For some reason or the other, I’m a sucker for retellings. Or at least, for stories that take something old and transform it into something totally new and original. Richelle Mead’s “Gameboard of the Gods” was released sometime last month, and after reading that it has to do with mythical gods from legend, I knew I had to check it out. Much to my dismay, I found my Kindle an increasingly distant companion as I read the book. There’s just something about the characters and the story that just didn’t do it for me.
Mae Koskinen is a praetorian, a soldier of the military’s most elite and terrifying tier with enhanced reflexes and skills. Justin March, having failed his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims, only longs to return to the Republic of United North America. When he 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, where unknown enemies and powers greater than they can imagine are gathering, unseen, around them, ready to reclaim the world in which humans are merely pieces on their gameboard.
One of the main things that really caught me off guard was how old the main characters were. After assuming that “Gameboard of the Gods” was the first book of a new YA series, I was a little disoriented when I found out that Justin and Mae are around thirty-years-old. Which also meant that it amped up the maturity of the whole book, something I found out when they ended up sleeping together in, oh, the third chapter or so. That was when I decided that this is definitely more of a New Adult novel. Not that I really have a problem with a book being a part of the NA genre—it just completely altered my expectations of the characters and their priorities. For example, instead of having a gradual development of romantic feelings toward one another (or the typical YA love at first sight stuff), Mae and Justin’s relationship began slap-bang with some flirting and then the bed. Despite this, I think Ms. Mead did a pretty good job with developing their romance post-supposed-one-night-stand, as both Mae and Justin struggled to come to terms with their feelings toward one another.
The characters themselves were fairly interesting to read about throughout the novel. First, you have Mae, who’s a butt-kicking praetorian who seems to be perfect in just about every single way. Then, you have Justin, the incorrigibly flirtatious, devil-may-care exile who, at the same time, has some genius skills of deduction. Plus he has a couple of crows in his head that talk to him. Yeah. These two characters were generally interesting, but I don’t think I became entirely invested in what happened to them and what they were feeling since Justin seems to be kind of a douche who somehow ends up with a different woman in every chapter, and Mae is a little stagnant as a protagonist in terms of character development. The other, more minor characters, like Teresa and Leo, are more likable—Teresa definitely grows as a character as she adapts to Gemman life, and Leo’s attitude is pretty endearing as well.
Now remember when I talked about how much I love retellings? I felt like “Gameboard of the Gods” really fell short of doing the gods and their myths justice. Admittedly, the concept about the golden apple of discord, as well as that of gods choosing a human as their ‘game piece’, was compelling and intriguing, but I felt like Ms. Mead could’ve taken more advantage of the whole idea. It just seemed as if half the time, she was somehow undermining her own retelling of the gods in the human world by expounding so much on the different religions and how full of bullpoop they are in the RUNA’s eyes. Or maybe that’s what she wanted, to show the conflict between humans and the gods. Either way, it just didn’t really do it for me. More mythical gods and a little bit more magic would’ve been more dynamic and compelling.
Overall, “Gameboard of the Gods” is a fairly interesting start to the “Age of X” series, but it ultimately does fall short of its potential. Things did pick up towards the end, but most of it was pretty slow and not as compelling as it could be. A little disappointed with this one, in the end!