Queen Move by Kennedy Ryan
Genre: Romance, women’s fiction
Content warning: language, explicit sexual content
Queen Move (2020, 323 pages) is the 17th novel by Canadian romance writer Kennedy Ryan. Queen Move is the third installment in the highly rated “All the King’s Men” series but can be read as a standalone romance novel. The novel is a second chance romance set in modern-day Atlanta, with each chapter narrated by one of the two protagonists: Kimba, a Black 37-year old campaign strategist or her love interest, Ezra, a biracial Jewish 37-year old founder/president of a private academy for underprivileged kids. The novel follows Kimba and Ezra’s relationship from their childhood friendship that ends abruptly, to their reunion twenty years later when they discover that they still have very strong feelings for each other. Queen Move is divided into 2 parts; part 1 takes place when Kimba and Ezra are ages 10-13 and part 2 occurs in the present, more than two decades later when they are both 37.
In part one, Ezra’s parents, Alfred Stern, an African American atheist, and Ruth Stern, a Jewish woman, move to Atlanta from NYC while Alfred attends graduate school at Emory University. Struggling to make friends in Atlanta and tired of all the ignorant comments about her biracial son, Ruth makes a connection with her neighbor Janette, whose daughter Kimba shares the same birthday with Ezra. Over the course of a decade, both families grow very close and Ezra and Kimba become almost inseparable: “Our parents sat us down last year and explained we’re too old for sleepovers.” But when both kids are 13, a huge rift between their parents cause the Sterns to move away abruptly devastating both Kimba and Ezra, who make a promise to each other: “Our pact is that we’ll always be friends […] That nothing will come between us, not even each other.”
Part two takes place in the present day, where Kimba lives in Washington DC and excels at her job as a campaign strategist who just helped elect the president and Ezra lives in Atlanta with his long-term girlfriend Aiko and their 8-year old son, Noah. Kimba returns to Atlanta for a few weeks to relax and to host her family foundation’s award ceremony that is held in honor of her deceased father. While at the awards ceremony Kimba realizes that one of the awardees is Ezra and the chemistry between the two is instant and intense: “I could feel his stare – the heat and intensity of it tingling across the bare skin of my neck”. Serendipitously, Ezra is single after having broken up with Aiko a few days before and is eager to take advantage of this reunion with Kimba: “I can’t help but wonder, if given the chance, what between us could go right?” The remainder of the novel follows Ezra and Kimba as they start their new relationship and decide whether it will survive a devastating revelation.
I loved Queen Move and could not put it down once I started reading it. One of the things I loved most about the novel was how the narration switches back and forth between Kimba and Ezra, so you get to know both characters quite well and you know exactly how they feel about each other. And because I got to know Kimba and Ezra, I felt very invested in their relationship and felt the joy of their ups and the hurt of their downs. I also loved that instead of using flashbacks to show Kimba and Ezra’s childhood friendship, Ryan spent the first seven chapters showing how their childhood friendship evolved: “There was a time when I told her [Kimba] everything, but things have been changing so much lately. The way we hang out […] the way I feel around her”. Part one reveals how truly special their childhood friendship was: “Kimba and I have been working on our telepathy since stroller days”, which sets the stage for why they are so instantly drawn to each other as adults: “I’d forgotten this kind of telepathy we share, seemingly conducting thoughts between our mins with nothing more than a glance”. The novel features some truly heart-wrenchingly romantic lines that show the depth and intensity of the love these two have for each other: “It feels like we were this one thing that was severed in half, and our parts want to be rejoined.” As an aside, this line reminded me of Mr. Rochester’s speech to Jane in the classic novel Jane Eyre: “I have a strange feeling with regard to you. As if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly knotted to a similar string in you. And if you were to leave, I’m afraid that cord of communion would snap.”
Another thing I liked is that Ryan didn’t make Aiko to be a nagging harpy that long-suffering Ezra was lucky to get away from, a common trope in romance novels to justify the instant attraction between the male and female protagonists. Instead, Aiko and Ezra’s relationship ended the way many long-term relationships end, not due to cheating or cruelty, but due to a years-long transition to friendship that caught both parties unaware. And, the fact that Ezra never disparages Aiko, in fact, he often praises her: “She’s gorgeous. She’s also a brilliant photographer and a remarkable mother to my son”, shows Ezra’s integrity, but not at the expense at his ex-girlfriend.
I loved that the diversity of the characters in the novel, I loved that Aiko was Vietnamese and Ezra was half Jewish and that their family reflects the increasingly multicultural and multiracial modern American family, one that doesn’t get much attention in novels, much less romance novels. Additionally, Ezra’s attempt to balance both sides of his heritage, particularly his Jewish heritage, is something that many readers from immigrant, multiracial and multicultural backgrounds can relate to.
Another thing I loved about Queen Move is Kimba’s character and how she reflected so many women I know – successful and busy young professionals – and she didn’t fall into any of the unflattering (and just plain lazy) stereotypes that many authors use when creating Black female characters. Yes, Kimba is strong willed and opinionated, in one scene when Ezra asks her “Whose are you?”, wanting her to confess that she belongs to him, Kimba’s response is defiant: “I belong to myself.” But in the same breath, she says she also belongs to the boy she married when she was 6 years old; her groom was a 6-year-old Ezra (of course). But contrary to the “strong Black woman” trope, Kimba feels things quite deeply and once calls Ezra in tears when a piece of legislation that she really wanted to defeat, passed anyway: “I feel like I let people down.” I appreciated that Ryan showed Kimba’s softer side and that even the most successful, strong-willed Black woman doesn’t have superhuman emotional strength that bears her own trauma as well as everyone else’s. Even Kimba needs someone in her corner and someone with whom she can remove all the armor she has to wear in her daily life.
I have a couple critiques of this novel. One critique is that the sex scenes were smuttier than I expected. I am not a prude in the least and I have read books with even more explicit sex scenes but excerpts from Queen Move didn’t hint at such explicit sex scenes so I ended up reading Kimba and Ezra’s first steamy encounter in public and I was very self-conscious that people around me were able to read the screen on my phone. Also, in the scene after Ezra tells Kimba he loves her for the first time, the sex scene was a lot raunchier than I would have expected and didn’t seem to fit the mood after they shared such an intimate moment together. Another critique is the abrupt ending, and although readers are promised an additional two chapters, those chapters have still not been released (as of September 2020) and in my desperation to read them as soon as they come out, I have signed up for Kennedy Ryan’s newsletter and her Facebook group (well done on getting me to subscribe to both Ms. Ryan, well done!).
Readers who enjoy romance novels from writers such as Jasmine Guillory, whose 5 part “The Wedding Date” series I highly recommend, and British author Talia Hibbert will enjoy Queen Move. In fact, Kimba reminds me of Olivia from Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory, because both women are very accomplished successful women, who end up finding love in unexpected places – Olivia in a hotel bar and Kimba at an award’s ceremony.
I give Queen Move 4.5 out of 5 stars because it is a thoroughly enjoyable novel that will leave a smile on your face and you will finish in no time in spite of its 323 pages. I took a half star off of my rating because readers have to wait for an additional two chapters after the end of the book. Nevertheless, Kimba and Ezra are well-developed, likeable characters and their relationship is so intense that at times, you can feel the electricity between these two jump off the page. It was almost enough to convince unbelievers (like myself) in soulmates!