Gameboard of the Gods (Age of X #1)
Summary: 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.
Gameboard of the Gods, the first installment of Richelle Mead’s Age of X series, will have all the elements that have made her YA Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series such megasuccesses: sexy, irresistible characters; romantic and mythological intrigue; and relentless action and suspense.
Source: I received a digital copy from NetGalley
Gameboard of the Gods was a unique and futuristic story that was bound to be awesome. I have read and enjoyed Mead’s YA series, Vampire Academy, so I had high hopes for Gameboard of the Gods. I waited until I was absolutely in the mood for a futuristic type of setting to read it.
This was the third first book/beginning to a series from the author I’ve read. And I’ve noticed something. I don’t think the author knows how to begin a novel and build the world in the way that most first books and beginnings do. Instead, every time I pick up a first book of hers, I have to look to make sure it is the first book and not a later installment. There’s never any beginning and I’m always thrown right into a story and I feel like I’m supposed to know the characters already. It drives me crazy and it takes me at least the first quarter of any of her novels to have any idea what is going on. Gameboard of the Gods was the same way. I learned more from the synopsis than I did from the actual novel about how the world was set up. There is literally no beginning at all. Justin has full on conversations with named characters who aren’t in the same room and it isn’t until much later that it’s even revealed that the two characters are ravens inside of his head. Could the author have at least.. explained that?
I managed to keep my head up through the “beginning” and slowly figure out who the characters were, what their issues were, and what type of setting I was in. Mae was a soldier for the new world who ended up guarding a man named Justin March, who was exiled from society and offered a chance to come back, provided he solve a murder. His job was to explore religious and supernatural claims and report to the government to assess the threat whatever cult or group was to society. The setting was something completely alien to the world we live in now due to a collapse caused by religious extremism. The new world was atheistic and the citizens were mainly loyal to one cause: the country. Regions outside of the RUNA were savage and full of mysticism, but inside the RUNA, things were very orderly.
Despite the fact that religion and antireligion were essential to the setting, the novel didn’t really explore any sort of effects or philosophical aspects of the new world. It wasn’t a cautionary tale about belief or even a dystopia in which a government oppresses the masses. Even though the right factors were in place to create that kind of story, it didn’t go in that direction at all. Instead, the supernatural elements manifested in the form of minor gods and goddesses. Ravens followed Justin March while he actively resisted the claim of a god on his soul. Cults aligned with Greek, Roman, Celtic, and even Nordic figures. The religious elements of the story were mythological in nature.
I liked where the plot went with the mythological elements and the idea that minor gods and goddesses were vying for humans in the same way that humans were (and perhaps still are) enamored by the concept of otherworldliness. I definitely grasped the concept of the RUNA doing away with religion (and replacing it with the society as a whole, since that’s certainly beneficial to their own means). What I didn’t grasp was the racial purity vs equality issue. If cultural separatism and religious fundamentalism caused the problems that lead to the new society, I did not understand why there was so much separatism still in the world. Outside the RUNA, inhabitants were classed a certain way. The soldiers were separated from the normal world. Each person’s heritage was emphasized on just about every page. Some people were even motivated to mess with genetics in order to produce a perfect child who was genetically pure. Somehow, that doesn’t mesh with a society that has came about to do away with separatism. I hope the disconnect is explored later and it doesn’t turn out that the story makes absolutely no sense.
Like Mead’s other novels, despite having a pretty cool premise, much of the story is focused on interactions between characters. Mae is a bit like Rose in that she is fierce, kick ass, and in charge of guarding someone, but a lot less… shallow and immature. Justin was an arrogant and charming man who had the ability to read people and sniff out lies. Both of them infuriated each other on a regular basis, mainly because of their own chemistry. And both had interesting backstories that came together in the book and became essential to the plot.
I enjoyed Gameboard of the Gods, but it was not as spectacular as I’d hoped. I will continue the series and see what happens next, especially now that I’ve got my bearings. I know the Vampire Academy series frustrated me with the first book and once I was comfortable with the setting and characters, it was much easier to enjoy the series. I just wish the beginnings were better.