Review of THE IMMORTAL GAME by JOANNAH MILEY
(based on a review copy)
I went back and forth on whether or not to review this one. Honestly, it’s not really my cup of tea...but I firmly believe it will be an amazing book for the right reader. Sometimes when I dislike a book I can’t see why anyone likes it, but in other cases I can recognize that it’s a matter of taste and understand why others adore a story that I don’t. With THE IMMORTAL GAME, the book feels plot-driven at the expense of characters and I know I’m a primarily character-driven reader. There’s a fast, mesmerizing pace, but the characters often feel melodramatic and contrived.
Despite how the book skews away from my tastes, I enjoyed it nevertheless, in great part because the novel boasts strong writing. I marked numerous pages along the way to quote to someone I know or post on social media. Characters might be most important in my mind, but writing’s high up on the list as well. Miley presents some notably apt emotional descriptions that stuck in my mind.
So what’s the premise? Pre-med student Ruby spends most of her time studying in a café. Ash spends most of his time in the same café, defeating strangers at chess. One day he baits her into a game and she bests him with the one chess strategy she knows, learned from her father before he died in the war. Ash is a sore loser of epic proportions, pretty much stalking Ruby from that point on and demanding to know how she beat him. His fixation’s amusing in a “but be sure to stay in a public place with witnesses” kind of way. Before long Ash reveals himself as Ares, the Greek god of war. He’s both drawn to violence and creates it with his very presence, but for unknown reasons Ruby’s touch calms him. Soon they’re not only declaring their love for each other but intent on asking Zeus to marry them and make Ruby immortal...even if such a request could mean Ruby’s death or even the destruction of all humanity.
Those familiar with my reading tastes might already see from that description where my opinion turned, around that last sentence in the above paragraph. If the part about “and then they decide to get married” sounds abrupt, it’s not because I’m summarizing; it’s because it is abrupt. Ruby and Ash barely know each other (days, if I’m remembering correctly) before they declare love and decide to get married, not to mention decide their love is worth risking the complete destruction of all humanity. This represents the main reason I couldn’t invest more in the book. While I liked some aspects of the story, I never invested in the romantic relationship...which remains the focal point of the plot. My abbreviated thoughts on the romance: 1. Personally, I do not believe you can love someone you just met. I believe you can be incredibly infatuated but my definition of love requires that you get to know the person. 2. I dislike plots that center on the romanticism of grand sacrifices made for love, especially selfish sacrifices. (Ruby risks not only her life but also the lives of every human being.) 3. There’s a strange emphasis on Ruby’s virginity. (I think this is just an underdeveloped attempt to tie in some of the original Greek mythology themes.) 4. The book avoids some of the relationship’s biggest roadblocks. Ares must be centuries old but his age and, hence, their huge age gap is never addressed. Also he has a child with another god, a complication that’s acknowledged but barely.
I also don’t understand Ares’ magic. Though magic can be elusive and limited to the confines of our own imagination, I need to feel I have an understanding of a magic system’s inner workings before I can invest. It seems he’s both drawn to fighting and creates it with his presence. I think what irks me is the lack of will, the same reason I dislike vampires.
Besides the big points of the romance and magic system, the book’s scattered with moments where I couldn’t suspend my disbelief. As one example, Ruby’s known Ash/Ares a few days before she goes off alone with him to try bungee jumping and rock climbing for the first time. Ares is a pretty horrible teacher, too. He doesn’t explain anything, only orders “jump” or “climb” and Ruby does.
There’s great raw material here with the Greek gods and all, but I often wanted mythological twists and complications that feel absurd to our modern sensibilities explored more. I always admire books that can take these crazy stories and make them feel real.
I had too many nitpicky complaints about THE IMMORTAL GAME to fall in love, but I expect readers who are better at suspending disbelief stand a better chance for a book love connection.