Friday, May 31, 2013

Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

Richelle Mead apparently has quite a following. Having discovered Gameboard of the Gods on Netgalley, I did a little research and found out about Mead's other works, falling squarely in the paranormal romance/urban fantasy category along with her young adult offerings. The reviews were very positive and the publisher's blurb sounded promising, so I bit. The meal was more fast food than fine dining, largely empty calories but flavorful nonetheless.

The back cover copy follows:

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.
Sounds pretty promising doesn't it? And for the most part, Mead delivers on that promise. The 'uptopian' world that she's created for her characters is intriguing and poses some thoughtful questions about what happens when religion is outlawed. Sadly those questions get short shrift in favor of world-building and the obligatory romantic entanglements between our two main protagonists.

With that said, there is still plenty to like about Mead's first foray into a new subgenre. The pairing of the super analytical Justin March, with the genetically superior and technologically enhanced soldier Mae is a welcome one, with a faint shadow of Holmes and Watson running throughout. Both are conflicted but obviously destined for each other, due not only to authorial fiat but the actual will of meddling gods. Not that either March or Mae make the pairing especially easy, fighting the magnetism between them almost every step of the way. As far as romantic subplots go, Mead crafts one that is compelling enough that it outweighed my general dislike of the trope. That's no small feat, and I was pleasantly surprised. It's ironic that the aspect of the story that I expected to like the least ended up being the highlight of the novel for me.

Which brings me to the parts of the novel that left me wanting better. While I really like the premise of the novel and the interesting questions such a setting asks of the characters and the society, I felt that the exploration of the setting left something to be desired. While there was no real info dumping, and Mead does an excellent job of showing rather than telling, I felt the world building could have been better explained through the narrative. All the puzzle pieces are there, but they don't quite fit together into a coherent picture.Most of that is the delayed pace that Mead uses to deliver important information about nearly everything. She just throws it at you, and you are left to wonder until she gets around to explaining it, sometimes after a hundred pages have gone by.

In addition, I felt that the murder investigation should have been the focus of the storytelling, but was really nothing more than a vehicle for the romance of March and Mae. There was so much more that could have been explored that was sadly left on the shelf. It seems that everything took a back seat to the romance, and that weakened what could have otherwise been a much better novel. Sex sells, I get that, but there needs to be more, and Mead teases us with hints of what could be a very compelling series, but never quite gets there.

1 comment:

  1. An engaging read, with an unusually tangible, believable, living story world, featuring a protagonist of unexpected depth and sympathy. A must read.

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