Happy coincidence has brought a recently-released dish onto this reviewer’s plate today. The chef, Michelle Knight (interviewed here), was already in my review queue for some time now with an older recipe but, as her newest book came up for sale, I decided to take up this newest dish instead. So is this near-future military sci-fi with a side of wit and comedy make for a fabulous meal or some bland tinned biscuits?
Before we cut open the MRE package, let us recite the Starving Review creed:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.
Here’s the rub, my literary foodies, there’s a fine line between using humor to flavor a serious dish and overseasoning with humor to ruin a dish. Comedy, especially dark comedy, is hard. Good comedy is even harder. So, let me put this particular dog to bed and say that the sugary sprinkles of comedy are properly used in this piece. There is a certain Doctor Strangelove sort of feel to the comedic elements, as well as that dry British wit to the whole affair, and it sits well in this Reviewer’s stomach.
With that clear, let’s attack the rest of the components of this meal. Check Mate presents a diverse cast of characters and handles those characters quite well. Even the occasional stock minor characters is gifted with a particular spark of flavor that makes them just a bit more three-dimensional. There was obviously care taken by the chef to make the characters more than the title of their jobs, no matter how stereotypical they may seem at first blush, and that defiance of stereotype is appreciated.
The plot takes some interesting turns in the classic recipe of ‘military-killer-robot-goes-haywire’ (and yes, that IS a classic by this point!) while keeping its feet grounded in the realm of near-future technology. The initial start is a bit more mellow than I expected it would be. In fact, it veers dangerously close to an extended info-dump, yet it wasn’t to the point of off-putting. It was a thick crust of necessary exposition but, past that initial bit, the pacing turns into a even and consistent flow of action and events, leading to a rather enjoyable final course.
Stylistically, Check Mate is solid. Once it hits its stride, the courses come along well, properly seasoned, with dutiful wordsmithing. If I have any stylistic complaints, it’s the occasional slip of British turns-of-phrase in a distinctly American setting. Naturally, most readers probably won’t catch these, as I barely did and I’m a bit of an Anglophile, so I don’t see this detracting from most people’s meals.
My one real quibble with this particular meal is I wish there was a bit more done from the haywire military robot’s point-of-view. Not much, but there were a few bits early on that gives the reader some flashes of what is going on and I found those particularly brilliant while not giving away the overarching plot. Some more scenes like that I think would have added a bit of needed spice at points during the last half of the book (into which I can delve no deeper because SPOILERS!).
To bring it all together, Check Mate is a tasty near-future military romp mixing some dark comedy with killer robots! It’s not *quite* perfect, but it’s really quite good and I can gladly recommend this meal to any lover of science-fiction or enjoys a splash of distinctly British dark humor with their meals! Remember, again, to check out the Starving Interview to get a glimpse into the mind behind the book.
FINAL VERDICT: **** (A tasty near-future military romp mixing some dark comedy with killer robots!)