Author: Richelle Mead
Publication Info: Dutton Adult May 29, 2014
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Overall Grade: A
The Flavor: American Gods meets The Hunger Games
The Short Version: The second book in Richelle Mead’s Age of X series is a pure delight. I finished the book as fast as humanly possible for a person with a four-month-old child in the middle of a cross-country move (meaning two days). Had I read this book five months ago, I would have stayed up all night to finish it. If you love badass heroines, epic world building, and a bad boy looking for some redemption, this book is a must.
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.
The Characters: A-
The series has three narrators: super-soldier Mae; mostly reformed bad boy Justin; and clever Tessa. Some authors have trouble making so many narrators seem distinct, but that’s not true with Mead. All of the characters have their own voice, and each is a joy to read. Mae is especially refreshing as the badass protector to (the largely useless in a fight) Justin.
A common complaint about the first book was that Justin March, one of the narrators, was unlikable and irritating. To be fair, I found him a little irritating at the beginning, as he starts of very self-centered, whiny, and pompous. But once I got to know him by the end of the first book, I loved him, and by the end of Immortal Crown, I wanted to marry him and have his babies. March is considerably reformed in this book. In the first book, he is all drugs, alcohol, and women all the time. This time around, I’m fairly sure he didn’t sleep with any women, and I only remember one time that he drank himself silly. The amazing part is that the transformation feels natural. Justin doesn’t feel like a different character despite some of his drastic changes. That alone speaks volumes to Mead’s ability to create compelling characters who can naturally change and grow.
Even Mead’s one-off characters are compelling and believable. We meet many characters from Arcadia, and all of them behave exactly as you would expect people raised in that culture to behave. Every character feels natural, as if Mead really understands what’s motivating her characters. I could see the characters making stupid choices (as characters do), but I always understood why they were making those choices.
The only complaint I have about her characters is that Tessa, a teenage girl from the “provinces” Justin has semi-adopted, feels wasted. So far, Age of X has been so expertly plotted that almost every line of the text is important . . . except for Tessa. She’s a cute character, but her only point has been to give us the outsider’s perspective. Obviously, as an outsider, I appreciate the function. But I would be very disappointed if Tessa doesn’t have some larger destiny that makes her more relevant.
The Dialogue: B
The book is not dialogue heavy. When I started Gameboard, the lack of dialogue really threw me, and I wasn’t sure I enjoyed the writing style. But once I got into the story, I barely noticed.
But if you’re thing is witty and smart banter, this book might not be for you. On the plus side, the dialogue that is there is well-written and believable. The dialogue between Mae and Justin is generally the most entertaining, as it’s usually antagonistic:
“We were stuck on a plane for ten hours. Couldn’t we have talked then? There’s such a thing as personal space, you know.”
He sighed, mentally and physically exhausted after the long day of travel. “Something’s happened. Something involving danger and death and all that other stuff you like.”
She fell into thought again and then yielded.
“I’m at Brownstone.”
“Where is it?”
“Really? There’s a bar in the greater Vancouver area you don’t personally know every inch of?”
Mead’s world-building is vast and impressive. In this series, Mead has expertly mixed high fantasy with science fiction, creating a complex society. You can tell that even if she doesn’t necessarily explain exactly how or why the world ended up the way it did, she understands why and the reason makes sense. The scope of the world is touched on in Gameboard, but Immortal Crown takes it to a whole new level, showing us a society that mixes government with the worship of a backwards god—and the horrific results.
For those unfamiliar with Age of X, it takes place in a disease-ravaged near-future society. The country’s borders have been redrawn, with areas of Canada and the Northwest United States making up the most powerful nation in the world. Religion, blamed for the outbreak of the disease, is strictly regulated inside the country. But other countries have dealt with the disease differently, and this novel explores what happened to the area that was the south-eastern United States.
The Prose: B+
This book is a fun, entertaining read. The writing style, with its lack of dialogue and straight forward statements, is a little jarring at first. But once you get into the meat of the story, it flows nicely.
And one thing you can say about the writing is that it's efficient. No sentence is wasted. No extra information is given. Mead tells you what you need to know, and everything she says is important.
Extra Credit: I LOVE BOOKS ABOUT GODS. And if you love books about gods, this is an excellent series. Mead has drawn from Roman, Greek, Norse, Celtic and Egyptian mythologies, and has even created new gods by merging various attributes of other gods.
But for me, the most exciting part is that Mead combines all of these fantasy elements with successful science fiction elements. Technology that we already have has been expanded on and updated. There are new diseases to worry about. There are politicians using technology as weapons. And there are implants creating powerful super-soldiers. What’s not to love?
Negative: Let’s talk about the title. I have no idea what it means. I don’t remember reading the words “the immortal crown” anywhere in the book. Am I just expected to know what it refers to? Because I don’t.
My best guess based on the cover is that it’s the crown of stars and flowers Justin is always going on about. But, let’s be real, a crown of flowers doesn’t scream immortal. Plus, I shouldn’t have to guess what the title means.
Parting thoughts: I know some people were disappointed in Gameboard, (obviously, I wasn’t one of them), believing that Mead took too long to explain the workings of the world she created. Questions like “why does one of the narrators talk to ravens in his head?”, “what the hell is the RUNA?”, and “why does this society hate religion?” were left largely unanswered for the majority of the first book. But I loved that Mead didn’t give all of the answers away up front. It kept me reading. It was much preferred to an information dump in the first chapter, which does sort of happens in Immortal Crown.
For those of you who didn’t connect with Gameboard of the Gods, I hope you will give The Immortal Crown a chance. Unlike Gameboard, the action in Immortal Crown starts quickly and doesn’t stop. When I finished, I was book-drunk, unable to think about anything else for days. The book blew my mind. I loved it. I’m not sure I could recommend it strongly enough. Everyone should read it. I would recommend it for people who like fantasy, romance, mystery, and science fiction. That covers everyone right? I’m pretty sure it’s my new favorite series.