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Review: Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead (Age of X #1)

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Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead (Age of X #1) // VBC ReviewGameboard of the Gods (Age of X #1)
Richelle Mead
Published: June 4, 2013 (Dutton)
Purchase at: Book Depository or Amazon
Review Source: Publisher provided copy in exchange for honest review

Reviewed by: Chelsea

Rating (out of 5): 2 stars

Richelle Mead’s new adult series Age of X had significant potential, but unfortunately Gameboard of the Gods tries to do too much and the reader connection is lost along the way.

Gameboard features a future version of our current world, one where a government is focused on genetic perfection and regulates procreation to that end. Tied in with their control over having kids is their anti-religion policies. They allow some religions to exist with permits, though require their believers to say they worship a “fictitious entity.” It was never clear to me why some religions were allowed and others weren’t, but the existence of the supernatural and ancient gods (think Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian mythology) is core to what is happening in the book. Outside of the government-run area, in the provinces (part of the novel is set in Panama) people are free to worship their gods, have babies without authoritarian say so, but they also have guns and drugs and the like. It took me a good portion of the book to sort out what exactly the rules were and how that effected everything else. The idea is clever, but there is so much to cover that the first half of the novel gets bogged down in the interplay of government vs. provincial life.

Part of the disconnect for me was the multiple viewpoints in Gameboard. Readers get to be inside the heads of three characters, and I only ever felt connected with one. First we have Mae, who is by far the most fleshed out of the three characters and the one that I was able to make an emotional investment with. She’s a military warrior and general badass. She’s assigned to help Dr. Justin March investigate a series of murders. Okay, she’s there mostly to protect him while he investigates. She has trouble expressing her emotions, had a dark past and a whole lot of confusion about her feelings regarding Justin.

Justin is kind of a dick, if we’re being honest here. He was kicked out of the country and now is invited back to help solve these murders. If he succeeds, he may get to stay. He’s excellent at reading people and incredibly cocky about it. He has ties to the supernatural that make him a bit crazy. He’s got substance abuse issues and a penchant for gambling. At times he’s incredibly sincere, others you want to smash a bottle on his head. Generally both those things happen when he’s around Mae.

The third POV comes from a sixteen-year-old girl named Tessa. She’s from Panama and Justin brings her back to his home country to give her a better life and education. Tessa acts as our eyes for how weird everything is in this new world. The clothes, the technology, the travel—all of it fascinates and bothers her, not always in equal measure. Her presence softens Justin’s persona for us and helps make him more likeable. (I didn’t dislike Justin, but I never felt connected with him.)

The last quarter of the book really picked up the pace and as the mystery was solved I found myself engaged, however it took me hundreds of pages before I felt that way. Mead’s prose is top-notch as usual. However, between the disconnected POV and too much world building, too fast, I couldn’t get into Gameboard of the Gods the way I’d hoped to.

Sexual content: Sex

12 Responses to “Review: Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead (Age of X #1)”

  1. Alison says:

    Wow – I don’t think I’ve seen a 2* review on here before (not saying there hasn’t been one).

    I must admit I am a big fan of Ms Mead but this one holds no appeal for me and I’m not sure why – your review has convinced me to hold off, maybe until the second book is published.

    • Two-star reviews are rare, but we have them. You don’t see them from me often, because I don’t do DNF reviews and most books that are two-star worthy are ones I don’t finish.

      However, I’m a huge fan of all of Mead’s other work. So, I kept moving forward in this one in the hopes it would get better. It did, but not enough to save it.

  2. Angela says:

    I agree with Alison and will sit this one out until the next one comes out. I love Mead but I already wasn’t too keen on this one after I read the synopsis.

  3. Colleen says:

    I have never read anything by Ms. Mead before and just finished this.. I never liked Justin and thought Mae had more potential then was shown. The world building was disjointed and the entire book felt like it was heading for the sequel instead of trying to wrap up most of the big story lines. That said, I think this book was not all that bad and I would have given it a 3. I may read the next one but I didn’t put it on my TBR pile.

    • I absolutely love Mead’s other works—both adult and YA. Her Vampire Academy series is one of my all-time favorites and I consider the ending to her Georgina Kincaid series to be the most satisfying I’ve read. I really wanted to like this book. REALLY! But it just didn’t work for me.

  4. Amy M says:

    I liked the book, but I too was overwhelmed by all the world building and new terminology. It was, at times, too much to keep track of all the rules and regulations. I’m really hoping that since all this has been built up in this book, the next one will be better. You are right it does pick up towards the end which makes me want to see where the story goes.

  5. Amanda says:

    I actually liked Justin more than Mae, but what kept me turning the pages on this was the mystery. I’ll read the next one because, as you said, the last quarter or so of the book was good, but it’ll be a library book for me.

  6. FionaL says:

    Interesting. I like Richelle’s books, but wasn’t convinced I’d like this new series. I loved it. Yes, a lot of world building in the first half and it did take me a while to figure out what the terminology was but I felt more connected with the characters than in her Dark Swan first book, and in fact prefer it to that book. I think I liked Justin more than Mae too, we didn’t actually get to see how she thought much, it was too focused on her physicality’s. And now the world building is out of the way I can picture the next book getting into the mysteries and actions a lot faster, so I’m definitely putting it on my to read list.

  7. Joanna says:

    Strange, I devoured it in less than a week. It reminded me of a futuristic Sherlock Holmes story but instead of Holmes & Watson, you got Justin & Mae. I loved it and can’t wait for the next one.

  8. Kalynn says:

    Interesting. I mostly adored this book, but I see where your review is coming from. I thought the world building was awesome, and I liked the two main characters though Justin is very, very flawed. I agree that Meade could have ditched Tessa’s POV though.

    My main quibble was the fact that the genius religious scholar missed identifying two completely obvious gods. I am not a mythological scholar, but the neon signs pointing to the identities of the two mystery gods made it implausible, to the say the least, for a pro like Justin to be so much at a loss.

    Still, the book came close to being a keeper for me. It’s a departure for the author, but I really connected with this blend of sci-fi and urban fantasy.

    • Really good point, Kalynn. I’m a big fan of Mead’s other work, and I’m curious to see if now that most of the world building is out of the way she can focus more on the characters. For me, everything else got in the way of me connecting with Justin and Mae. (Or Tessa, but I don’t think I was ever meant to really connect with her.)

  9. Em says:

    I read this book a few months ago and loved it! I was surprised that so many thought less of it. I concede that there was a lot going on but for me it didn´t distract from the joy of reading it. I personally can´t wait to read the next one.

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