ARC Review: The God Game by Danny Tobey
This is a book I really should have loved, but it’s (mostly) a case of It’s Not You, It’s Me.
About the Book
Publisher: St Martin’s Press | Release Date: January 7, 2020 | Pages: 496
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction | Format: eBook | Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Come inside and play with G.O.D.
Bring your friends!
But remember the rules. Win and ALL YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.™ Lose, you die!
With those words, Charlie and his friends enter the G.O.D. Game, a video game run by underground hackers and controlled by a mysterious AI that believes it’s God. Through their phone-screens and high-tech glasses, the teens’ realities blur with a virtual world of creeping vines, smoldering torches, runes, glyphs, gods, and mythical creatures. When they accomplish a mission, the game rewards them with expensive tech, revenge on high-school tormentors, and cash flowing from ATMs. Slaying a hydra and drawing a bloody pentagram as payment to a Greek god seem harmless at first. Fun even.
But then the threatening messages start. Worship me. Obey me. Complete a mission, however cruel, or the game reveals their secrets and crushes their dreams. Tasks that seemed harmless at first take on deadly consequences. Mysterious packages show up at their homes. Shadowy figures start following them, appearing around corners, attacking them in parking garages. Who else is playing this game, and how far will they go to win?
And what of the game’s first promise: win, win big, lose, you die? Dying in a virtual world doesn’t really mean death in real life—does it?
As Charlie and his friends try to find a way out of the game, they realize they’ve been manipulated into a bigger web they can’t escape: an AI that learned its cruelty from watching us.
God is always watching, and He says when the game is done.
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I wish that I enjoyed this book more than I did, friends. Reading this book was a wild ride of emotions for me because I was interested in the story but also was disengaged from it. The book felt really long while reading it. By the time I was at 85%, I wanted to DNF the book but forced myself to finish since I was so close to the end. Part of me wanted to know. I wish I hadn’t. This book has no discernible meaning or purpose; it is just chaotic neutral.
“‘What you want, gentlemen and lady, is to play God! Turn social order upside down. Claim what should be yours. Go from duds to studs! And so I give you … the God Game!'”
This started as a very exciting read for me that slowly devolved into something that by the end I had come to almost hate. A big part of this is a Me Thing: I often struggle with multiple POV narratives. The narrative style felt disjointed and jarring to read, the “perspectives” bled into each other and veered almost into an omniscient narrator but wasn’t written to be that way. The perspective shifts happen randomly and many times within a chapter, noted solely with a double line break. There are so many characters, too. It’s not only from the 5 Vindicators, either. Randomly perspectives from other characters are thrown in which to me detracted from the plot and muddied the water as to who we are supposed to care about.
Which leads to my next complaint: I didn’t really care about the characters by the end of the book. I was just kinda tired of them. But I liked them at first, before they bled into one another. I think that Charlie is meant to be the main character because he has the most page-time and a lot of the story centers on his grief. But honestly, there was so much going on that I wound up not caring about much of anything.
This is a messed up book. Everyone in the book winds up basically being terrible, and each of the Vindicators have their own personal traumas that lead them to play the game. The game itself is messed up, which you can expect from a tagline Win and ALL YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.™ Lose, you die! But in addition to the plot itself being a messed up nightmare, there’s a character in an abusive and toxic relationship, as well as one with abusive parents. There are things that happen in the book that go Too Far in my opinion. Please be sure to read my content warnings at the end of the review and make sure you are in the right headspace. (Thank you to Lauren for giving me a head’s up – I would have been PISSED had I gone in blind.)
I got my degree in Religious Studies and one of my honors theses delved into the theory of religion. At first, I really enjoyed the religious allusions and how the AI presented itself after being fed all of World Religion. But there is this part near the end of the book where various philosophical theory is debated and explained in excruciating detail by the characters. It kind of read like That Guy in your undergrad philosophy class trying to sound smart with all the things he can recite. As a person who loves philosophy, it wasn’t enjoyable to read – but this may be due to the fact that I was so done with the book by this point.
I don’t feel that anything wrapped up and am pretty unsatisfied with the ending. If you are the kind of person who will want to learn the origins of the game and the nitty-gritty on how the tech works, you will be disappointed. There is no greater message or purpose to this other than veering into nihilism, only without the freedom associated with it. It also gets very heavy on philosophy and theory of religion in the last quarter of the book, which should have been my jam since that is what I studied in university. (view spoiler)
Ultimately, I found The God Game to be a promising premise but an uneven reading experience. While I absolutely adored the first 30% of the book, the longer the book went on the more I disliked it. Due to the number of characters and perspectives, I had a difficult time connecting to anyone or the story at all because I didn’t care what happened to anyone. It is worth noting that my experience is an anomaly among some of my SFF reviewing friends; please check out Alana’s and/or Paul’s review before writing this one completely off. For the right reader, this will be an amazing read. I just wasn’t that reader.
eARC sent by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for my honest review. This does not impact the content of my review or rating. Quotations are from an unfinished proof and subject to change upon final publication.
Content warnings: abusive romantic relationship, animal death, attempted suicide, blackmail, bullying, death, drug use, grief, incest (inferred), loss of a loved one, parental abuse (off-page but referenced a lot), suicidal thoughts, violence
Representation: lgbtqiap+ (Vanhi is lesbian), Indian rep (Vanhi), Asian rep (Alex)
Have you read The God Game yet, or is it on your TBR? Do you have any recommendations for rogue-AI stories or sci-fi where religion plays a huge role?