Sunday 23 June 2013

#CBR5 Book 62. "Gameboard of the Gods" by Richelle Mead

Page count: 464 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Book summary from Goodreads, cause I'm lazy, and because it covers all the pertinent points:

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 instalment of Richelle Mead's Age of X series, will have all the elements that have made her YA Vampire Academy and Bloodlines such mega successes: sexy, irresistible characters; romantic and mythological intrigue; and relentless action and suspense.

I included the last "promo" bit as well, because this is the bit where I'm not entirely in agreement with whoever at Penguin writes the cover blurbs. In the last quarter of the book, there is absolutely quite a lot of action and suspense. To start with, however, the book is actually quite slow, as we are introduced to Justin, who is in exile in (decadent and clearly not as awesome as RUNA) Panama. Considering he comes from a society where organised religion and the supernatural is seen as something bad and dangerous, and he seems to keep the company of two wise cracking ravens (named Horatio and Magnus - or are they?) that only he can see, it's not surprising that his employers forced him into exile. Trying to ignore them, and the deal they're trying to make him seal, means Justin numbs his senses to an epic degree, with alcohol or drugs or casual hookups. Justin can't believe his luck, when after four years, he's promised his job back, a generous pay rise, and pretty much anything he asks for as long as he returns immediately. If he can't solve the ritualistic murders before the next full moon, though, his chances of staying in RUNA may be blown forever.

Mae Koskinen is a praetorian guard, the most elite of the soldiers swearing their allegiance to RUNA. With no organised religion, loyalty to the Republic is the closest most people come to beliefs. At the funeral of her ex-lover, Mae loses her temper, and gets into a vicious fight. As a reprimand, she's no longer allowed to wear the signature black uniform of the praetorians, and she's asked to assist in bringing Justin back to RUNA, then to act as his bodyguard while he investigates the murders. The job is complicated by the fact that Justin and Mae have a one night stand shortly after they first meet, when neither of them know who the other really is. Despite being irresistibly drawn towards Mae, Justin can't risk acting on his attraction a second time without binding himself into the service of the mysterious power who sent him the ravens (three guesses as to who this is - I called it on page 2 or 3, when the names of the ravens were revealed). Justin plays up his carousing and  womanizing ways to great effect, to keep Mae disgusted with him and at a safe distance.

There's a third POV in the book as well. Tessa is a sixteen-year-old Panamanian girl, and the daughter of the man who took Justin in when he was exiled. Justin promised to try to get their entire family entry into RUNA, but can only secure a student visa for Tessa. Through her chapters, the reader gets a lot of exposition and world building. RUNA is a much more technologically advanced and ideologically different from the "provinces" Tessa is from. She's constantly amazed at how prejudicial and narrow minded most people she meets are, despite them coming from an allegedly much more civilized nation. She's also sharp as a tack, and helps Justin and Mae with several aspects of their investigation.

While the blurb also promises "sexy, irresistible characters", one of the things I liked was that neither Justin nor Mae are all that likable at first. Justin is a born manipulator and extremely convinced of his own brilliance. Pretty much the first thing we encounter in the book is Mae beating a fellow soldier to a pulp. She's distant, somewhat elitist and clearly extremely dangerous. Yet as the book progresses, you get to know the characters better, and it's made perfectly clear that a book or two (hopefully, I hate when unresolved sexual tension is dragged out for too long) they will clearly become an item.

I don't know if it's me, or whether the references to various mythologies and gods was supposed to be quite as obvious as I found them. To be fair, I'm more than averagely interested in mythology, and I've also read a lot of urban fantasy, where quite a lot of various deities and belief systems feature. I liked that in a society where humans have tried to banish anything to do with religion, there's now such a power vacuum that the various gods are trying to gain supporters directly and seize as much control as possible. As I said, I can't think that the ravens weren't supposed to be a pretty huge clue as to who's trying to get Justin to become one of his acolytes, and I figured out the goddess who was trying to gain control of Mae with the second clue (to be fair, given the clue, it was bound to be that goddess - it always seems to end up being her).

While the book started slow, and I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it, by about a third of the way in, I was hooked, and now I have another Richelle Mead series to wait impatiently for new books in. I just hope that, unlike the Dark Swan series, this one doesn't end disappointingly.

Disclaimer - this book was an ARC granted to me from Penguin Group Dutton through NetGalley. I've not let that influence my review in any way, and have given my opinions as honestly and ramblingly as I always do, whether I've bought the book myself, or been gifted it.

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