Book Review: Gameboard of the Gods

The Frustrating, flattering to deceive 1st novel in the “Age of X” series from Richelle Mead of Bloodlines and Vampire Academy fame.

Poor pacing undermines what would otherwise be a strong novel (Though more a 2.5 than a true 2). The worldbuilding and main characters in the story are fascinating. I would not call it a Science Fiction, as some have. And I think that’s part of where some go off the rails with this book. There’s no attempt to justify the science or society in the book from rational grounds. That in itself is a deal breaker when it comes to sci-fi.

It’s presented with a sense of internal coherence that is consistent with post-apocalyptic fantasy, similar to Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels series. Think of it as cyberpunk (which may or may not be true sci-fi, depending on the author) meets American Gods. This doesn’t bother me, as I enjoy both genres. And Tessa’s insights indicate that perhaps we’re not to see RUNA as utopian as the 2 native main characters, Mae & Justin, do. Of course, the fact that she’s a foreign teenager–and acts like one–somewhat undermines her critique.

Mae and Justin are both infuriatingly real characters. And I mean that in a good sense. They both have legitimate, well-developed flaws. Mae is too guarded to tell the full truth to anyone. Justin is too much a schmoozing womanizer to allow Mae to trust him, and he has his own head-case issue…literally.

This in itself provides real impediments to the plot that are well utilized. Combined with the setting, and the ‘return of the gods’ plotline, it ought to have been enough to complicate the murder mystery. This would have been a good story, and while there still would’ve been head-shaking moments to me, they would have been BELIEVABLE head-shaking moments.

But…now we get to the negative, and why I rate the story as low as I do: There are too many *artificial* impediments to the mystery. Too many things that get answers from above when it’s convenient to the plot, and don’t seem to come from their investigation. And then there’s the fact Justin is SUPPOSED to be an expert on religions, and we are SUPPOSED to believe he has an incredible deductive mind. He does make some fine conclusions here and there…always where they are only peripheral to the case. But in the things that TRULY matter, he’s an idiot. No. Really. A 5 minute search he should’ve done anytime in the last 5 years, he waits until he’s already hosed himself over to check. Not to mention the clues are slapping his ‘genius’ in the face, and he can’t see it. Same with Mae and the symbol. “Death+crow+dark presence” hmm, what religion could this be? Sure, there COULD be others, but who would anyone guess first, and CHECK first? Yeah. He missed BOTH of these the entire book, and is supposed to be a genius. And then there’s the red herring video, which we KNOW isn’t fake from the beginning, but we’re supposed to think holds up the plot for 150 pages.

Sorry, but those are 3 artificial blocks too many. And it makes the book almost 200 pages longer than it should be. The story doesn’t hold up under the weight of the non-reveal reveals. And in the end it comes off all too disappointing. So while this is a book with a lot to like about it, it’s not a book I like.

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