Gameboard of the Gods
By Richelle Mead
Release date: June 4, 2013
I don’t like a lot of things. This becomes apparent as I pick books to review. And in the interest of not being one big vicious downer, I try to choose books worth talking about. But still, sometimes I just like to complain.
Often. Just warning you.
I have read most of Richelle Mead’s adult urban fantasy books. I don’t own any of them. On reflection, I wondered why that was when I started reading Gameboard of the Gods. Her writing style is solid; her characters are very interesting. Sure she writes teen paranormal romance…but I haven’t tried to read any, so it’s not like I can say that ruined everything for me. (I work at a bookstore. We all hate teen paranormal romance. My one exception is Dia Reeves, and that’s because her stuff is crazy. In a good way.)
We follow two characters, Justin March and Mae Koskinen. Justin is a disgraced former government worker who made his living debunking religious groups. Mae Koskinen is a purebred Nordic super soldier. Both are emotionally damaged. Both are very compelling, likeable characters. Mae is tough and capable without being two dimensional. You know what type I mean: “Oh I am a Xena-clone warrior woman, hear me roar!” She’s not. Justin is a loveable rogue, and rather sleazy, but I didn’t feel dirty afterward, so that’s a good sign. He’s built up as extremely competent and observant. And now RUNA wants him back to solve a series of locked door murders with a potential supernatural bend. Which is good, because Justin wants to go back. And bad, because the supernatural doesn’t exist, does it?
In addition, I liked Tessa, Justin’s teenage ward. She provides the most identifiable voice. She isn’t from RUNA, and she doesn’t understand all the rules/technology. She’s believable, mostly likeable, and plays a larger role than the synopsis blurb mentions.
I liked the world too. Disease, genetic mutations, and anarchy have led to the fall of the world as we know it. But not everything is bleak and dystopic. RUNA, the Republic of United North America, is comprised of parts of Canada and the former United States. They have all sorts of shiny technology, clean streets, and no dominant religions. Justin’s job was to prove certain religions were dangerous or in violation of the law and then to shut them down. Therefore, there are lots of vague miscellaneous religions that don’t last very long, like Our Lady of the Key rather than Buddha, or Anansi, or Durga. A neighboring country, the southern part of the United States, has become a hostile theocracy. But Mead doesn’t really go into much detail.
There is the issue is a virus called Mephistopheles, or colloquially, Cain. It killed half of humanity, causing scarring, asthma, loss of fertility, and other fun things. Diverse genetic backgrounds offered more resistance; so much of the populace has grab bag ancestry. They’re referred to as plebians. The castals are groups of varying specificity that claim ethnic pureness. They have higher susceptibility to Cain, and special reservations. Their “pureness” is varying from the Nordics and their multiple Scandinavian backgrounds to “Nipponese.” Mead throws you in with little explanation of what some of the terms mean. I thought I’d had a typo with Gemmans, another word for people from RUNA. About a hundred pages in, things are explained. But that leaves you with the traditional sci-fi opening feeling of “WTF is going on?”
So the world is a playground. The people aren’t boring. Why don’t I love this?
It was fun. But flawed.
Perhaps these things won’t bother you, and you will freely enjoy the book. They bothered me a lot.
Justin is built up as some kind of genius. His exile is a silly punishment for the crime. And it doesn’t really make sense. Justin’s character is intelligent enough, but he doesn’t live up to the hype. For example, I guessed, in the first chapter, what was going on with his…passengers. He’s supposedly some kind of genius. Focusing on religions. Possibly being used by something supernatural. And he can’t guess who it is, despite having all that “genius” knowledge and free time for research. He had to pretty much be told at the end of the book.
So yeah, not that sharp.
This detail is very very small. Praetorian super soldiers like Mae don’t sleep. Ever. There is no explanation how they don’t go insane. But seriously, prolonged sleep deprivation can cause drastic personality shifts, insanity, death…
Final verdict: Fun book, if you can overlook some of these details. It’s been awhile since I read Mead’s other books, but I’m getting the feeling that I had similar issues.