Mae is a praetorian, an elite soldier in service of the RUNA. Attending the funeral of a close friend, she is provoked into attacking another praetorian resulting in punishment. She must travel to Panama to deliver a message. Exiled for reasons he won’t reveal; ex-servitor Justin spends his time gambling, drinking and picking up women at Cristobel’s parties in Panama. Previously tasked with auditing religion, he now has the voices of two ravens in his head; Horatio and Magnus. Is it possible that the supernatural, something servitors stand against, is real?

I came to this book not having any expectations. I haven’t read any of Richelle Mead’s other books and I had the assumption that it was YA. It’s not YA. In fact the story starts rolling with a one-night-stand. I ended up absolutely loving this tale which combines mythology with a science fiction setting. He world-building is excellent for starters and I ended up so involved in Justin and Mae’s lives and pasts.

The RUNA (Republic of United North America), dependant on your viewpoint, is a utopian society rather than an oppressive dystopia. Organised religion has caused so many wars and crimes, so it makes perfect sense to regulate it, allowing small groups to form and worship but disbanding any religions which gain power and influence. The RUNA is a country without belief in the supernatural, instead creating the Church of Humanity to replace the structure previously provided by religions. But really, citizens don’t think much about religion of any kind and get on with their lives in relative peace.

But we are not left wondering why there was a radical change in the world. The Decline followed Cain; a virus which attacked at the genetic level. One way to defeat the virus was widespread dilution of genes. The majority were forced to breed across race creating plebians. Those with money or power, were allowed to keep their genetic heritage in exchange for assisting with the solution. However, outside these two great nations, religion still continues to exist and the borders are under strict control.

I loved how aspects of the story were driven by drunken revelations. That’s something that seems so true to life; oversharing when drunk. It’s also refreshing to see a gay couple in a story without their presence being there to explore issues on sexuality. They’re gay and they’re married and they’re just two other people in the world.

The title gives a clue to one of the themes of the books. In Greek mythology, the world was often seen as the gods’ game board, moving their favourite humans around as if a game of chess. I love the idea that perhaps in a world that has quashed all modern day religions, that perhaps the gods of old can rise from the ashes. Do gods need to be believed in in order to exist? Justin prides himself on his ability to read people and solve problems quickly, yet he doesn’t work out the significance of the ravens. And at the moment of realisation, I too went, why didn’t I make that connection?

Tessa’s presence seems to be solely for the purpose of an outsider’s viewpoint on the RUNA. I’m not sure she’s entirely necessary to the plot but she didn’t halt the pace or get in the way too much. Perhaps she will have a bigger role in future books. One thing that was a slight annoyance was the oversharing of Justin’s “I’m going to pretend I’m a jerk” strategy. It’s third person narrative from both perspectives and I think it could have been a bit more subtle…but there was so much I loved about this world that I didn’t care in the end. I was very sad not to be able to jump straight into book two.

Gameboard of the Gods is published by Penguin and is now available in hardback (US), paperback (UK) and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Also reviewed @ Gone with the Words | Tea, Daydreams & Fairytales

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.