THE GAMESHOUSE / AUTHOR: CLAIRE NORTH / PUBLISHER: ORBIT / FORMAT: PAPERBACK/ RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Claire North tends to produce rather powerful and stunning work. Both The 15 Lives of Harry August and 84K contained strong engaging narratives. They drew you in to a central mystery, making for compulsive reading that stayed with the reader long after the book was put down.
The Gameshouse is a collection of three novellas all drawn together by a larger meta-narrative. The premise is that an ancient and secretive group run games at a higher level. Win, and all the power in the world could be yours. This is a setting where all the world is not so much a stage, but more like a chess board. All the strife and fortune of the world, available to those with the right sort of gaming skills. We have three novellas here. The first, The Serpent, is superb. Filled with North’s sumptuous style and engaging wit, it’s the tale of Thene, a woman pushed into hardship through callous indifference. The stakes are set up perfectly, and it’s a thrilling read. It suits its length perfectly, and the main character is just unlikeable enough to make you root for them. Clever stuff.
The Thief is also quite fun. It’s literally the thrill of the chase as we follow the main character diving from peril to peril. The premise is a game of Hide and Seek. The playing area is all of Thailand and the prize is longevity - literally more life. It’s quick, fast and fun. You’ll tear through this one quickly, which is part of the problem as you’re very much left wanting more. And alas the final novella does not deliver.
Finally we have The Master which is based around chess. It has great set up but is a little disappointing which, in fairness, is also a good description of chess itself. This is a game between spymasters vying for power, with actual people as pawns. It’s not a new idea, and it doesn’t really tie in with the rest of the book.
The main problem is the structure of each story. Because this is three novellas, the tales end just as we are getting into them. North is brilliant at creating multi-layered tales with multiple angles, some of which requiring a re-read to comprehend. With The Gameshouse there simply isn’t time to get this sort of experience. Though each story hangs on the same premise, it doesn’t tie together very well. A lovely idea that doesn’t quite reach the heights it promises, but is entertaining none the less.