I’ve made it no secret that Richelle Mead is one of my favorite authors, and this book did not disappoint. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the Richelle Mead formula: Strong female leads, dangerous plots, mysterious but intriguing and hopelessly attractive male counter-parts. Like what more do you actually need to make a fantasy novel? She does, I’ll admit, write series in which the first book is a bit slow to start because she’s building a complex new world. So, naturally, the first half of the book was spent hanging in some confused space before the real action started. I think Richelle does a good job of pacing when certain information is revealed to keep the info-dumping at bay and I appreciate that. The fact that there were mysteries within and between each of the characters really added to the tension in solving the plot’s mystery.
Synopsis from Goodreads
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.
There’s so much going on in this story that I cannot make it spoiler free! So stop here if you don’t want to be spoiled on how Mae and Justin fare in the first book of the Age of X series. Also, this is an adult targeted Science-Fiction Fantasy series, so there are sex scenes and such that would be inappropriate for Richelle’s younger readers.
The main plot focuses on the investigation of linked murders of Patrician with a rating of 8 or 9 who were all born around the same time. It turns out that each of the victims had similar genetic manipulation to give them such a high rating. The rating system really confused me for most of the book, since it kind of seemed like an attractiveness rating. It’s actually a ranking based on genetic strength because most people born in to the socially elite class had not interbred with other cultures in order to strengthen their genes against diseases that caused The Decline. So, if you haven’t figured it out, this is kind of a dystopian society where the government controls who can mate with who based on genetic rating to create the strongest offspring. Mae was born into high-society family but she didn’t have weak genetics like the rest of her family. It was likewise with all of the other murder victims. Mae is sent to protect Justin on his travels as punishment for severely injuring a fellow praetorian at Porfirio’s (Mae’s ex-lover) funeral. However this punishment ends up to be much more action-packed than she expected it would be. The investigation turns towards finding the groupies of a god that created the victims in exchange for religious servitude. The children created were to serve the goddess who created them and swear loyalty to her. But the victims are being killed off because they have refused to serve. Mae is next.
But she oddly isn’t an exact match. She does, however, have a “darkness” following her that overcomes her in the heat of battler with a dark and blinding power which urges Mae to kill. As a praetorian, Mae already has an implant that increases her abilities in the face of danger, but this goddess makes her absolutely lethal when Mae loses control. Along with this, Emil, a guy that’s been stalking Mae and trying to get her to join him in service, turns out to be a servant of the goddess of darkness and death. He will be forced to murder Mae if she refuses to serve. I loved that Mae was the same as the others, but still unique in the way that Richelle likes to isolate her main characters. Mae being a praetorian with the special battle instincts and heightened senses makes her a much harder target to hit, and that’s why she lasts so long compared to the other victims.
Tessa is a fun character to follow around. I liked that Richelle uses her as an outsider view to help us understand just how different the RUNA is to the world now. Panama is basically an extreme version of how the world works now: escalated crime, class discrimination, racism, and even a heightened version of the world’s pleasures of gambling and illegal substances. When Justin gets his higher-ups to let Tessa come with him on his mission, Tessa goes to RUNA school and experiences major culture shock. Her plot kind of falls by the wayside as the book progresses because the way she is treated at school isn’t really as important as the observation skills Justin initially saw in her. She goes on way too many work trips with Justin and Mae for a young girl who isn’t supposed to be in on any top-secret stuff to begin with. Heck, Justin’s sister never even knew exactly what case her brother was working on with Mae. Tessa makes some friends along the way too, the closest being a rebel girl named Poppy who stands up for Tessa against bullies. Obviously Poppy is more daring than the very conservative Tessa, and sometimes that gets the Panamanian girl in trouble, but there’s no better way for Tessa to learn about the RUNA than by making mistakes. Tessa is still a very sharp observational prodigy who makes a big connection in Justin’s case, so she does get dragged into the investigation with good reason.
Justin is being watched by the god Odin’s ravens who speak to him, help him in moments of dire need, and want Justin to swear loyalty and service to Odin. The ticket is that he will have sworn his loyalty when he takes the woman of stars and flowers to bed and claims her. It’s a bit of a silly proposition, but boy does it throw a wrench in Justin’s relationship with Mae. Because guess what, Mae’s the one. That first night she traveled to Panama and delivered her message to Justin (whom she did not know was Justin at the time) they had some hot sex, and Justin saw that telltale crown of stars and flowers around her. Like metaphysically and stuff. So he get’s out of selling his life to a god with a loophole, and then vows to never sleep with Mae again. But the problem is that they both, without a doubt, have strong feelings for each other. And when Mae finally decides she’s ready to be open about that and pursue it, Justin shoots her down. Hard. Can’t be a Richelle Mead series without a forbidden love story. It’s obvious that this won’t last forever though. Justin will crack. I have no doubt about that, and then crap is gonna hit the fan. But at least they’ll finally be in love right? Right? *sigh* What’s their ship name anyways? Maestin? Justae? Nope those both sound like some kind of infections…
The other side character plot has to do with Leo and Dominic. I am interested in seeing how this carries out in the rest of the series because Dominic has some mystery surrounding him. I put together the pieces about as quickly as Mae did, I think he is a Paetorian (or at least used to be) because there’s no way he could have helped in the middle of a fight the way he did without Praetorian skills.
What do you think of Gameboard of the Gods?