeology and linguist studies then getting a good steward and – honestly – giving a damn about trying to make their wool trade profitable. I was a little confused about Catriona’s mental health issues. The author’s note helped but I question only describing her in the blurb as “deeply introverted.” I’m deeply introverted and need my alone time too but Catriona’s got far more going on than that. I did like that she went back and laid the ghosts of her romantic past to rest and that she did it for herself. Thinking that she had no romantic future, she decided to explore physical love (and how realistic that it’s not immediately pleasurable for her) with a man she was attracted to. She had other reasons for letting him leave thinking their relationship could go no further which were variously answered by other sources and friends.

Elias was astonished and flustered by Catriona and his attraction to her. In one scene he watches her move through a room and no men pay attention to her because she doesn’t project flirty femininity and he thinks if only they could appreciate her mind they’d be at her feet the way he feels he is. They discussed women’s issues in the Middle East and how the silk workers of the family business bargained for and got what they wanted. Even Catriona’s crusty chaperon knew this was talking sexy to Catriona. He expressed interest in the women’s fire brigade at Oxford and how there was a need for this for these workers.

The romance was very slow burn even though there was a lot of spice. Eventually it was revealed that both MCs had parents who had love matches and that this was what they too wanted though neither expected to get it. Catriona knew Arabic and a bit about Middle Eastern culture having traveled there before. Elias had been a student at Cambridge in order to learn more about British culture for business reasons. But despite all they had in common, working out their romantic relationship took until the bitter end. I liked that Elias felt guilty about, as well as helpless to resist, Catriona’s invitation to stay with her in London with sex obviously in the cards. I liked that the two of them discussed why Catriona didn’t seem to be enjoying that sex and that Elias ensured she eventually did. After a separation that I didn’t entirely agree with, they finally talked about their fears and reasons and yay, worked things out.

There was an epilogue to tie a bow on the women’s rights fight as well as showcase happiness and fecundity that I probably would have enjoyed more had I read the other three books but it was okay. But this exchange between Catriona and Elias near the end when they were talking was wonderful. I’m not sure that I will go back and read the other books but I enjoyed this one. B

~Jayne

“I think that I . . . I matter. A woman matters, married or not, children or no children. I matter, just as I am, right now. I’m a whole human being.”

He smiled; relieved but bemused. “Of course you matter.”

Her heart was heated and drumming too quickly, like pistons in an out-of-control machine. The words had poured out; outrageous, frightful words, and yet here he was, smiling.

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Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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