Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Book Review: Gameboard of the Gods by Rachel Mead

Pros: fascinating characters, interesting world, exciting climax

Cons: pacing, gods don't make much of an appearance

RUNA - the Republic of United North America - was founded after the Decline, a period in which thousands died, and which people believe was caused by three things: disease, religion and cultural separation.  Servitors are tasked with making sure their remaining religions are not a danger to society.  When servitor Justin March is brought back from his exile in Panama to take on a murder investigation with unexplainable evidence, he knows it has something to do with his own inexplicable experiences in the past.  One of which left him with two ravens in his head, and an unknown god asking for his devotion.  He's got less than a month to solve the case before another person is murdered and he and his ward are deported.

For a bodyguard he's given Mae Koskinen, a member of the praetorian guard, elite soldiers with implants that provide faster reflexes and greater strength.  A member of the upper class, which was allowed to avoid the gene mixing forced on others after the Decline, Mae has surprisingly perfect genes.  While finding each other attractive, a misunderstanding upon meeting creates tension between them, even as Mae attracts gods looking for perfect followers.

The novel jumps between three viewpoints, those of Justin, Mae and Teresa, Justin's ward from Panama, whom he's hoping to give a better life.  Teresa, as a fish out of water, is the reader's introduction to the politics and history of this new world.  The author builds things slowly, making you piece together what's happened.  Only through Teresa do you get any concentrated information.  There are no info dumps.  You have to pay close attention to what's being said as conversations are completely natural, since the characters know the context for what's happening, even if you, as the reader, don't.  As such, it takes a while to feel comfortable in this world.

This is the first book of a new series and is basically set up for what's to come.  The aspects of the book that interested me, the murder mystery and the idea of gods playing with the lives of humans, were not as central to the plot of this book as I'd expected.  The investigation into the murder stalls a bit and only picks up around the half way point in the book.  As a result, I found the pacing to be very uneven.  The opening is fascinating with a lot of information being imparted to the reader.  Then there's the move to the RUNA, where stuff happens, including learning most of the information about the country's background, but little plot development.  The plot picks up again and things stay interesting until the climactic ending.  The second quarter stalls though, and as a reader I couldn't understand why so little was being done with regards to the murder investigation.  I was hoping for something akin to Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone, but what I got was a strange not quite romance, with the protagonists obviously wanting each other but kept apart for various reasons.

While I loved Mae and Teresa, there were times Justin drove me nuts.  He's such a smug SOB.  Still, watching the characters interact was amusing, even when either Justin or Mae manufactured another reason they couldn't have sex again.

I was disappointed by how little the gods showed up.  The ending makes me hopeful that this aspect will have a larger role in the next book.  Indeed, this more than anything made the novel feel like a set up.  It was as though this entire book was for readers to understand the world and characters so the next book could start dealing with the gods and their intrigues.  Not to say that this book ignored the intrigue, the gods do make appearances, but both Mae and Justin try to ignore what's happening until they're no longer given that option.

Speaking of Justin and his god, I was surprised that it took him so long to figure out who He was.  The rune, I thought, gave it away pretty quickly.

I'm not sure who to recommend this book to.  There's a little bit of everything - fighting, romance, mystery, dystopia - but not enough of any one thing to say: "This is for you if you like..."  I suspect the next book will have more focus, given how this one ended.  The writing is good and the series shows promise, yet I feel this book leaves the reader wanting more.   

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