Gameboard of the Gods, by Richelle Mead

To do her justice, Richelle Mead is not lazy. Her Vampire Academy series is successful enough that many authors would have settled for simply producing more of the same, but she has chosen instead to return to her adult paranormal-fiction roots, creating the sci-fi/fantasy series Age of X.

The first book in the Age of X series is Gameboard of the Gods, which introduces us to the Republic of United North America, the most stable country left on Earth after a deadly virus killed half the population. Mead's protagonists are Mae Koskinen, a member of RUNA's biologically enhanced Praetorian Guard, and former servitor Justin March, who was exiled after being a little too honest during his job as an investigator of religious groups, which are strictly limited under the Republic's laws. Justin is allowed to return to RUNA (with Mae as his bodyguard), but on one condition: he's expected to solve—and debunk—a series of murders that seem to involve supernatural phenomena.

I have two suggestions for readers of Gameboard of the Gods:
1. Read the index at the end of the book first. Mead has created a big, messy world, and trying to figure out her many acronyms and cultural references is time-consuming and irritating. If you don't recognize something, look it up—the index is full of clear, concise explanations of vital background information, and nobody's handing out prizes to the reader who spent forever trying to figure all that stuff out from context clues.

2. Brace yourself for a deeply unpleasant main character. Justin sucks. He's arrogant, selfish, and manipulative. (Not to mention there's a super-creepy line about one of his former sexual partners at the beginning of the story: “...she wasn't that unwilling.” Does that mean she was kind of unwilling? And it's pretty disturbing that everyone keeps asking if he's sleeping with his 16-year-old ward.) We're clearly supposed to overlook Justin's many downsides because of his much-vaunted charisma and brilliance, but we never actually see any evidence of those, so I spent most of the book wishing someone would push him down a well.
Look, Gameboard of the Gods isn't great, but it's admirably ambitious and—once I accepted that Justin's brutal comeuppance was not going to be a major plot point—reasonably entertaining. It covers some of the same ground as Neil Gaiman's American Gods, albeit in a far, far less thoughtful and challenging way, and I liked both the author's elaborate world-building efforts and all of the non-Justin characters. Unfortunately, the second book in this series (The Immortal Crown; released last May) is only available in hardcover, so I'll be checking it out from my local library. This book was fun, but not, y'know, hardcover fun.
Posted by: Julianka


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