My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In romance, fated mates is a label conferred on couples whose pairing is written in the stars or nature or somewhere in the supernatural. It exists outside of logic and rationality. It’s a pairing that was simply meant to be. They complete each other and no one else will do. Traditionally, fated mates are something that only happens in paranormal romance or fantasy (see Romance 101: Fated Mates by Amanda Diehl). But in Kennedy Ryan’s Queen Move, a story about childhood best friends turned lovers, I believed that true love was this couple's destiny from the start.
Queen Move is contemporary romance, and technically there’s nothing supernatural about it— there’s nary a witch, vamp, or shapeshifter in sight. But the connection between the two main characters is its own kind of magic. Kimba and Ezra were born on the same day. They're neighbors and their mothers are close friends, so it makes sense that they’re be practically inseparable. As babies they bathe together and play together when they’re young and at the ripe old age of six, when Ezra learns about what marriage is, they marry each other in a back yard ceremony.
Their connection is the sweetest thing ever. No one else in the world really exists when these two are together. But that all crashes down and the connection is severed at age 13 when their families are torn apart by a mysterious fight no one will explain. Ezra’s family moves away and they both eventually get on with their lives and lose touch.
Two decades later, Ezra is living in Atlanta when Kimba returns home for a family event, and they reunite. It’s immediately clear that the connection that was severed so abruptly when they were teens never quite went away. But their lives are no longer simple. Ezra has been in a long term (albeit troubled and on the cusp of separation) relationship for a decade and is raising a wonderful son whom he adores with his partner. Kimba has an incredible career as a political consultant and a health issue that’s causing her to reevaluate some choices.
It’s a great setup. Ezra and Kimba are fated mates kept apart by circumstances out of their control long ago and now again. Both are public people under a fair amount of scrutiny. They have people relying on them, and their situation is messy. There are about a million ways that scenario could go very wrong, but Kennedy Ryan is the mistress of swoonily romantic, angsty, socially conscious romance with high heat. And Queen Move sets yet another high water mark for that type of romance.
What I love most about Kimba and Ezra is that their connection is multifaceted. There’s the magic— they’re the kids born on the same day who imprinted on each other like cubs before they even knew what love was. Kimba feels that keenly: “I can’t help but think when we were born on the same day, when we were made together our path was set…” And Ezra feels very much the same. And it’s lovely. But there are also concrete tangible reasons that these two people work well together as adults. I never doubted it that they fit and would make each others’ lives better. For one thing, they share values— they’ve both dedicated their lives to fighting for social justice in different ways— and they have an intellection connection and mutual respect.
There’s a lot of angst here, but none of it is about whether their love is true. They are soul mates. That’s a given. And yet, somehow, the stakes and the tension remain high. Ryan is afraid to make hard choices and she gives this couple some real hurdles to overcome. It’s never forced. It just feels real.
Beyond that, what pulls it all together is Kennedy Ryan's writing. She writes gorgeous, sometimes poetic, sentences bursting with passion. Kimba:
“Daddy used to say don’t waste time on things that don’t set you on fire inside, and I haven’t. Every campaign, every election, each candidate—I’ve believed in. I believed that putting that person in power advanced one of my convictions.” She bites her bottom lip. “I felt the same about people. I didn’t want to waste time on anyone who didn’t set me on fire inside. And there have been people I liked, people I enjoyed sex with, but no one I wanted to build a life with. That’s why I never committed. No one ever set me on fire inside.” She looks over at me, her eyes telling me before her words do. “Until now. You set me on fire inside, Ezra Stern.”“You set me on fire inside, Ezra Stern.” It’s a simple sentence but wow it’s just beautiful in that context. And also lovely that Kimba makes the connection between the people and the causes that set her on fire. This is the essence of what makes Ryan’s novels, Queen Move in particular, so special. She weaves the personal and the political together seamlessly and beautifully.
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