Gameboard of the Gods
(Age of X)
Published 2013 464 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
In a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists, Justin March lives in exile after failing in his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims. But Justin is given a second chance when Mae Koskinen comes to bring him back to the Republic of United North America (RUNA). Raised in an aristocratic caste, Mae is now a member of the military’s most elite and terrifying tier, a soldier with enhanced reflexes and skills.
When Justin and Mae are assigned to work together to solve a string of ritualistic murders, they soon realize that their discoveries have exposed them to terrible danger. As their investigation races forward, unknown enemies and powers greater than they can imagine are gathering in the shadows, ready to reclaim the world in which humans are merely game pieces on their board.
Gameboard of The Gods is the first book in a new sci-fi fantasy series for adults by Richelle Mead author of the popular YA Vampire Academy books. This isn’t the author’s first foray into writing for adults, she’s also written the Succubus/Georgina Kincaid and Dark Swan urban fantasy (UF) books which are for adults, but as far as I’m aware this is her first attempt at writing in a futuristic setting – one that she didn’t quite manage to successfully pull off.
For the record there are no vampires in Gameboard of The Gods, nor are there any of the other types of supernatural beasties that are typicality present in a UF novel. Instead we have humans who live in a post-virus world who have rejected the supernatural and all religion and have wholly embraced secular humanitarianism… apart from the people who haven’t and still secretly worship ancient gods and goddesses. There are signs that the old gods may be returning with mysterious ritual murders and unexplained phenomena captured on a video camera…
Believing in the supernatural may, or may not be illegal, but it’s certainly inadvisable since it means the rest of society will think you’re mad. I say this because I’m not really sure if religion is illegal or not – the world building in this book was so poor that a day after finishing reading it I’m still uncertain about most of the fundamental principles that this society is built on. Worse still, I can’t find it in me to care about that.
Gameboard of the Gods got off to a good start. Readers are introduced to super-soldier Mae and the exiled Dr Justin Marsh (an expert on debunking the supernatural who’s called back into RUNAs service to crack this unsolvable mystery.) The first few chapters whetted my appetite to experience this futuristic world and find out more about the characters. However, that enthusiasm was soon lost by erratic world-building and slow character development. The author’s scattergun approach to developing the setting made reading painful. The main place in the story is Vancouver, a veritable utopia by all accounts, and the capital city of RUNA, a country/state/continent/I-don’t-know-what-because-the-author wouldn’t-tell-me. The reader has to slog through a large chunk of the book before we find out RUNA is the Republic of United North America.
Character information is similarly retarded, readers don’t find out about the key events of the Mae and Justin’s lives (you know, the events that explain who these people are, why they behave like they do and how they came to be in the situation that they are now) until two-thirds of the way through the book… but by this point it’s too late. The characters lost appeal long before that point. Without knowing their back story, Justin never overcame his irritating addictive personality traits therefore appearing as a complete flake and Mae came across as cold and hard, making neither of these characters people I wanted to know, or read about.
I won’t go into the ludicrous elements of this futuristic world where genetic segregation and racism make a person elite yet highly susceptible to catching the virus that destroyed the world. Regular people are of mixed ethnic origin and are considered to be common, although they are naturally resistant to the virus. (I know which one I’d rather be.) It doesn’t make much sense on any level when you think about it, so I’m trying not to.
I think that my main criticism of this novel is the convenient (and when I say convenient, I mean lazy) plotting. The whole mystery of this novel is to find out which god has taken an interest in Justin. He’s been given two ravens that live inside his head which is a big clue and not the only pointer to the god’s identity. I knew who that god was at the introduction of the two ravens; the other pointers just confirmed what I was mentally shouting at the book. I also knew which goddess the ritual murders were being dedicated to. A goddess of war and death is a wide category but the clue in the description of the victim’s necklace makes it obvious. Now, Dr Justin Marsh has a PhD in religion and supernatural studies. He’s also got a super observant nature and a mind like a steel trap (think Patrick Jane from The Mentalist or Sherlock Holmes) but he can’t identify the death goddess or solve the mystery of which god is stalking him? Oh, yes he can when he Googles two ravens with a filter for mythological references at the end of the story. D’oh.
Incidentally I may not have the benefit of a PhD in mythology but I do read a lot and I would suggest that any fantasy readers who have also read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles will be similarly armed with the information they need to solve the not very mysterious mystery.
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