Author: Richelle Mead
Series: Age of X, #1
Release date: June 4h 2013
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Hardcover, 464 pages
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: The Book Depository
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 X series, 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’ll start with this: Gameboard of the Gods is a definite step up for Richelle Mead. It is her most ambitious project in terms of worldbuilding and structure, though perhaps not the plot.
Mead’s futuristic world is divided between two great forces: RUNA (Republic of the United North America) and EA (Eastern Alliance). Everything else are the provinces, barbaric in comparison, technologically and culturally inferior. Mead envisioned a world in which religion is considered to be a true danger for the society. It is tightly controlled by people called the servitors, one of them our Dr. Justin March. The RUNA is a glorious country, a place where people can feel safe and protected, guarded by a powerful military force. It is not a dystopian setting; if anything, it’s closer to utopia, based on the Greco-Roman social structure.
The RUNA held three things responsible for the Decline: biological manipulation, religion, and cultural separatism. All of the early genetic mixing had gone a long way to stamp out group solidarity, and the loose Greco-Roman models the country had adopted provided a new, all-encompassing culture that everyone could be a part of.
The worldbuilding is of the sink-or-swim variety, fascinating and in many ways almost visionary, but a bit overwhelming at times. Mead is an expert at showing rather than telling, but perhaps she took it too far at times. Her world doesn’t lack structure; the lines are very clear and there’s an abundance of details, but some (admittedly smaller) parts I simply failed to understand.
I mentioned at the beginning that there were some minor problems with the plot. A murder investigation is at the center of the plot, but it takes a back seat to character development and the paranormal element. The murder mystery itself is painfully neglected throughout the novel, serving mostly as a reason for the two main characters to work together.
The paranormal element is very present – this is Richelle Mead we’re talking about, but it’s always hidden beneath the surface, dampened somehow and rarely talked about. The RUNA is not a great place to discuss such matters, but both Justin and Mae, our two protagonists, are undeniably tied to something otherworldly.
Aside from being brilliant, Dr. Justin March drinks a lot, takes all the drugs he can get his hands on, sleeps with a different woman every night, and is generally a poor (albeit handsome and charming) excuse for a human being. Mae Koskien is no prize either. A genetically altered elite soldier, a castal girl of pure Nordic descent, desperately afraid of any kind of commitment, haughty and often overcome by a darkness that brings out her violent side. The two have nothing in common, except for the loneliness their superiority brings with it.
The two start by sleeping together under wrong assumptions and their relationship goes downhill from there. They are forced to work together on a string of cult-related murders, Justin as a brilliant investigator returned from exile for that very purpose, and Mae as his unstoppable bodyguard. If you expect a breathtaking romance from Justin and Mae, you might end up disappointed. There is a lot of delicious sexual tension between them, but the night of their first encounter is always a looming obstacle. Besides, being with Mae means a life-long servitude to an unknown god for Justin, and he is not one for blind obedience to anyone, not even a deity.
Mead could never be accused of lack of imagination, but with Gameboard of the Gods, she outdid herself in more ways than one, and for the most part, she held a tight control over all the bits and pieces. It was only at moments that the worldbuilding became too big for her and confusing for the reader. There is nothing more important to me than character development, and Mead’s thorough approach to it left me in awe. While Gameboard of the Gods could prove to be a bit challenging for less patient readers, it was a great read according to my taste and a promising start to an exciting new series.