“Whenever you are confronted with an opponent. Conquer him with love.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
Author: S.A. Meade
Publisher: Totally Bound
Pages/Word Count: 209 Pages
Rating: 4.25 Stars
Blurb: In a shadowy game where defeat can mean death, a deal with the enemy can change things forever.
In 1842, Captain Gabriel O’Riordan of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars is sent on a mission to Bukhara. His task—to try to free two of his compatriots from the clutches of a mentally unstable Emir. On his way, he encounters Valentin Yakolev, an officer in the Russian Army, who is also on a mission—to persuade the Emir that an alliance with Russia would be in his best interests. Gabriel, disguised as a holy man, is not happy to be the object of Yakolev’s intense scrutiny. After all, he’s working for the opposing team in the Great Game being played between their two nations. When Gabriel realises that his mission is little more than a forlorn hope, a game he has no chance of winning, he’s desperate enough to turn to Valentin to help and offer him anything in return. What he doesn’t expect is to have his plans to return to Calcutta scuppered by events.
Instead, he and Valentin flee north, fighting off bandits, their desire for each other and the hardship of desert travel. Their travails bring them closer together until a secret from Valentin’s past tears them apart.
Can they set the past behind them and move on together?
Review: There was a time in history when Russia and Great Britain were in a battle for supremacy in Central Asia, and the country of Afghanistan played a role in what became known as the Great Game. S.A. Meade has brought this period in time to life on the pages of Tournament of Shadows, the story of two spies who are meant to be enemies but who find love—eventually—in a time of conflict.
The sights and sounds, some of them depicting the true brutality of the story’s setting, coupled with the scents and the feel of this foreign land lends an exotic quality to the storyline that plays well against the magnetic attraction between the Irish Gabriel and Russian Valentin, who, even when playing their parts, can see each other for who they are rather than who they pretend to be.
There’s danger in Bukhara, a threat that manifests itself in a horrific way for Valentin and is the catalyst that begins Gabriel’s examination of his feeling for the man who was simply to be a means to an end, but in the end became so much more. Their escape from the city after a failed mission isn’t an escape from threat, and the author sweeps the reader along on a journey that culminates in a revelation which Gabriel cannot forget or easily forgive. There are things revealed about Valentin that cause Gabriel to question not how much he can trust the Russian but if he can trust him at all, and S.A. Meade seamlessly blends that conflict with the heartsick realization for Gabriel that the quiet and peaceful life he longs for, the one that can’t possibly co-exist with the life he currently leads, may also be a very lonely one.
As a huge fan of historicals, there comes a point where devouring books greedily from any one sub-genre can leave me feeling as if I’ve read every story before, but Tournament of Shadows is something just that much different to make it stand apart. The author’s attention to detail of the setting was just enough to be evocative without being intrusive and slowing down the pacing of the story, the story itself original while still abiding by the romantic formula that tugs at the heartstrings and made me want Gabriel and Valentin to find their happy beginning.