Gameboard Of The Gods (Age of X #1)
eBook courtesy of Penguin Group (Dutton) via NetGalley
Print copy courtesy of Penguin Aus
In a futuristic world, society is very different. Justin March is a servitor – in a world where religion is forbidden, where the worshiping of false deitys not allowed, it is up to him to question the churches that pop up to ascertain their intentions and decide on whether or not they are allowed to keep their license to continue to hold gatherings. He can see through lies, he can get to the core of a person. But Justin made a mistake and that cost him. He was exiled from RUNA (Republic of United North America) to one of the colonies, Panama. He lives a luxurious life there but it’s not the same. He desperately wants to be able to return home but with his citizenship revoked, it is almost impossible.
Mae is a prætorian, one of the elite supersoldiers of RUNA charged with its protection. When she arrives in Panama to accompany Justin back to his homeland, a mistaken identity leads to them sharing a night together before he is aware she is there to protect him and she is aware that he will be the one she is assigned to. Justin has been recalled to RUNA but with conditions – they need him to investigate ritualistic murders that seem the work of a dangerous religious group. The whole thing seems surrounded by the paranormal, which RUNA refuse to acknowledge even exists. If Justin can’t crack the mystery then he faces being sent back to Panama and for him that is not an option.
As the investigation unfolds, Justin begins to connect the dots and realise that he may not be able to tell those above him what they want to hear. As he and Mae travel around to the site of each murder, the revelations become more sinister. Not only do the Gods exist but they are beginning to choose humans and it seems that they are all just pieces on the gameboard. Justin has to begin to accept the bargain he made in order to save his life and Mae will learn some surprising things about her own heritage and what her mother sacrificed in order for her very existence.
Gameboard Of The Gods is the first in prolific YA author Richelle Mead’s new adult series. It’s a departure from her previous work but as I’ve never read a Richelle Mead book, I didn’t go into this one thinking of Rose and Dimitri or Sydney and Adrian, etc. She’s one of those authors that I’ve mean meaning to try, particularly recently but haven’t gotten around to. It was easier to start this series because I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to find the time to slog through an already completed series and it’s spin off.
The world as we know it now has been destroyed by religion and disease and the societies left are fiercely protective of their borders and their genetic breeding. The descriptions of patricians and plebeians and the fringe worshiping of various gods harks back to ancient Roman days and to be honest, at times it was a fraction confusing, mostly because I kept forgetting who was what and what that meant in terms of their social status and interactions with others and their locations, etc. The book starts off quite slowly and it’s not until Justin and Mae leave Panama and return to RUNA that I found myself beginning to get invested in the story.
Justin and Mae are opposites – Mae is a trained soldier who possess a chip that allows her to never sleep and that charges her body with adrenalin whenever danger might be lurking. She’s a consummate fighter, almost unbeatable. She’s reserved, stand-offish and quite unlikable at times. The only time I did like her was when Justin was pushing her buttons. It humanised her. In contrast, Justin is like some sort of epic playboy on speed. He sleeps around, he takes various forms of drugs, he constantly drinks to excess. He’s a brilliant reader of body language and tone and it’s not often when he can’t read someone. He finds Mae difficult to read and this intrigues him but he’s also very wary of her because she seems tied up in a promise he made some years ago, one that he’s now trying to avoid. He talks to two ravens inside his head (actually some of these exchanges are the best in the novel) and faces a choice now back in RUNA with what he uncovers. He can submit a report claiming no supernatural activities occurred and probably be granted his citizenship back. Or he can submit the truth and face likely exile to Panama – or somewhere worse – for failing to toe the line.
Gameboard Of The Gods is a little bit of a mixed bag. Some of the ideas are fun and interesting and I feel that as the book got on, the story got a lot stronger. However some of the worldbuilding is a little patchy and I feel as though I’m missing huge chunks of it and for me the book is definitely too long…as I mentioned it’s a bit slow in the beginning and there’s a section in the middle where I feel it lost its way as well. The strongest part of the story is the final third but parts of that also felt rushed. I feel the character relationships are interesting though – Justin continues to seek other female company which tends to be unusual once a clear female/male likely pairing has been established (although actually, Mae seeks another partner here too). What bothered me was that even after Mae clearly begins to see that there are supernatural elements at play, Justin doesn’t let her in on why he feels they can’t connect again. He still keeps a lot of information to himself even after he’s shared other things and I’m not quite sure what his reasoning is for that. Also, I’m still pondering the necessity of Tessa as a character. Is it to show a more human, softer, compassionate side to Justin? Or does she play a more important role in this series in later books? I’m curious.
Not without its flaws but potential for a fantastic story as it unfolds.
Book #147 of 2013