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Friday, June 21, 2013

Gameboard of the Gods (Age of X) By Richelle Mead

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Cynthia Chow

Check out details on how to enter to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.

When creating a new mythology in a science fiction novel the author can take many approaches to introducing the reader to the new world. One method is the Star Wars exposition approach, an introductory prologue that explains the parameters and rules of the world immediately in a methodical but possibly dry manner and then begins the actual story. Another approach is to throw the readers into the action midstream and allow them to learn about the world gradually as events unfold. Urban fantasy author and writer of the extremely popular young adult Vampire Academy series Richelle Mead, takes the latter approach in this new adult series, and as a result it was not until halfway through the novel that I felt comfortable enough in the world to enjoy the action and her exciting characters. I have to admit that it also took several starts and ultimately a reading of a glossary on the author’s website before I was able to completely enjoy and understand this new world.

In the not too distant future extremists released a virus that killed half of earth’s population and infected much of the rest, causing the next generation to be born with scars, asthma, and thinning hair. When it was discovered that those with mixed genealogies had the strongest resistance to the virus nicknamed “Mephistopheles,” the new Republic of United North America government began to enforce Genetic Mandates that restricted reproduction of children with “pure” ethnicities and more prone to sickness. Only the very wealthy can afford to buy their way out of the mandates, with the result being that a high class of patrician ethnic Castes has arisen with the rest of the population being of mixed heritage. Since religious extremists were blamed for the virus in the first place, servitors have been assigned to monitor, legalize, and prohibit all but the tamest of congregations who in essence reinforce the teaching of the government.

Image source: Penguin

It is in this world that we first meet Mae Koskinen, a member of the military’s elite Praetorians who are enhanced by implants that release chemicals to magnify their ability to react, fight, and occasionally, have sex. Though feared among the RUNA and outside populations, Mae is mourning at the funeral of her former lover and this causes her to overreact rather badly to a jealous coworker and results with the woman’s hospitalization. Mae is then punished and given the assignment to contact and then be a bodyguard for Dr. Justin March, a brilliant former servitor exiled to the South American uncivilized community. Justin and Mae’s redemptive assignment is to solve the murders of numerous Patrician Castes who have been killed in ritualistic manners by suspected religious fanatics. Justin’s deft skill at unraveling an individual’s character, motivations, and thinking, has him back in demand by the government and he uses this to negotiate the passage back into RUNA for the promising teenage daughter of the family who aided him when he became exiled.

Mae and Justin hold an alarming number of secrets from one another, ironic as their first meeting resulted in a one night stand that both have vowed to never repeat. Justin’s reasons are far more complex due to the two unseen ravens that accompany him and advise him on a mysterious agreement he made that will seal him into service should he again sleep with the woman he now knows is the woman with a crown of stars and flowers. As a result, Justin fights his need to unravel the complexities of his lethal but beautiful Nordic protector by charming and bedding an assortment of lesser females. The two do manage to investigate a series of religious sects who would be most likely to have cause to murder pure Castes but they are constantly confused and misguided by mysterious interventions that defy their world’s scientific dictates.

Whew. That’s a lot of backstory and as a result it took me nearly halfway through this 450 page novel to feel comfortable enough to relax and enjoy what is at its heart a very fun and interesting mix of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery.

Mae is a brittle heroine who becomes thrilling to observe as her extraordinary fighting skills hide an acerbic wit and a childhood of sexist repression. When the reader meets Mae’s family a new layer to both her character and the novel is discovered and this is when the novel truly picks up speed. Justin is far more difficult to embrace as he must use his arrogance and appeal to other women as a barrier to the mutual attraction with Mae for reasons that gradually unfold. Justin’s addiction to drugs to that enhance his concentration and the corresponding drugs that allow him to come back down further complicate his already flawed character.

The insight into Mead’s new society is a lot of fun to observe, especially when it teeters a little too uncomfortably close to present-day norms. All RUNA citizens are chipped with IDs that are recorded at various locations and never without the “egos” that are essentially iPads with all of their health, ID, banking, and communication information. Plastic surgery, hair extensions, and excessive teeth whitening are common among the Castes who have been affected by Mephistopheles. The government’s crackdown on religion has created a responding number who react against the prohibitions by embracing new beliefs and seek comfort against RUNA’s restrictiveness. All of this is highlighted when seen through the eyes of Justin’s sheltered ward Tessa who has not been indoctrinated by RUNA’s oppressive policies that were implemented to “protect” the people.

There are numerous exciting battle scenes and as the author reveals the true players manipulating events the title of the book becomes takes on a new meaning. While not the easiest novel to begin it establishes the playing ground for what could be an extremely fun, complicated, and promising novel of an ominous but fantastical future.

To enter to win a copy of Gameboard of the Gods, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Gameboard”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 29, 2013. U.S. residents only.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).


  1. Age of X series hold a promising debut. It’s thrilling and captivating. I thoroughly enjoyed this book with it’s very engaging plot. Richelle Mead never disappoint.

  2. I love Richelle Mead's books so thanks for the chance to win Gameboard of the Gods : )

  3. I absolutely love Richelle Mead! She is definitely one of my favorite authors!

  4. I love Richelle Mead's books, I've mostly read her YA stuff but I would love to start this new series. Thanks for the chance to win :)

  5. I would love to read this new series

  6. We have a winner
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher