Review: Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

Posted April 16, 2014 by Jessica in Jessica, Reviews, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy / 94 Comments

Review: Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead
Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead
Series: Age of X #1
Published by Dutton Adult
Published on: June 4 2013
Genres: Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 472
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Amazon | Book Depo | Chapters | Kobo | GoodReads

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 Xseries, 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.

Kick-AssHeroineReview IconBadBoysmartandfunny

I love Richelle Mead. Everything that I’ve read of hers–Georgina Kincaid, Dark Swan, even Vampire Academy (though I still haven’t read the last book of that series)—I’ve, at a minimum, REALLY liked. But for some reason, I held out on reading this new series until now. The initial reviews were kind of MEH, and I’ve gotten leery of Mythology-based UF (fad = crap).

Silly me.

Gameboard of the Gods is one of those genre-crossing books that often turn into my favorites. It’s part SciFi, part UF, and finally, FINALLY someone has done the whole “gods” (Norse and otherwise), and done it well. In the adult genres, I mean. It seems like the combination of Rick Riordan’s immensely popular Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series and the box office explosions of Thor and The Avengers are responsible for the mass influx of mythology-based YA (as with dystopians, some good, some bad), but not as much in books for adults.

Not that I’ve seen anyway.

I’m admittedly less familiar with the Norse pantheon than I am the Greek and Egyptian pantheons, but so far, I’m liking it. And Mead does more than just create a future, post-apocalyptic world that is beginning to see the influence of the various and myriad gods for the first time since religion was essentially outlawed in the aftermath of the apocalypse. With an often quiet and sly humor, she has satirized MANY of the hypocrisies, contradictions, and over-zealous practices that are wide-spread among the various and myriad forms of organized religion, no matter what form they take.


I’ve seen a lot of complaints about the world-building in this book, and while I can understand and sympathize with a lot of the issues other readers have had, they weren’t problems for me.

RUNA is mentioned numerous times before you’re given an explanation of what it actually is (Republic of United North America), but things like that, I just roll with. If I’m being completely honest, I infinitely prefer for information to be doled out sparingly than to be bombarded with the almost universally reviled, but accepted “info-dump” that is a necessary evil in most first-in-series books.

But maybe that’s just me . . .

So. RUNA is what rose from the ashes of a chemical warfare-reduced world—religious zealots unleashed a disease that took out half the world’s population. In the aftermath, RUNA meticulously guarded its borders, deemed “belief in fictitious entities” as dangerous and in need of government regulation, and implemented a forced relocation of its citizens based on the optimal genetic reproductivity for compulsorily breeding a resistance to the disease.

As a result (or perhaps in spite of) these measures, RUNA became the new world power.

The characters:

Lots of times in series, you will see initially unrequited love. A typical manifestation of this occurs between partners, often with the lovelorn female MC pining for the womanizing male MC, whom she is perfect for, if he would only realize it . . .

I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

This scenario is painfully drawn out over several installments, and the readers wring their hands in frustration and agony every time Womanizer makes eyes at the cute bartender or assistant, and slips away with her, leaving Lovelorn alone AGAIN.

So it’s really fun to see Womanizer (Justin) pining away after Lovelorn (Mae), but using his womanizing ways to keep her at arm’s distance.

Well . . . maybe not fun, but it’s definitely new and entertaining.

Romantic drama aside, Justin and Mae are immensely likable characters. Justin is an extremely intelligent and observant detective/profiler à la The Mentalist‘s Patrick Jane whose mischievousness isn’t dampened by the loss of his family. But the absence of tragedy doesn’t make Justin a less sympathetic character—he has plenty of problems uniquely his own. And Mae (LAWD, I love Mae) is so strong, and so beautifully damaged.  I want to give her a hug, and maybe sing “Hang on Little Tomato” while widening my eyes meaningfully at her.

So yes, I really liked it.

Gameboard of the Gods is the highly entertaining beginning of Richelle Mead’s Age of X series that exceeds the high expectations I’ve developed for her writing. It combines a unique and utterly believable world destroyed by zealots and the resulting anti-religious government with likable and interesting characters that will have you alternately laughing out loud and cringing in sympathy. There are performance-enhanced soldiers, blue blood scandals, and a new world government hellbent on maintaining the status quo . . . and we all know how well that usually turns out (it doesn’t).

I recommend this to anyone interested in mythology-based and futuristic Urban Fantasy, and especially to anyone raised in or around strict or stifling religion (ANY religion)—you in particular will appreciate some of the hilariously represented universal truths.

Jessica Signature

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

My name is Jessica and I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I’m trying my hand at writing, but mostly I read. My favorite genres are Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, and the YA versions of those genres, but if there is a book of a different color getting lots of buzz, I’ll read it too, just to be informed. If I’m not reading or writing, I’m probably on Goodreads or Pinterest or baking blueberry pies because I love them.


Tags: , , , , ,

94 responses to “Review: Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

  1. Oh man. No one told me this was a satirical look at the nature of religion and people’s beliefs. I just say ‘author of vampire academy’ and decided that this was not a book made for the likes of me.

    Looks fun.

  2. It’s just such an unusual story and, yeah, I needed a bit more worldbuilding but I really enjoyed it as a whole! I’ve got the second one on my Kindle and am looking forward to seeing where it all goes. Especially the romance!

  3. “A typical manifestation of this occurs between partners, often with the lovelorn female MC pining for the womanizing male MC, whom she is perfect for, if he would only realize it . . .

    I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.”

    And I just died. That might be my favorite line in a review EVER:) I often throw up in my mouth a little bit whenever I come across that scenario as well, and I couldn’t be more excited that it’s not the case here. I like that he’s the one doing the pining, though it’s likely his use of his womanizing ways to keep her at a distance will give me an ulcer from all the stress:) So glad you enjoyed this one Jessica!

    • *blushes*

      Thanks, Jenny! And I won’t lie—it is VERY stressful. If you wanna wait until all of the drama is resolved . . . well, not ALL of the drama, but you know what I mean, I’ll be sure to give you a heads-up when that happens. I’m already completely sucked in, so there’s no saving me 😉

  4. Ooooh, Jess! I’m so glad you enjoyed. Haha. Same. At a minimum, I’ve really liked them all. I mean, this book is really different from the usual RM so I think that it’s harder to appeal to everyone with this series than with the rest of her stories. Still, just as you, I loved this one. I know a thing or two about Norse mythology thanks to being (almost) Skandinavian 😀 I didn’t have any problems with world building either and if someone tells me that THIS is info-dump, I’m gonna have to ask them to read The Bone Season and see what real info-dumping means >.< Anyhow, I really enjoyed Mae and Justin as well. Perhaps I wasn’t as connected to every character thanks to the 3 POVs in third person narrative, but I did enjoy them all. Can’t wait to see what we both think of the sequel 🙂

    • Oh, yay! I’m glad you liked this too, Siiri. And I know what you mean about not being connected to every character. I loved Tessa . . . or the idea of Tessa, but she wasn’t fleshed-out enough for me to connect to her the same way I did Mae and Justin. Hopefully that’ll change in the future. And I just finished book 2 last night! So many things!!

  5. Brilliant review and I agree with all your points! I am really excited for Immortal Crown and hope to get my hands on it soon… Mae was definitely kick-butt cool. I think it could be a Richelle thing that the attraction between the 2 isn’t resolved as such – leaving it to be continued in the follow up books like with VA.. but that is ok I still enjoyed the story line as a whole.

    Great post Jessica 🙂

    Chanzie @ Mean Who You Are.

    • Yeah, I don’t mind when it takes a few books for MCs to get their act together either. I just hope they DO! GAH. Mead has a bad habit of leaving things unresolved until the VERY end though . . .

      Thanks, Chanzie!

  6. You have me intrigued. Verrrrrrry intrigued. I actually kind of like worlds where you’re thrown directly into the world and you have to work out its details for yourself. It adds another layer of mystery to the story.

    • Me too. I can push aside quite a bit of confusion, and would prefer to, if the alternative is getting bashed in the head with background info. If it’s not imperative that I know it, it can wait (IMO).

  7. I have held off on this one as well Jessica because of some of the less than stellar reviews I have seen for it. I am so happy to hear that you loved this one. I have loved all her books as well so I was surprised so many people didn’t like this.

    • I honestly think that a lot of that is A. this IS very different from anything she’s written before, and B. It’s very subtle.

      I don’t think you have to have religion somewhere in your background to like this book, but if you haven’t, I think a lot of the quiet cleverness (in reference to beliefs and subculture) will go right over your head, and I can see how if I wasn’t chortling with glee at her astute observations every few pages, I would be bored. I think this would also work really well for someone with a profound LACK of spiritual belief in their background—someone vehemently opposed to organized religion.

  8. I totally agree with you about worldbuilding. I don’t like to be overwhelmed with info all at once – I much prefer to learn about the world as I read. Otherwise I get bored! 🙂 I’m finally getting around to reading this one now since they second book is coming out.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    • Oh, Richelle Mead is fabulous! She’s one of those rare writers who can pull off both adult fiction, AND YA really well. She’s got a bunch of series you could try, if you’re interested. And BONUS–most of them are finished, so no waiting to find out what happens next 😉

  9. I’ve put off reading this because the initial reviews say it is dull. I’m glad to hear it isn’t. I loved her VA series. I haven’t read Bloodlines yet though I’ve started collecting the books.

    • LOL! I’ve got all the Bloodlines books too, but have yet to get started on them 😉 And no, I don’t think this is even remotely dull. The female MC is a tech-enhanced super solider!

  10. This was one I set aside and didn’t pick back up. I am thinking of trying it in audio because I think by what you say, I would really like the story. I trust Richelle Mead to finish the world building if it wasn’t quite done in book 1 🙂

    • Me too. I’ve read enough Mead to trust her and just roll with it. It also helps that I really appreciate sarcasm as humor. In the very beginning, when Justin is still in Panama, in that bar, telling his woebegone story to that odious women . . . with the bride on the white horse, and the children’s choir, etc . . . I read it out loud to my husband, and neither of us could breathe, we were laughing so hard. So yeah, I didn’t think it was boring at all 😉

  11. I was initially so excited to read this (I have it on my shelf) but, with the reviews being mixed, I set it aside. Now, I’m definitely intrigued. I love the sound of the Norse mythology mixed with Science fiction. *Running to bookshelf* Thanks for re-inspiring me to pick this one back up, Jessica 🙂

    • You are so welcome! I hope you do read it soon. I had put it aside too, but then one of my friends got book 2 on NetGalley, and she loved it. I kept seeing her status updates on Goodreads, and that was my re-inspiration 🙂

  12. I have heard of her wildly popular Vampire Academy series but THIS is a totally new discovery for me. I love UFs with mythology angles! And one that does it right? It’s going on my list for sure. See, I knew you’d be getting back at my TBR sooner or later 😉

    • Yeah, Mead definitely has WAY more to offer than VA. She has another really good, finished adult UF series that’s Fae-based called Dark Swan. It’s one of my favorites in the genre. And I’m glad I get to turn the tables on you a bit, LOL. It’s perfect timing too, b/c book 2 comes out in like 6 weeks (and is also on Netgalley even as we speak . . .).

  13. bookwormbrandee  

    Fabulous, fabulous review, Jessica!! I haven’t read this one yet due to the mixed reviews it’s received. Now I’m thinking I’ve been being silly because I, too, really like everything Richelle’s ever written and I’ve read everything…with this exception of this one. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

  14. bookaholiccat  

    I couldn’t agree more with your review, this book is made of awesome.
    I read it for review before release day and loved it. I was surprised by the amount of people who didn’t like it.

    • Yeah, I don’t understand the dislike either. The only thing I can figure is that this is the first series she’s started since VA and Bloodlines got so popular, and there could’ve been a lot of carry-over. But I think that people who have read Mead’s other adult series would have better luck with Age of X.

  15. I have book two coming up soon and it has been a year since I read this. I recall that it was a bit of a slow start and it took awhile for me to get into it, but once it got going it got really good and think she has set it up well for the next book. I have my fingers crossed. I agree, I do like the different relationship between Mae and Justin.

  16. Sounds wonderful. I haven’t read anything by Richelle Mead, but I’ve seen a lot of bloggers/friends read and talk about them, maybe I should give it a try finally. It sounds very interesting – I like the mythology angle.

  17. I thoroughly enjoy cross-genre books too, especially when it’s a combination of all my favorites, and done as well as this one is. I was a fan of Mead’s even before this book, but in my opinion, she showed a whole new level of maturity with this series. Everything about it worked for me, and I’m so glad to see it did for you too.
    Lovely review!

  18. I liked this one too, but I got a bit frustrated with it at times. I did enjoy the take on the world though and I do want to read the next book in this series.

    • Oh, I’m glad you liked it! I was frustrated a time or two myself, and to be completely honest, book 2 was equally frustrating (I just finished it last night). BUT I still loved it.

  19. Can you believe I haven’t read anything by Mead yet? Yeah, I suck. I’m definitely interested in this book, but I kind of want to start with her adult books first. Wonderful review, Jessica!

  20. Okay, I saw in the comments that you had just finished book 2 and I about had a heart attack…did I miss #2 come out? I had to jump over to Goodreads and *whew* no…it’s not out yet (you lucky girl…you got an ARC didn’t you?) LOL!

    So that crisis resolved. I liked Gameboard of the Gods. I thought it was really well written and even though there was A LOT of world-building it’s book 1, we need it. I think it’s a great setup for the world and future books. Great review Jessica!

  21. I really like Richelle Mead’s books and you have already convinced me that I need to read this series. You are the ruler of peer pressure. Wonderful review as usual and next time I’m feeling down I expect a virtual hug, and a video of you singing “Hang on Little Tomato” while widening your eyes meaningfully at me.

    • LOL. It depends on what you’d be most interested in.

      Her adult series are pretty smexy (except this one, it’s not very smexy yet). Georgina Kincaid is about a succubus who works in a bookstore (yes, really 😉 ), and the MC is more of a using her feminine wiles in the face of adversity-type. Dark Swan is about a ghostbuster-for-fae-instead-of-ghosts, who is seriously kick-ass, and has to learn that things aren’t as black and white as she’s always believed. One of the male MCs in these books is on my Top 5 Book Boyfriends list.

      Or, if you’re feeling more like YA, you could try Vampire Academy. It’s been years since I read those books, and overall I remember liking them, but I think they grew on me as the series progressed, so if you went that route, you might want to prepare yourself to slog through the first one (or two?). BUT they’re YA and easy to read, so it wouldn’t take much effort. I’m not positive, but I think you need to read VA before starting Bloodlines<——spin off.

  22. I agree – sometimes the slow doling out of information is much preferred to info dumping. I also don’t always like the whole fads that sometimes hit the genres in droves. Mythology is still very meh for me overall on most I’ve tried.

    • Me too, for sure. But I think that Mead has an edge on the bandwagon types b/c her father was a religious studies professor, so she REALLY knows her stuff (as opposed to the authors I’m convinced did all of their research on wikipedia).

    • YES!! I’d been planning on getting the paperback when it came out, but then you were all, “LOKI LOKI LOKI.” on your status updates for The Immortal Crown, so when TIC showed up on NetGalley, I nabbed it.

      And I know . . . book 3 is looking REALLY far away right now . . .

    • We like a LOT of the same books, so holding true to that principle, I’d recommend you start with her Dark Swan series. Eugenie (MC) is a seriously kick-ass heroine, and the Fae world-building in those books is FABULOUS. It’s also smexy as hell 😉

  23. I’m glad you enjoyed this so much, Jessica. I’m a huge fan of RM as well, and usually, I love every single thing she writes. I am one of those people who weren’t all that happy with Gameboard of the Gods, though. I think it’s partly because I am very familiar with Norse mythology, and I guessed at the very beginning who the God messing with Mia was. I actually didn’t have a lot of trouble with the world-building, but I didn’t understand the backwards thinking of Mia’s mother – the Scandinavian countries are among the first in the world to give women equal rights, but that was not at all the case in GotG, and I couldn’t not be upset by that.
    I am still really looking forward to The Immortal Crown, though, and I hope with my expectations a little lower I might actually enjoy it more.
    Great review, my dear!

    • I think I have the same problem you had here with all the Greek mythology-based books that are on the market right now. I was fascinated with the subject at a very early age (I’m thinking 11 or 12), and had read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology several times by the time I was in high school. So I can understand where you’re coming from there. The same thing goes for the misrepresentation of Scandinavian women. That actually happened to me in The Immortal Crown with the southeastern US. In my head, I knew that it was a fictional accounting of the culture that was supposed to wholly unrelated to reality, but I’m too biased on the subject to actually accomplish that kind of separation, you know?

      I don’t think you’ll have that problem with book 2 b/c Mae’s family plays a very small role (and when they do show up, I think it’s just a mention, and not a real interaction).

      Thanks, Lexxie!

      • Yeah, even knowing it’s supposed to be only fictional, it’s very hard sometimes to be able to completely suspend the disbelief and not rely on my real life knowledge.
        I love Greek mythology, too, but I think we started with the Norse in school, since I’m Norwegian, we talked about our own old beliefs before we went on to others.
        It’s good to know Mae’s family won’t be around very much in the 2nd book, I should be able to enjoy her and Justin much more that way 🙂

  24. I don’t read a lot of adult books, but this one has been on my TBR for quite a while. I want to read soon, and I think I can get it from my library too. 🙂 The world building sounds amazing, and I like the sounds of the characters too. Great review!!

  25. Ah Richelle Mead. I have a strange relationship with her. I love all the first books in the series and I have a problem after that. In Dark Swan I haven’t read book 3 because the heroine was annoying me, like in the succubus one (but I read all the books here). It’s just they always manage to do something to upset me. But well I’m glad you liked this one because I really had a great time with it as well. The world was so interesting! And I’m curious to read book 2, but I have it so I’ll see it soon.

    • That’s so funny that you said that b/c I have the same problem (only to a lesser degree, I think). As much as I like Richelle Mead, there is always something that keeps me from LOVING her. I included a section about that in a review that I just finished. I do really enjoy this world though, and I hope that you like book 2!

  26. I got this book when it first came out and I started it but it was so huge and I had review books I HAD to get read so I never did finish. I barely even got started. I liked what I read though and I really need to get back to it! So glad you enjoyed it!

  27. I love, love, LOVE her Bloodlines series, so I’m excited for this one, despite the mediocre covers. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the world-building, and I’m very happy to hear the characters are well-done. I need that in my fiction! Great review, Jessica 🙂

    • Thanks! And yeah, the covers are kind of lame for this series, but I think book 2 is an improvement. I hope you decide to branch-out with Mead eventually—so far, I like everything she’s done 😉

    I’ve been wanting to read this for a while but like you am extremely guilty of putting it off 😛 I love me myth but am somewhat scared that I’ll be disappointed.

    But hey, FAYE LIKED IT.. and SO DID YOU… I really don’t have an excuse anymore do I?


    Lovely review, Jessica!! <3

  29. Yeah! So glad you enjoyed it. I actually avoided reading it for a while because I didn’t enjoy the succubus books and VA was a bit drawn out for me. This is probably my favorite series by Mead. You’re right, she does such a great job with religion and the characters – makes me so excited! The only thing is that I was sooo embarrassed I didn’t get which god was Justin’s because I do know about that mythology.

    • Nah. Don’t be embarrassed, LOL. I didn’t know either until I started plugging “ravens” and “Norse mythology” into Google. BUT I did guess who the Big Bad was (b/c she’s OFTEN the Big Bad, and I hate her). Glad you liked it too! And you should try Mead’s other adult UF series Dark Swan—WAY better than Georgina Kincaid (IMO).

  30. I still feel MEH when it comes to this series and that’s about to change. I felt like Richelle gave her best with VA as far as I am concerned but then I think I might get back to her stories with this one. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Great review, Jessica 🙂

    • Thanks, Tanja! I hope you like it. It’s very different even from her other adult series, so if you tried those and weren’t impressed, I’d say you still have a shot with this one 🙂

  31. That type of romance does sound pretty entertaining for a change 😉 Then again, I’m not too picky on romance as long as it’s not insta-love. Norse mythology is somewhat familiar to me but it’s great to know that one can still enjoy the book not being an expert or anything. Richelle Mead is a favorite author of mine too!

  32. I didn’t ‘love’ this as much as her other series, it was certainly ambitious – unfortunately I wasn’t fully invested in the MCs, I’m still keen to read the sequel though so I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    A wonderful review Jessica.

    • Yeah this book definitely isn’t for everyone. I didn’t have as strong of a connection to the characters as I would have liked, but I did at least feel something for Mae and Justin. I’m really hoping that Mead continues to flesh out Tessa b/c I think she’s got the potential to be a great character. We’ll see, I guess 🙂 And thanks, Sharon!

  33. Michele

    I’m so glad you liked this one, Jessica! I’ve heard such great things about this author, and your review has me excited to give this book in particular a try. I love a book with likable main characters, and Justin and Mae sound like quite the pair!