Gambled Away by Joanna Bourne, Isabel Cooper, Rose Lerner, Jeannie Lin, & Molly O’Keefe
Genre: Historical Romance
Source: Free From Author
The view was nice, but the food was bad
Gambled Away is a novella collection that I find difficult to review. Objectively, this collection is well written and I enjoyed how all of the authors played with the historical romance genre, offering readers something different in a genre that is often slammed for its sameness. While intellectually I appreciate how unique all of the novellas were, I confess to feeling that none were to my personal taste. Perhaps it was the constraints of the novella format, perhaps it was just me, but I will admit to feeling that none of the novellas were particularly romantic. Now, I’m not saying that everything must be hearts and flowers, but I did personally feel that there was a lack of emotional depth to the majority of the novellas in this collection, at least for this reader. Gideon and the Den of Thieves by Joanna Bourne
Bourne’s contribution to the collection was the strongest story for me. We’ve got a hero that infiltrates a den of thieves and a young woman that has been forced to work for them. For me, Gideon and the Den of Thieves was the most well developed novella of the collection. The characters were explored more than in the other collections; however, I still felt that the romance was lacking between our leads, which kind of made sense considering all the intriguing stuff that was going on, yet this was disappointing since I wanted to the romance to take centre stage.
Raising The Stakes by Isabel Cooper
This was my least favourite story in the collection, and in the efforts of full disclosure, I will admit to skimming the majority of this novella. While I did appreciate the fact that this one had an American West setting, I just wasn’t a fan of this setting combined with more fanastical elements as it seemed to be more of the “odd man out” in the collection.
All or Nothing by Rose Lerner
I’m a big fan of Rose Lerner (Listen to the Moon was a masterpiece) and the fact that one of her novellas was included is what drew me to the collection in the first place. For me, Lerner comes across as a much racier Mary Balogh – the emotions are out on the page and it’s the characters that truly ground the story. I will be honest, All or Nothing was a bit too unconventional for my tastes and this is purely a personal reading preference. Again, on an intellectual level I appreciate the fact that Lerner was pushing the envelope in the romance genre, but it was not personally a novella that I enjoyed.
The Liar’s Dice by Jeannie Lin
There’s no question that The Liar’s Dice had promise; however, the indeterminate ending rendered this novella wholly unsatisfactory. For me, The Liar’s Dice read more of as a teaser for a full length novel than a novella that could stand alone. Having not read any of the books that this novella ties to and because I have no idea if a full length book is forthcoming, I felt that The Liar’s Dice missed the mark.
Redeemed by Molly O’Keefe
Redeemed was my second favourite novella out of the collection. Like Bourne’s contribution, O’Keefe spent a good chunk of time fleshing out the characters of the novella. Here was have a tortured doctor and a young woman trapped by a ruthless guardian. What kept me from enjoying this one was the convoluted reasons for why Helen was put on display by her guardian. I spent more time puzzling out the guardians reasoning for what he was doing than just enjoying the story. For me, Redeemed pressed the bounds of believably to the point where I was taken out of the story.
Ultimately, Gambled Away was an uneven collection of historical romance novellas. Each novella was so completely different from the other that it really seemed that there was nothing really grounding this collection together other than the fact that they were all historical in some way. While I did like the fact that all of the authors presented readers with unique stories in the historical romance genre, none of the novellas really worked for me. I was looking for a romance collection and the majority of these novellas didn’t really deliver that for me. Yes, they all had romantic elements to them, but many of these stories felt incomplete.
Personally, I think novellas are a difficult format to write a romance in. Novellas are short, so it’s often difficult for an author to convey the depth of a relationship without the lengthier format of the novella.
In terms of historical romance, Courtney Milan writes wonderfully developed novellas. You could literally pick up any one of her novellas and be given unique characters and a satisfactory romance. If you liked the non-traditional aspect to the Gambled Away collection Courtney Milan will not disappoint. So far, my favourite novella is Unlocked.
While Nalini Singh doesn’t write historical romances, I do think her novellas are pretty awesome. What I think adds strength to her novellas is the fact that she grounds them in her existing world, which means the author isn’t spending time on world building, and often readers return to characters that know and love. Singh’s forthcoming collection, Wild Embrace is an excellent example of her skill.