Teotl has been a loyal servant of the Priestess for forty years. Endowed with the incredible ability to absorb force and redirect it, she is nearly invincible, a dangerous enemy feared throughout the League of Magi. Her last mission ended in failure, when she could not stop the Twins from creating their newest Familiar, the cannibal spirit of winter, Coldheart. It has been three years since, and Teotl has been an outcast in her own organization.
Now the Priestess has a new assignment: assassinate Wei Lai, Apprentice to the Butterfly. It should be a simple task, and Teotl looks forward to once again being accepted by the Priestess. Something goes wrong almost immediately when a mysterious explosion kills all of Teotl's men and takes away her incredible power. Deep in enemy territory, powerless, alone, and hunted by the sleepless undead minions of the Butterfly, Teotl is thrown into the most desperate fight of her long life.
The novella "The Daughter Gambit" opens the book, which is rounded out by eight short stories. "Children of the Snake," pits a strange cult against a dogged investigator; in "Wooden Faith," an extradimensional being experiences an existential crisis; Rose Cross finds love in "Forever for a Moment;" "Conservation of Light" finds a witch trying to live in peace far away from the League; danger closes in on a double agent in "Playback;" in "Until There's Nothing Left of You," an Apprentice returns to the love of his life; and in "Masu Station," a ghost seeks revenge for his murder.
Much like film noir, Justin Robinson was born and raised in Los Angeles. He splits his time between editing comic books, writing prose and wondering what that disgusting smell is. Degrees in Anthropology and History prepared him for unemployment, but an obsession with horror fiction and a laundry list of phobias provided a more attractive option.
Well I'm glad to say that even though some of the stories in this book were sad/depressing (as I found the ones in the first book) many more of them had a bits of lightness that gave a bit of hope for the characters and where things might end up eventually. Probably what I like the most about the world Mr. Robinson has created is that the gods don't care about the rest of the world/humanity, only about what they are doing amongst themselves, so there's so much scope to what they and their attached people can and will do. I don't think I'm describing it well enough, but I really hope he writes another series of stories set in this world. I want to know what happens - to Coldheart especially, will he maintain who he is?
Justin Robinson’s novel, Coldheart, introduced readers to the world of the Magi, gods and super-powered beings struggling for control over Earth; however, that novel focused predominantly on the Twins, the powerful beings that claim responsibility/ownership over North America. The second novel in the series, The Daughter Gambit, is a selection of short stories that provides some insights into the members of the other Magi groups. My previous exposure to Justin’s writing was his Mr. Blank and City of Devils series, which are both tongue-in-cheek noir tales set in Los Angeles, so I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect from his League of Magi books. I knew he’s a strong writer who can create a compelling story, but would his interpretation of fantasy work for me as a reader?
To be honest, I didn’t love each of the stories in The Daughter Gambit; however, as I progressed through the book, I realized that the stories that didn’t speak to me focused on characters I didn’t personally connect with very well. For example, Anansi’s tale left me a little cold, because his obsessive love for a forbidden partner carried no resonance for me. The snapshots into different groups intrigued me, though, and the tonal changes between each addition to the book provided clear distinctions between groups and characters. I particularly enjoyed Kaeru’s tale at the end of the book, because it combined several elements I enjoy: Japanese culture, horror movies, and well-timed revenge all blended together with a Justin Robinson twist.
Personally, I think that The Daughter Gambit could be read as a standalone in the League of Magi series, although some of the hierarchical structure might be a little confusing. Also, the seeds of the bond between Coldheart and Teotl, the focus of the titular novella, were planted during their first encounter in Book One. Fans of the original should definitely pick up The Daughter Gambit, and anyone who enjoys complex, international fantasy and intrigue will definitely enjoy it ,as well. Not every story will hit the mark for every reader, but the strong writing and detailed world building kept me turning the pages until the end.
The Daughter Gambit is intoxicating, fully developed urban fantasy. The second of the League of Magi series is formatted with a single novella followed by seven short stories which give further insight into the supernatural side of that Earth. While having read the Coldheart novella adds depth to Gambit's novella, the short stories stand alone.
The Daughter Gambit follows Teotl's redemption before her goddess (her magi, the Priestess) after her failure in San Francisco - both in Coldheart's creation and his complete defeat of her. All she has to do is kill Wei Lai, prophet apprentice of the Butterfly. Complete spoiler: it doesn't go as intended, or not as Teotl intended. Gambit is truely Teotl's story, we learn about her past as a human, her path to becoming the Priestess's fist, and she learns more about the realities of her world and what connections truly mean. The writing pulls you in and demands you finish - I regressed to my high school self, walking down a road eyes glued to the book to see how it would end.
That said, none of the short stories disappoint. Robinson has a way of writing humanity into his character so that even when you are presented with a main character you objectively wouldn't like you end up sympathizing with them. In the short stories you get a noir detective tale told from the other side, a spy story (a running theme in League of Magi, espionage), two love stories, two stories that expand on the uniqueness of the world, and a ghost story. All of them highly worth reading.