Published On: Sun, Dec 10th, 2023
Books | By MDN

Check & Mate review: Ali Hazelwood will leave you en prise | Books | Entertainment

Check & Mate review: Ali Hazelwood will leave you en prise | Books | Entertainment
Check & Mate review: Ali Hazelwood will leave you en prise | Books | Entertainment

When Ali Hazelwood first came out with The Love Hypothesis and readers just about fell over themselves I wasn’t sure it could live up to the hype. But, sure enough, I stayed up into the early hours of the morning unable to put it down; I reread it almost instantly and, at present, make a conscious effort to revisit Olive and Adam’s story. It’s hard to do that more than once, but then I got my hands on Love on the Brain and Love, Theoretically and potentially liked them even more… I decided that Ali Hazelwood is one of those rare authors where I’d no doubt love reading even her shopping list.

Her first attempt at a Young Adult novel was something I knew I absolutely had to get my hands on, and I had faith that Ali would be able to deliver as she always does. Now, it’s worth noting I think this falls more into the category of New Adult; our characters are around 18-and-20-years-old, and there are more adult themes of employment and further education rather than panicking about passing a maths GCSE.

Ali is a neuroscientist, so it’s not a surprise that she loves giving us a varied batch of women in STEM to follow through her stories, this time we’re not following a scientist through the halls of academia but Mallory, a chess genius who has refused to play for four years for reasons she’d rather not get into. She’s the eldest of three girls and has taken on a parental role in her home since her father left, and her mother has been struggling with her health. As a result, she doesn’t have time for things she enjoys, seeing her friends or pursuing chess as a career as she once dreamed.

Mallory’s life is a routine of fixing up cars in a garage so she can pay the mortgage and look after her family. While she might occasionally hook up with the girl behind the boba counter and a guy she met online, she doesn’t have time for feelings. Mallory’s sexuality isn’t made a fuss of, and her younger sisters attach no stigma when asking questions about love and sex lives alike. It’s quite refreshing to see it just be a part of a character that’s innate such as eye or hair colour rather than something that feels performative which was common to see in this genre in the past. It is worth noting that although this is undoubtedly a sex-positive story, it is all fade to black and can be comfortably described as wholesome.

Mallory is dragged back into the world of chess when her best friend begs her to help her out – just this once! – and she is effectively scouted into the world of professional chess after beating the incredibly handsome world champion in a charity game. We see her attempt to navigate her desires and fears while attempting to do what she believes is best for everyone around her. She feels very much like an 18-year-old eldest daughter who has taken on the responsibility of being a parent figure that I think many readers will have either experienced or at least witnessed themselves.

I adore Ali Hazelwood’s novels for how she portrays intelligent women, chronic illness and institutionalised sexism. At no point does she make you feel “less than” for having a different interest, and there’s a message of hope in her stories that one day the world will be a more accessible place for those with chronic illnesses and women working in male-dominated industries. Mallory goes on a journey of self-discovery and faces her fears but at no point is she forced to sacrifice her own values and what she wants in order to make a man happy – although she may do that in an attempt to put a smile on her mum’s face.

It feels really authentic, which is what I believe is half of the magic of an Ali Hazelwood novel. I adored the relationship between the sisters and how giddy they were to have their very own secret – the dinner scene in particular stood out to me as someone with a big family who wouldn’t hesitate to do the same. Nolan is also quite adorable, if you’re a fan of Ali’s books with the guy falling harder and faster then this is no different. Nolan Sawyer is the Bad Boy of chess and while he might not be a Hemsworth he’s a Big Deal. If you loved Adam, Jack and Levi then you’re going to be a fan of this Chess world champion.

As a teenager, I competed in maths competitions for my school and played chess with friends during free periods. These are interests that are often made to feel uncool and less interesting but I absolutely loved them and I truly think if I’d had this book at that point in my life it would’ve given me a huge confidence boost. It’s £8.49 now on Waterstones or you can pick up Check & Mate on Amazon as a paperback for £5, Kindle for £5.49 or as part of an Audible subscription.

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