This book was just…
Maybe I should start by explaining how this reviewing-thing works for me. I’ve only reviewed a couple of books because of an extremely simple reason: I only do it when I find a book disturbing, confusing or awesome as hell but still just not right, like this one turned out to be. Now, let me tell you all this is gonna be kind of awkward and FULL of spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Oh, and English is not my first language.
“Sex and battle were each dangerous in their own ways.”
Add ‘writing’ to that. You’ll understand once you get to the end.
In a nutshell, Gameboard of the Gods was… mind-blowing. A future world with that kind of technology –egos are awesome- and defined roles for everyone? Kind of freaky but I really, really loved it, to be honest. Mead, as always, ‘created’ a fascinating universe and very unique characters.
Justin is a RUNA’s drunk, smartass and so damn hot servitor and Mae is a castal praetorian whose life may not be as perfect as it seems. They could not be more different. Yet, Mead finds the way to build a relationship between them that transcends the physical. I kept waiting more steamy scenes, though. I mean, this Adult. Even Dark Swan and Georgina Kincaid were more… hot. Lol I don’t know what I expected but this was a bit like VA, if you know what I mean. Like ‘well, It was awesome’, period *sigh*.
Aaaanyway, I now have a crush on Justin. Kind of. I think. That’s the thing with Justin: he’s just so damn hard to decipher for someone whose work and hobby is to read others. He was hot the entire book, yeap, but he kept turning between being a jerk, a sincere smartass and a kind (did I say kind? My bad. Let’s say… charming) but puzzling guy with fears and secrets. I just couldn’t quite catch him, the real him. First he’d try to read Mae, to understand her and to make her trust him –much to her dismay-:
“Your whole life is—and has been-about different images. What people think you are. What you want yourself to be. You don’t like people making assumptions about you, but you don’t want to show them the truth either.”
“You like to be in control. And you’re afraid or me -or anyone- to see you lose it. To see your emotions unbound. To see your soul.”
“Are you jealous? If it makes you feel better, I had a better time you- well, during sex, at least. After is a whole other story.”
And he’d just go back to casual-charming-Justin again:
“—You already had me in bed. You don’t have to keep laying on the charm.
—I don’t know how to stop it.”
See what I mean?
I swear I almost got a headache. I get Mead was probably trying to make a complex character –a very, very complex one- but I felt at the end that she just lost control of him (he’s not easy to handle so I don’t blame her). He ended up being a moody and sometimes mean guy who knows what he wants but just refuses to get it. Gods excuses aside. For example, why did he go to Panama? We never get to know why he chose Panama City, among all the provinces in Central and South America. He loves his family, that’s clear, but then, why is he so distant and cynical? And why in the world does he plays with drugs and alcohol having the kind of past he has? He hurts his family and friends over and over again and doesn’t seem to care enough to change, not even for himself.
And I know Mae feels the same:
“Once again, he’d managed to confuse her perceptions of him. The man whose face had been filled with fierceness and affection as she risked his life with Emil bore little resemblance to the callous one who told her she was no longer interesting in bed. And always, always, the memory of the lover in Panama refused to leave her. All of those images had struck her deeply. She couldn’t forget any of them. And she couldn’t forgive one.”
I read somewhere that Mead said Justin wasn’t like Adrian (from VA) because Adrian was a teen who was just lost. I agree. I did see Adrian’s development not only as a ‘person’ (I dare you to say fictional. I dare you) but as a character. Justin was virtually the same at the end of the book.
Now, I’ve got to say I really liked Mae. She was strong, independent, beautiful, classy, a bit aggressive. Unfairly perfect. She’s a ‘woman among women’, after all, remember? If there’s someone who can handle Justin –or at least try without failing completely- that’s her.
“—The smoky guy scoffed an said that he could do that and more, that he’d give me more women than I’d know what to do with.
—I assume you told him the impossibility of that.”
“—You don’t want anything to do with a guy like that. It’s his job to say things to lure people in.
—Tell me exactly how he’s any different from you.”
And this one’s my favorite:
“I had no idea my job would involve protecting you from yourself. How can someone so smart be so stupid?”
I know, right? I really enjoyed the tale of her past (especially Porfirio’s part. Too bad he ended up being some kind of self-sufficient prick) and I think she actually changed. Meeting Justin may have been… overwhelming for her, but she opened herself up. And I’m not referring only to the mythical, inexplicable side of the story, because she finally had to accept and believe, but to her life and her heart. The praetorian who once was yelled at “What does it take for you to feel anything?” wasn’t the same Mae we saw at the end. I still wonder if Justin deserves her feelings, but oh well… And to answer your question, Porfirio, it only took a brilliant and handsome servitor.
The mythic part was also awesome and I sincerely regret not knowing more about it so I could guess what god was it on my own *sobs sobs*. It surprised me that Justin couldn’t figure out the name of the god ‘til the very ending. Isn’t he a pro? If all it took for him to do it was to find the link, the pattern and a simple search, why didn’t he do it earlier? I know he could have.
“If he used half as much energy as he did on her, then he’d already figured out the murders already.”
Damn true. But I don’t blame him. It was a matter of priorities.
I’ve read some of Mead’s works (VA, Bloodlines, Georgina Kincaid and Dark Swan) and there’s something hilarious and at the same time ‘cliffhanging’ about her writing that drives me insane –in a good way, of course-. She has the ability -or the gift- to make us readers laugh, cry, yell, sigh and more. That’s why I’m pained to say that although there were lol moments, witty remarks and a lot of action, Gameboard of the Gods was painfully slow. Even for a book in English –they usually make my reading slower-, I kept looking at my kindle’s progress bar over and over. I eventually finished, of course, but… why, Mead? Why? I mean, I get it: this is an adult book. And yeah, I can’t deny there was something mature about it, something new, original, grown-up but it was also too… impersonal.
Still, the ravens and Geraki were really weird characters. They gave the story a refreshing change from all the military jargon and it was really interesting to see how they were right even when they seemed so crazy:
“Why are you asking me questions if you don’t believe the answers?” asked Geraki. “And what answer do you actually expect me to give that you would believe?”
I feel it, bro. Justin’s skepticism/insurgence after all what he had to go through also pissed me off.
“Just because you can’t fight like she does, it doesn’t mean you can’t take part in battle.”
Exactly! I still don’t get why it was so hard for him to embrace his… ‘destiny’ lol. Well, he kind of did, at the end. With that cute and virginal kiss. And then he backed off *facepalm*.
But my favorite character was without question Tessa. Tessa was so smart, so mature… she was the one who could see the RUNA for what it was and not just for what it pretended to be.
“It was another of those moments when Tessa was struck by how an antireligious country managed to find gods without even realizing it.”
She also had a great insight about Justin & Mae’s relationship:
“—How would I know?
—How could you not know? You used to watch her with this look…it was hungry. Like you were going to die if you didn’t get inside her head.
—You’re still alive. I figured you must know everything now.”
And I found the deities real and the scenario totally possible. Too possible, to be honest. A hunch tells me Age of X is more a magnification of our world than just some random future society. And here comes the boring part of the review. The one many of you won’t like. Because this isn’t just some observation to me. Let me just say in advance that I don’t mean to offend anyone with what I’m about to say. You can prepare the stake if you’d like.
There were so many things I found in this book that aren’t that different in the real life that I was shocked. Kind of amused, at first, but ultimately angry. Why, you ask? Well, let me explain this to you.
Let’s imagine a society dependent of tech, shall we? Let’s add that some countries with some issues and only two possible tags: barbarian and civilized. Now let’s say ones are more powerful than others and that their citizens are always trying to resemble or move to this big, arrogant, advanced country casually located in North America. What do you say, Justin? See a pattern? How about you, reader? An analogy? Maybe a country that begins with a “U” and ends with “…nited States”? Sounds familiar? To me, it does. And this is, as lame as it might sound, personal, in some twisted way. Because I’m Colombian (no, I’m neither a drug dealer nor a whore, by the way) and it was just… offensive to read the way Gameboard of the Gods sees us.
(Remember Panama was once part of Colombia. And even if it weren’t, Panama can easily represent Latin America as a whole in this context.)
“Huan was probably the only other civilized person in the room. A large part of their friendship was based on discussing how much Panama sucked.”
Really? This time I’ll let Tessa do the talking:
“Tessa was starting to wonder why he’d ever come to Panama if he hated it so much.”
I couldn’t have said it better. We also find allusions to Panama’s primitive growth, for example. And why it should be pitied.
“Those young ones have so much to prove around here that it doesn’t take much. If you see where they come from, you can almost understand and feel bad for them. Almost.”
Or to its worthless and barbarian culture.
“—How is it possible that someone who bemoaned his fate in Panama for four years chooses the most provincial bar I’ve ever seen in this country?
—Difference is the clientele. These people are civilized.”
Tessa’s low intellectual potential because of her origins, as well.
“—You heard those assholes. No one here even thinks you can read.” She suddenly paused. “You can, right?”
Mae herself admits that:
“She didn’t entirely understand the intricacies of Panamanian gender roles.”
Or its culture. And neither does any other character –besides Tessa, obviously. But that doesn’t stop them from saying things like this once they get back:
“Welcome to the civilized world.”
“I didn’t think we’d traveled back in time to some barbarian civilization. This place has been Gemman for five years.”
Or about how Panama –and all the other provinces- should be like the RUNA (am I the only one who thinks Hegelians’ superiotity complex such as this one need to stop?)
“Here was the world as it should be, the country that had survived the Decline to emerge more brilliantly that it had started.”
“There are dissidents,” Justin said in agreement. “In fact, we may run into a few when we go out tomorrow, but it won’t be anything major. Once they have more time to adjust, they’ll be grateful to be in the folds of civilization.”
And this was not exactly original, was it? Why is North America always the ruling country? Everything happens there, apparently (Take The Avengers, The Day After Tomorrow, The Man of Steel, World War Z etc as a few examples to see what I mean.)
“Central and South America were the obvious options. (…) They were more stable than most provinces.”
Yeap, of course we’d be nothing more than provinces. And our tech sucks, too.
“Telecommunications were sketchy around here, and it was hard enough getting a good phone, let alone anything as sophisticated as an ego.”
“No need for a separate computer. The Panamanians had no technology to match that. Their computers always seemed clumsy and unwieldy to Justin, not to mention unreliable.”
Oh, and did I mention our genes are also defective? Well, to be fair, so are everyone else’s genes. Unless plebeians’ (aka Americans)
“Six,” he said in approval once her genetic score [Tessa’s] appeared. “Good for a provincial. (…) A five or a six is exactly what you’d expect from her.”
That’s why Mae must be a goddess’ wick creation. A castal (white non-Americans, basically) can’t get a natural nine. That’d be outrageous. But Justin can.
“—Not a nine. That’s a plebeian rating.
—It’s too high. I have a nine.”
RUNA may be an advanced country, but it is also xenophobic and exclusionary. Tessa is very well aware of that.
“What was she doing here? Her superficial features might have looked plebeian, but there was always going to be something that made her “other.” It didn’t matter if she wore the same uniform as everyone else in the school. The maroon pants and white shirt weren’t going to disguise what she was. And it wasn’t even her hair or accent or lack of technical skills that really made her stand out. It was something more intangible, an attitude and demeanor that screamed to the world that she hadn’t been born and raised in this glittering, frenetic society. The students here were just like everyone else she’d seen in the RUNA: confident, purposeful, and so certain of their superiority over the world. Tessa was never going to possess that air.”
And this is what pissed me off. Maybe Mead intended to make a… I don’t know, parody? Maybe when she wrote all those things and then knocked some sense through Tessa’s words she was trying to say she found all that superiority ridiculous, or at least, undeserved. Groundless. Unfair. But I kept reading and making notes each time I saw one of these comments –they were like 33- and my conclusion –incorrect, maybe- was that she wasn’t. That she actually thinks the RUNA is superior.
Why? Well, because of Tessa’s subtle change of mind. She was the fish out of the water. Maybe she was not exactly proud of being Panamanian but she wasn’t a RUNA zealot either. She still had the ability to watch and analyze it, to judge its perks and its wrongs.
But by the end of the book we knew less and less about her school life and her progresses. We did see how the whole ‘family’ attended to the viewing of the documentaries (what about her real family, by the way? She didn’t even contact them. She did think of God once, but not about her parents or sisters. Is her family that worthless just because of being non-plebeian?). I was so excited to see what Tessa had done, her conclusions, her truly insight expressed in front of her classmates. All I got was that it was “brilliant” and that “she simply told the truth”. Really? Wtf?
And the final stab to my heart:
“A society that creates planned and purposeful children is a superior society. We aren’t like the provinces, with packs of children running underfoot in families that can’t afford to feed and clothe them.
Tessa would’ve almost taken offense, but she’d already grown used to the astonished looks she received when revealing she had four sisters.”
Tessa didn’t even blink. (I won’t discuss the truth of the ‘children running underfoot…’ part because it’s not relevant to my point). Not even “well, my parents can feed and clothe my sisters, so it’s ok”. No other thought. And we got nothing else. What happened, Tessa? Do you agree? Are you inferior? Are we inferior? Should everyone be like the RUNA? Jeez, I really don’t know what to think.
Don’t need to be a genius to see what I’m implying, right? And go ahead: you can say ‘you’re overreacting’ or ‘oh god, this is just a work of fiction’. And you’d be right, I guess. But I believe in the power of words. Not only as mean of creating, but as a mean of expressing. And this tells me something that disturbs me: is this how you express what you think of us, Mead?
I did like Gameboard of the Gods. I did. The story is great, most of the characters are well developed and the writing is good even if it’s slow. But there were so many things I disagreed with that I just couldn’t bring myself to give it a star rating. So I didn’t. I will read Age of X #2, of course. God, I’m already biting my nails. I mean, I love this woman. She’s so damn good! It’s just I don’t know what to expect. I like neither what Tessa is turning into nor what Mr. Sexy 9’s not turning into, and I don’t know what I’ll do if this ‘we, the RUNA, rock, hopefully the rest of the world will kill themselves cause they obviously aren’t us’ thing continues.
Sooo, dear Mead. I only have one more thing to say:
“Go ahead. You’re going to piss someone no matter what you decide. Might as well do what you want.”