month, I finally got around to reading (well, listening to) Richelle
Mead's Age of X series, which is set in the future but in a world that
is familiar enough to be easily recognizable. The first book, Gameboard of the Gods, was initially published in June 2013, and the second book in the series, The Immortal Crown, came out this May.
I haven't read any of Mead's earlier work (most famously the Vampire Academy books), but I was curious about the Age of X books--despite some mixed reviews--because the series is geared to adults, has dystopian elements, and touches on several complex themes and issues.
Rather than talk about the novels separately, I focused this bullet review on the series so far.
- Setting. Sometime in the future, the world has been severely altered by a virus that was likely the result of genetic manipulation experiments. People living under the protection of a major government have access to education, the data stream, mass transportation, and so forth. This comes with costs, among which are that all citizens must wear an embedded chip that contains their identity and that religion is regulated to the point of being mostly illegal. Outside the boundaries of the new countries, people are free but live in a dangerous world.
- General plot. Mae Koskinen, beautiful debutant turned Uber soldier, is sent to the wilds to retrieve an exiled government worker who is needed to help solve several unexplained murders that appear to have a religious base. She has little trouble tracking down Dr. Justin March, an expert in religion and history, but returning him to RUNA (a country consisting of parts of Canada and the United States) involves some negotiation. Once back in Seattle, the two team up to investigate the murders, which leads them to discoveries about politics, the power of gods, the role of religion, and even their own self-identities. Their work eventually takes them back into the unprotected lands, where the pair uncover human rights violations, forcing them to juggle the purpose of their mission with their own sense of right and wrong.
- Underlying, deeper plot. Mead draws on the myths and traditions of a number of religions from the Norse to the Greeks and Romans and to the more familiar Western faiths. Although RUNA officially denies any possibility that the gods could be real entities, Mae and Justin's experiences are causing them to question their government, despite the dangers of delving into religious matters. The Age of X books are not about spirituality. Instead Mead explores the idea that the gods do exist, competing with each other for power. We (and the characters) are left to ask, Just how binding are the rituals and agreements the gods demand from the devoted? How would one know which god to trust? Do the gods have compassion for us or are they interested only in using us for their own purposes?
- Other themes. Gameboard of the Gods and The Immortal Crown also touch on friendship, loyalty, class divisions, medical and genetics issues, doing the right thing, family, and fate.
- Characters. Mae, Justin, and their friends and family are generally well developed and have distinct personalities. Mae is tough and strong and has a lot to learn about herself. Justin is smart and observant, but is struggling with his own interactions with divine beings. Tessa, a teenage ward of Justin's shows us how RUNA appears to an outsider. She is resourceful but still a bit naive; I'm sure she'll have an increasingly large part in the series.
- Likes and dislikes. Mead's world building is excellent. The future she envisions is internally consistent and very believable. No huge jumps in civilization as we know it. There are medical and technological advances, but generally Mae's Seattle is completely recognizable. The intrigue of the gods, their priests, the believers, the shunners, and the politics will keep me reading. On the other hand, Mead is slow to get things moving. By the end of the second book, I wanted to have more answers. Instead, Mead is teasing us, pulling us into the story by increments. Less patient readers may be frustrated.
- Recommendation. Those who like dystopia and/or books that make you think will do fine with the Age of X series. The more you know about mythology, the more you're likely to get out of the books. On the other hand, I have only average knowledge, and I don't feel lost, so don't be put off by that. Action, mystery, violence, romance, sex, and even some humor carry the plot along. Are these the best dystopian books I've every read? No. But I think they're worth your time.
- Audiobooks. I listened to the unabridged audiobook editions (Penguin Audio: Gameboard of the Gods, 16 hr, 9 min; The Immortal Crown, 15 hr, 54 min) both read by Emily Shaffer. Shaffer's performance was well done in terms of emotion, pacing, and characterizations. Most of the people we meet in the Age X series are adults who have been through some tough experiences; unfortunately, Shaffer's voice has a teenage tone to it, and I had to keep reminding myself that Mae, in particular, was a grownup. Although Schaffer was not the best choice for these books, she held my interest for 32 hours. However, I may pick print for the third book.
Gameboard of the Gods (2013) ISBN-13: 9780525953685, The Immortal Crown (2014) ISBN-13 9780525953692
Source: Review (1 print, 1 audio); bought (1 audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)