Title: Gameboard of the Gods (Age of X)
Author: Richelle Mead
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Source: Edelweiss DRC
Genre(s): New Adult Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Mythology, Paranormal Fiction
First off, I’ve never read the Vampire Academy series and I never intend to read it. I know that online a lot of people have given this book a lot of flack just for being by the same author. Similarly, there are people who seem to love it because it’s by the same author. I don’t care about any of that. Gameboard of the Gods is a different book all together and written for a different genre (well, mostly) and a different age group. This is an adult novel through and through though I do sort of think it fits well in the ‘New Adult’ genre for the sake of Mae who strikes me as on the younger end.
Gameboard of the Gods was a really surprising book for me. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into or what to expect. I mean, it’s about an advanced dystopian society where religion is dangerous and regulated heavily… except it’s also a supernatural story where gods and goddesses are actually real. It’s a world where belief isn’t just power for a group but for the deities that exist unseen in the world around us. It’s strikes a very interesting contrast. You have a society that largely has abandoned religion in favor of progress and celebration of humanity and it’s achievements while at the same time it’s speckled and pockmarked by countless thousands of small religions with their own practices and deities. Who – it turns out – actually know what they are talking about to some degree. Or maybe they don’t. No one – at least in the government – seems willing to accept that the supernatural exists, that it’s real, and that it’s out there.
It’s kind of crazy. But the world that Mead creates is diverse and well crafted. The problem is that it isn’t always that well explained. There’s a lot going on. And it can be hard to keep everything together. The RUNA – the new North American federation – has it’s regular cities but also caste land grants for promoting heterogeneous cultures (Gaelic, Nordic, etc.) and their existence in this new country. Despite the fact that genetic diversity has proven to be the only safeguard against dangerous, debilitating disease. People are also ranked based on ‘beauty’ in the castes and their ability to hide any showing of genetic disease or deformity… sometimes it’s just hard to keep track of everything that’s going into this world building. Mead does help you along well enough. And part of the allure is the way the story is written and the sort of realism that goes into all of it. After a while it’s just easy for you to accept that things are the way they are and that’s that.
You’re helped along in a lot of this by Justin and Teresa – two of the more prominent characters. The story is largely about Dr. Justin March – a former religious investigator for the government who was sent into exile after having his own supernatural, spiritual moment. He’s been haunted ever since by two ravens who exist only in his mind and watch him on behalf of their mysterious godly master. Justin’s spent many years out of the country but he’s brought back to investigate a series of murders. He’s basically the Will Graham of RUNA. He makes the same sort of leaps without much evidence and is crazy perceptive. Teresa is the daughter of one of the men who helped him during his exile. He brings he back to RUNA to get an education and to help her get RUNA citizenship for herself and possibly for her family later as his way of thanking her family. So we get to learn a lot about RUNA culture through Teresa’s introduction to it and Justin’s attempts to re-assimilate himself.
The other main character in this series besides Justin (and to a lesser extent Teresa) is Mae. She’s an advanced super soldier working for the RUNA government. A Nordicac castal, she ranks very highly in the whole numbered, good-looks scoring. But she never wanted that life. Instead she became a soldier with a cybernetic chip or something that enhances her ability to fight, makes her stronger, makes her never need sleep, and keeps her from being poisoned, etc. She’s basically a bad ass chick who kicks ass. Unfortunately, she kicked someone’s ass at a government funeral and her punishment was to be assigned to Justin to help with his investigations.
The investigation serves as our introduction, really, to the larger story and setting. And it’s enough to keep you interested while being intermixed with the personal lives and stories of the various characters. I loved Justin – he’s a sympathetic almost sort of anti-hero. Played off as selfish and self serving, he genuinely cares about certain people and it’s easy to see why he is the way he is as they really get into his character. Meanwhile Mae is made out to be much more than just some lady jarhead. She’s a great character – though a little overly sexualized at times just because apparently her brand of super soldier has a Dark Angel-esque sort of sex frenzy. (Man do I miss that show.)
Gameboard of the Gods picks up a coveted four-star rating for me. For books to get over a three-star rating they really need to stick out. I like almost everything I read. Everything gets a three-star rating. But the really good ones get a four and this one was definitely one of the good ones. If you’re looking for a good, solid dystopia or something with a bit of mythology – because it works in Norse, Celtic, Greek, and Roman mythology into the wide variety of deitiies – without having to resort to something childish like the Hunger Games or Percy Jackson series then this is definitely the book for you.