SPFBO 7 Review: The Godgame by Keith Deininger

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I was instantly intrigued by the cover for this since it gave off pirate vibes, but that wasn’t what I got; which is fine!

This story has a lot going on and it becomes increasingly complex since it’s told through the eyes of a dozen or so different characters on two sides of a war. That type of storytelling usually goes over well for me; I enjoy a more nuanced look at a conflict from different perspectives — and the apprehension of not knowing who to root for when the battle finally happens. Joe Abercrombie is a good example of a master at this type of storyline.

There are two very different cultures that are at odds with each other, and it was somewhat reminiscent of the Hunger Games. There’s a giant mega-city called Talos that’s surrounded by a much more rural/agrarian type culture known as the Nova. The Talosians are a hyper-capitalists’, greedy, sociopathic backstabbing society that clambers over themselves to get ahead in life. There are people executed regularly, and tortured to death for information… there are multiple types of government sanctioned death penalties which include defenestration.

One of the POVs has a view on both sides since she was once a part of Talosian society but has since run away and is living with the Novans. She grew up as the favorite daughter of a high nobleman in Talos, and when she was younger she was picked by this legendary, (0possibly immortal) man named Marrow to be whisked away on his airship to go on adventures. That adventure ended in sorrow and she sought a life away from Talos, away from Marrow, and went to live in Nova… where she found love, had four children, and married a very good man.

This all comes crashing down around her when her son was taken to go join the military because these two factions were coming to a head, and war is brewing. That son is also a POV, as is another one of her children and her husband, and her sister – haha. It was sort of a family affair for a while, but other POVs also showed up.

There’s a man named Trevor who is one of the most demented and fucked up characters I’ve read in a while. He was definitely my least favorite POV to read. He’s a slimy master of secrets who’s loyal to no one and doesn’t have an ounce of sympathy for anyone. He once slept with two sisters and over the course of time got them to plot to kill each other. Once they both died he was, “mkay, bye Felicia” to both of them. Like wot? Who does that? He works for the Talosians and he’s bad news bears for anyone who gets involved with him, not the least reason of which; he’s a fan of torture.

There’s too many characters to get into them all in much detail, but that’s also the root of my biggest problem with the book. I didn’t feel like I had enough page time to develop a serious investment in any one particular character. I feel like there was a lot of good bones to the characters and their arcs, but there wasn’t much time with each character to properly flesh them out.

The world was different from most I’m used to… I also had a hard time grasping at it. The Novas don’t have electricity, machinery, indoor plumbing etc. However, the Talosians have a fairly sophisticated city and lifestyle? The difference between the two societies was jarring and although it could make sense to have such a divided society living close to one another, it was difficult to build a cohesive picture in my head. It got more complicated when there was talk of an ancient race that used to travel the stars, and people living on a hidden second moon.

The writing was utilitarian-ish, I wouldn’t say it was dry and boring, but there wasn’t much flowery language, simile, metaphor or things of that nature. However, I felt the physical descriptions of characters could sometimes be a little awkward. The dialogue was mostly okay, there were a few instances where I thought maybe rephrasing for clarity would have helped, but overall it was smooth.

This can get dark quickly. It felt sometimes out of nowhere something awful would happen. Case in point, there’s a musical instrument that’s makes music by torturing birds to death… the machine pokes them with needles until they eventually sing themselves to death.

The plot also felt scattered since we were following it from so many different angles, it took a long time to “get to the point” as it were. By the end I saw where the story was headed but since it was driven by an over the top villain I wasn’t crazy about it.

I had a lot of mixed feelings about this one, there were aspects I feel were well done, and my biggest complaint is that I wanted more from just about everything. I wanted a little more to the characters, a little more to the motivations of different political factions, just a bit more all around. I feel like as an author perhaps this would be easier to fix than “this was boring”, maybe? I usually nitpick books for being too bloated, but in this case it’s the opposite.

The narrator was okay, I’ve heard worse but I’ve definitely heard better, he strikes me as someone new on the scene. It wasn’t unpleasant to listen to, but there are some awkward pauses and moments where the emotions don’t come off quite right.

Ratings:

  • Plot: 10/15
  • Characters: 9/15
  • World Building: 10/15
  • Writing: 10/15
  • Pacing: 11/15
  • Originality: 11/15
  • My Enjoyment: 5/10

Final Score: 66/100 or 3.3/5 on Goodreads