Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead
Age of X # 1
Published June 4th 2013
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.
*An ARC was provided by Dutton Adult in exchange for an honest review*
Gameboard of the Gods is a book I was very eager to get into. Mythology is impossible enough to resist but paired with a dystopian setting? Sounds amazing to me! Plus Richelle Mead is an author I'd promised myself I'd finally read this year (and about time too), so this really was a win/win scenario! Unfortunately, Gameboard of the Gods didn't really fit into what I came to expect from reading the blurb, and while there were some elements of the book that I enjoyed quite a bit, other things really left me wanting and others just fell flat for me altogether.
In Gameboard of the Gods, we're introduced to a futuristic world following what the blurb tells us is: ''a near destruction of the world by religious extremists''. It's never made clear when this near-destruction occurred or even how, but since then, the world has begun to return to something not so different from our own current way of life. Technology, information & the military have re-emerged stronger than ever - at least in what we know as North-America anyway, and the governing bodies work hard to control and restrict most re-emerging religions in an attempt to avoid whatever happened to bring on the 'Descent' in the first place.
The two main characters, Justin & Mae have vastly different jobs and realities at the start of the novel. Justin is an exiled ex-investigator with unique gifts and the mind of a genius, living in the poverty stricken Panama (more or less South-America). Left to his own devices and broken by the reality of his situation, Justin is free to wallow in his addictions - drugs, gambling & women. Mae on the other hand is a praetorian - a genetically enhanced super-soldier that lost her cool for a moment and got into a fight with another soldier. Because of the momentary lapse, she gets re-assigned...to Justin. That's because the RUNA (Republic of United North America), a.k.a. Justin's home before his exile suddenly want to give him his old job back. It seems there have been a series of seemingly ritualistic murders or 'sacrifices' recently and they believe Justin may be able to solve the case. As both characters adjust to their new circumstances, and to each other, it becomes clear that there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye.. Soon both Justin & Mae are wrapped up in a mystery that even they might not be able to handle!
This was one of those cases where the blurb on the book jacket doubles as an introduction for the actual book's plot. What's mentioned inside the cover flap never gets fully explained...and that's what I was most curious about: how was the world was almost destroyed? What caused it to evolve into the future Richelle Mead has imagined for us? Another question I had: Where are the Gods?! These have to be the most elusive and mysterious bunch I've ever read about. If it wasn't right there in the title, I wonder if I would have guessed what was going on here until the very end. I was expecting full on Mythology, at least more than a whisper here and there for the better part of the book.
As I mentioned, any set-up or explanations to this futuristic world was limited, but the actual world-building itself was kept to a minimum too. There was the RUNA (by the way those letters only get explained after like 80 pages!) the technological and controlled ''jewel of the world'' and then there was the rest of the planet. Outside of the RUNA, people lived in poverty and the societal structure resembled something out of the distant past instead of the future. A lot of other terms like praetorians, castes, plebians and Gemman take a while to be defined and some of them never felt fully fleshed out in a satisfying way. And since we're talking words, I might as well vent at what I thought was an overused word: grimace. Being French, it's a word I'm used to, but I've never really liked using it in English - it just sounds off to me >.< and within the first 100 pages 'grimace' or 'grimaced' appeared 10 times! I would have killed for a synonym. (Not really but you catch my drift.) I know it's a personal thing, but I had to get it out. *sigh*
Now I know I'm coming off mostly negative in this review, but Gameboard of the Gods did have it's fair share of positives too. The action scenes and intrigue were especially well crafted. Many of the scenes read like I was watching a movie unfold in my mind. It had the right balance of words to keep the pace high and I had no problem imagining it all unfold right before my eyes. The mystery worked really well too especially for the first 3/4 of the book, it kept me reading compulsively - I wanted to discover more clues and put them together. I love a good mystery though and my obsessive need to know might have played a role in that. Beyond that though, I honestly liked getting to know the characters, despite their heavy flaws. I found that their distinct personalities & quirks worked well with this world as well as the story at hand. This was also one of the cases where the alternating POV style was done absolutely flawlessly, it seemed to switch at the perfect moment every time, only overlapping when both perspectives were integral to the plot - which is exceedingly rare in my experience.
Looking at the book as a whole, Gameboard of the Gods is one I'm glad I've read. It mostly only fizzled for me by the end because of two reasons: 1- for such a BIG book, the ending hardly offered any resolution. And 2- I just wanted more explanations on this world, on what made it the way it is and on the GODS! At 450 pages and an open ending, I would have liked more concrete answers along the way. I'll be reading the sequel but as an introduction to a series, book 1 should have offered more groundwork so the series could take of from there. Hopefully, book 2 will have more actual gods too!