Series: Age of X #1
Published by Dutton Books on 4 June 2013
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction
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Gameboard of the Gods is set in a futuristic world, where the countries no longer have the same names, where religion is all but illegal, and where logic is what is deemed the most important. Mae is part of an elite army that is there to protect the citizens of the RUNA (The Republic of United North America) and also to make sure that religious fanatics are dealt with swiftly, before they gain too many followers, or too much power.
Justin has been in exile for three years when Mae is sent with a government agency to bring him back home to continue working as a 'servitor' concerning religious groups. As the two of them work together to solve the mystery surrounding some brutal murders, they learn more about themselves and each other as well.
*I received a free ARC of Gameboard of the Gods from Dutton Adult via Edelweiss in exchange of an honest review*
Gameboard of the Gods is about a world where religion is all but forbidden, after religious extremists almost destroyed all humanity. Mae and Justin need to work together to make sure a religious war won’t happen again. The premise holds so much promise, with a very strong woman, both physically and mentally, different mythologies, a gruesome murder mystery as well as family drama. I went into this story with pretty high expectations – I love the author, usually adore her books, and I really looked forward to reading an adult mystery with lots of mythology.
Sadly, Gameboard of the Gods didn’t really do much for me, and if I had used half-stars on my blog, it would have gotten 2.5 stars, but I rounded it up to three. I never connected with Mae, whom I found to sometimes act like a petulant child with superpowers. Mae ran away from home after her mother informed her that she was marrying her off to one of the neighbors in order to enrich the family. This sounds so feudal in a society that is in a more or less distant future that I had trouble suspending disbelief. Especially because this happened in Sweden, and even today, Scandinavian countries are very good when it comes to equal rights, it would be very strange if that somehow became backwards after religions got banned.
Also, I thought it was very strange that Mae didn’t really think about the fact that she wears a micro-chip. This chip is supposed to give her superior strength, releases different kinds of hormones and endomorphisms (and adrenaline etc – but where does it all come from??) so she doesn’t need sleep, cannot really get drunk, but eats a whole lot. It seems as if Mae only sees the positive she can get from the chip – the strength and not needing sleep – she never thinks about the fact that it may very well be used to track her. And Mae is a smart woman on most accounts, but she has an almost blind belief in her superior.
Another thing I had trouble with is that Mae’s mother – the icy blond, cold Northern woman – has very strong views about racial superiority. It made me very uneasy to read about, and it also made me feel like all blond blue-eyed Scandinavians were part of this almost sect-like society. Where the survival of the genes was definitely a lot more important than the survival of the fittest. And this is really the heart of the plot! What lengths Mae’s mother was willing to go to in order to ensure that at least one of her children would be ‘perfect’. It was chilling to say the least, and in a sad way, it shows that in this society, after banning religion, things are possibly worse than they were before.
At the beginning of Gameboard of the Gods, it was difficult to understand Justin’s role in the plot at all. He was drunk, playing around, and seducing women. Including Mae. Justin also hears voices in his head – but he is not losing his mind. Something happened, and he now has some kind of divine protection and counsel. I don’t know if it is because I love mythology and therefore have already read quite a bit about different old religions, or if it was because the foreshadowing was a little heavy. At the very beginning, when I read what the voices in Justin’s head were, I know which deity was protecting him as well. So missing out on one of the big mysteries did not really help to appreciate the rest.
Another thing that confused me for quite a while was the name of the country Mae worked in – the RUNA – it took quite a while before the anagram was explained, and for that time, I thought it had something to do with runes. Then I thought that would have been a big step backwards, and everything seemed pretty modern. I don’t know why the RUNA wasn’t explained better in the first few pages, because it really was mentioned quite a lot.
Mae and Justin are both in their late twenties, but they felt younger to me. Both with their insecurities and with the way they both thought of themselves as close to invincible made them seem like teenagers more than twenty-somethings. Also, the way Mae acted around her mother made her appear a lot younger, especially because she hadn’t seen her mother in such a long time. Mae is an elite soldier, who actually ran away from her mother because she tried to rule her adult life. But Mae still acts as if she is afraid of her mother, and again, like a petulant child trying to make a point. My favorite character was definitely Tessa, and she was a secondary character – a young adult Justin negociated to bring with him from Panama to the RUNA.
The writing flows very well, and Gameboard of the Gods is easy to navigate, with a pace that always matches the action – and there is a lot of action. I’m sure a lot of readers will totally love this, because the mystery and the action, as well as the way the world has changed is well done. I just got hung up on some things early on, and so I couldn’t get into the story and completely immerse myself in this world.
Towards the end, when the action got really intense, I was able to feel more connected with the characters and the story, and I know I will read the next installment in this series. If you like stories set in a more or less distant future, and you want to read about a character who needs to use both her wit and her physical strength, plus a murder mystery that’s different from most others, you should definitely pick up Gameboard of the Gods.
But today? There was no walking away. Today, she was walking toward death, and that scared the hell out of her. Not much else did these days.
Mae’s life was focused on being the master of her body, and the idea of something else taking control shattered everything she fought for. It had to be some trick of her mind… because what else could it be?
“Do you know the Gemman charter?” No, of course she didn’t. “Belief in fictitious entities is a threat to the fabric of society and must be assessed and regulated for the well-being of all citizens.”
She didn’t entirely understand the intricacies of Panamanian gender roles, though she knew they were tied to class.
Each person belonged to a different caste: Erinian, Lakota, Nordic, Welsh, and Nipponese.
“Still sounds like tracking to me. No one can go anywhere unnoticed.” At least ruminating over conspiracy theories distracted Tessa from the tightly packed subway tunnel.
Mae wanted to think she’d transcended her Nordic upbringing, but she knew she hadn’t entirely shaken that sense of superiority her family had instilled.