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
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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.
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).
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.
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.