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