August 14, 2014 by mmileti
Gameboard of the Gods is the first novel in the new Age of X series by bestselling YA author Richelle Mead. When starting this novel, I expected a typical YA romance filled with static characters with clearly defined morals, and a plot line revolving around a “love at first sight” relationship, and maybe even a love triangle. Thankfully, my expectations were quickly dashed when I encountered a novel in which the two main characters are both deeply flawed and morally ambiguous. I also failed to anticipate the engaging setting for the novel; the story is set in a future where religions are outlawed, and a highly advanced society revolves around logic and sensibility. This novel is bound to elicit polarizing opinions among Mead’s fans, as it is not a typical YA story, and it is very different than her other novels. I found this story to be a pleasant surprise, but many of Mead’s readers may be dismayed by the sudden change in style.
This novel follows the stories of Justin March and Mae Koskinen, two very different people living in a futuristic world that was once nearly destroyed by the outbreak of a deadly disease. Justin lives in exile in South America after failing in his job as a government investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims. Mae is a member of an elite military group whose members are altered to have enhanced reflexes and skills. She is one of the most deadly women in the world, and her country means everything to her. Justin and Mae’s worlds are both suddenly turned upside-down when Mae is tasked with brining Justin back to the Republic of United North America (RUNA), and working with him to solve a string of ritualistic murders. As their investigation races forward, they soon realize that their discoveries have led them to unknown enemies who display inexplicable powers. Soon they both find themselves in the middle of a game played by powerful and supernatural forces, and it will take all of their wits and strength to come out of it alive.
As I mentioned before, one of my favorite parts of this novel is the character development. I cannot remember the last time I read a dystopian novel that had characters that felt as real as those in this story. Justin is a particularly flawed character; he is a self-deprecating man who acts like an egotistical one in order to hide his own weakness. He also covers his insecurities with an excess of drugs and alcohol and, despite his vast intellect, he is completely unsure of what is happening in his own head, let alone his place in the world. Mae comes from a harsh family, who had her whole life planned out for her in advance. She defies their wishes to become a soldier and fight for her country, but it sometimes seems as if it is the act of violence itself that drives her. The plot of this story is relatively slow paced, so there is plenty of time for Mead to show the reader the intricacies and equivocality of her protagonists.
I also found the setting of the book to be very interesting. At a first glance the RUNA seems like a relative utopia, where order and logic rule. But the RUNA is a deeply flawed country, were creativity and faith are both stifled. The RUNA has lost the heart of its civilization, and over time it has become more concerned with conformity than order. This is a unique take on YA futuristic novels, which are almost always set in a world that is obviously and exclusively dystopian. With this series Mead has created a unique world that is subtly thought provoking and engaging, and I am curious to see what Mead does with this distinctive story in further installments in The Age of X.
I did have some problems with this book, the foremost being that I would have enjoyed a little more action in the story line. For much of the middle of the book, the plot moves slowly, and though this gave some exclusive insights into character development, I would have liked the pace of the plot to be more consistent throughout the novel. The ending of the book also seemed a little rushed, and I would have liked to get more detail from the author of the reason behind the murders that Justin and Mae were trying to solve.
Despite the pacing of the book being uneven, and a minor amount of explanation for the events at the end of the book, I thought this was a well-written and engaging story. I would recommend this book to fans of Mead who would not mind reading a more mature and slower paced novel, and also to anyone who would like to read a unique quasi-dystopian story with morally ambiguous protagonists.
Overall, I would rate this novel 7.5/10.