Gameboard of the Gods introduced religious investigator Justin March and Mae Koskinen, the beautiful supersoldier assigned to protect him. Together they have been charged with investigating reports of the supernatural and the return of the gods, both inside the Republic of United North America and out. With this highly classified knowledge comes a shocking revelation: Not only are the gods vying for human control, but the elect—special humans marked by the divine—are turning against one another in bloody fashion.
Their mission takes a new twist when they are assigned to a diplomatic delegation headed by Lucian Darling, Justin’s old friend and rival, going into Arcadia, the RUNA’s dangerous neighboring country. Here, in a society where women are commodities and religion is intertwined with government, Justin discovers powerful forces at work, even as he struggles to come to terms with his own reluctantly acquired deity.
Meanwhile, Mae—grudgingly posing as Justin’s concubine—has a secret mission of her own: finding the illegitimate niece her family smuggled away years ago. But with Justin and Mae resisting the resurgence of the gods in Arcadia, a reporter’s connection with someone close to Justin back home threatens to expose their mission—and with it the divine forces the government is determined to keep secret.
Frustration – noun – the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something.
I honestly cannot think of a better term to describe my relationship with this book. I remember having a bit of this sensation when reading Gameboard of the Gods and likewise, I was happy that the slight-creepy-Eugenics-vibe that that book gave off was sidelined here.
Sadly, Mead gave me plenty more to be frustrated about.
First off there is Nehitimar and the religion that has sprung up around him. It’s not a good sign when a series that, in its first book only used established deities that the second book felt the need to create an entirely new one. And then you realize that the religion of the Arcadians who serve this god have attributes of all the negative attributes of Islam (women as clear second class citizens, with no rights and forced extreme modesty, forced separation of the genders) as well as negative stereotypes of Arabic culture in general – polygamy, separate shelter for women, child brides as young as 13. Clearly this god was invented as a means of trying to avoid controversy, but to me it should have been a freaking huge red flag that this plot needed to change. And nothing in the story that she told convinced me that she needed to go here. Aside from the child bride subplot (which drove this plot) there really wasn’t a lot in this main story that justified this kind of god. We pretty much saw nothing positive of this religion or the people who practiced it. The men were leering pigs and the Head Wife just kind of a bitch. For a book that is trying to dance about religion and its place in this society, it’s an awfully tone-deaf message to send especially in this day and age when Muslims face so much discrimination in the real world. This plot ultimately feels like it feeds off of that distrust.
Really, all of the plots here fell short. Through divine intervention (thanks to an amber knife that sends visions), Mae finds out where her daughter is being held and her story is largely centered about her rescue. Again, like the religious aspects, Mead takes no real time to send any kind of message other than “this is bad.” It was a weak plot that almost seemed to drive the main plot, because it was her insistence that Justin agreed to go to Arcadia in the first place. Tessa has another sub-plot here: a reporter wants to use her to try and get dish on Lucian and it’s okay? It’s kinda there, nothing amazing. The mystery of the first book really was superior.
Finally, in the last 10% of the book, Mead has something done to Mae that just infuriated me. Not only for the act itself, but because it became clear that it was done in the name of furthering the Justin/Priest of Odin plot. And just. No.
For the most part, I still love the concept behind the series. I like the mix of real gods that are in play, and I still like the character of Justin. Will I read the third book? Maybe. Can I recommend it? I don’t know. I was mixed on the first one and am even more so on this one. I have preordered a copy and I will see my order placed through, but if there aren’t some significant improvements in the third book, not even the intervention of Thought and Memory themselves could get me to become a priest of Odin.
Verdict: A faint borrow it. If you’re a fan of the author and you liked the first one without qualms, you may enjoy this. If you were mixed on the first you may just want to skip it.
Available: May 29th