I received this book from NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.
Publication: today! January 7 2020
CW: attempted suicide, violence, self harm, depression, blackmail
The God Game is the most peculiar, exciting and brilliant book I’ve read in a long time.
The writing is perfect, the characters well rounded and so real, so relatable (Alex and Charlie were really perfect) it hurts, the plot captivating and chilling.
Everything starts with a chatbot, the God game, that answer any kind of question, an AI that claims to be God and starts sending messages on Charlie’s and his friends’ phones, asking them to do something. It’s a game, a wild one where it controls everything, can access everything, from phones, to pc, to cameras and so on. It’s God, He sees and knows everything.
Intrigued by the ad, Charlie, Peter, Vanhi, Alex and Kenny decided to play this peculiar game, using their phone, accessing, in this way, a cool and peculiar virtual reality. The Game is simple. If you do well, you get Goldz and something good will happen in your life. If you do bad, you get Blaxx and more Blaxx you got more likely the player will be killed. And if someone dies in the game, dies in the real life. Skeptic and curious, Charlie and his friends decided to try the Game and they started doing quests, following instructions, running around the school at night, discovering it, through the virtual reality, full of mysteries, gods and quests to accept or to buy.
The game inspired by the religion is a wild one and day after day they each found caught up with missions and with the Game. From simple request to dangerous one, to lies and cover ups.
I loved many things about this book. The game itself is creepy, brilliant, controlling, managing to use its players like pawns, using them and turning them against one other. In a game where the difference between reality and virtual one is really slim, where they can’t trust anything electronic, the characters move and act, in a giant chessboard, without knowing exactly what’s the Game real goal, where are the others players, what will they do, what are the purposes of their missions. It rewards them if the player do what the Game asks and punish them otherwise. It’s a crescendo of missions, lies, revenge and so on, pushing and threatening them into doing things they wouldn’t have done, otherwise.
What I loved more about this book are its characters. I rarely read characters so real, authentic and raw. So multidimensional. So relatable and well constructed.
Charlie is a young man, who lost his mother to cancer and since her disease and death his life, his grades and relationship with his father is spiralling out of control. He feels resentment for his father, who fell apart when his wife got sick, basically leaving Charlie to do the caretaker and bearing his suffering alone.
Vanhi is a brilliant woman, a bass player, an Hindu girl who’s struggling against her parents’ expectations and their desire she will go to Harvard, hiding a bad grade and a paper forged from them.
Kenny is a cellist, the philosopher, from a very religious family and he too, like Vanhi, has to suffer his parents’ pressures to do better, to do perfectly.
Alex is a nihilist, a young man who is abused at home, depressed and lonely, bullied and feeling himself suicidal.
Peter is the golden boy of the situation, the rich one, the carefully hidden deranged one, doing drugs and dealing, with his absentee father and a mother who left him when he was young.
They found solace in their group, called the Vindicators, doing pranks, supporting each other and doing the Game, that tested their friendships, morals and lives.
Each one of this characters, the main ones, are beautifully written and I was able to feel their rage, pain and frustrations. What it impressed me was that the side characters were amazingly well rounded too. There aren’t sterotypes, like the girl to win over or the bad guy. We read about Mary, the perfect and beautiful girl, controlled and with a big secret to mantain. Kurt, violent henchman, with an homophobic father. Tim, violent and controlling, with his stealing father. There are no absolutely good or bad people in this book, but incredibly complex ones. Even Charlie and his friends nurture feelings that could hurt one other, like envy or bitterness or rage, raging against each other, hurting each other.
The Game, knowing everything about them and their dreams, manipulated them and everyone else in a big chessboard, moving pieces like it wants. Or He wants, according to the Game.
It was amazing reading about the augumented reality, seen through phones or glasses, reading about missions, packages, quests and it was disturbing and creepy see the characters being controlled more and more, until they try to quit the Game and be free. Reading they being so controlled and observed was suffocating and I felt their emotions, their warring thoughts.
I loved the characters in The God Game, because they were flawed and human. Charlie with his rage, Alex with his depression, Peter with his need to control everything, Kenny and Vanhi with their desires and family’s pressures. It was moving reading how Charlie was so lost after his mother’s death and how Peter, in his own, maybe debatable ways, was with him or how Charlie was so caught up in his own grief to not want to reach for Alex’s pain, favouring the carefree and unconcerned Peter. Or how Alex was so in pain to get involved so much in the Game, that used his suffering to manipulated him. Or Vanhi’s and Kenny’s ambitions, their fear of disappointing their parents, their need to do the right thing, to be honest.
This book put forward interesting and moral questions. If it someone or something offered me what I want, would I accepted it? Even if it hurt someone? Could I hurt someone to save someone else, maybe a loved one? Someone else’s pain is worth my friends’ or family’s lives or could I sacrife someone to save myself or my loved ones?
During all the book, from small and innocent missions, the characters found themselves debating moral choices, which path take. If someone is a bully he deserved to be hurt and humiliated? Can I ruin someone’s life to life mine better?
What will you do if your life isn’t yours to control anymore? If you didn’t ever have any control on it? What will you do when you’re so caught up in the Game and you can’t see any way out other than the worst one? And the Game, in his infinite power, manipulated, fooled and tricked all his gamers, until the ending, showing them the free will was a difficult thing to achieve, in The God Game, to be free from the Game itself.
Charlie and his friends grew in the book, I loved reading about their development, their choices, their desires, their healing each other. I loved their relationship, how they all are so fallible, human, torn between doing the right thing and follow their desires, their selfishness.
Besides pushing the reader to think about moral choices, grey areas and religion, it’s a book about friendship and relationship, mostly between fathers and sons, from the complex and incredibly frustrating one with Alex and his father to Charlie and his dad.
About friendship, because it was absolutely moving reading they going to the great lenght to save and protect each other, notwithstanding their small fights and misunderstanding.
It was a book that gave me hope, because its characters, even though they are hurt and flawed and will do mistakes in the future, go towards a path of growth, forgiveness, another chance to liberation, like one of the character say.
That things may seems bleak and awful, but you could go on, pick yourself up, glue the pieces together again and try to be better, to try again and harder. Not alone, of course. With friends, family and help.
This book is absolutely brilliant, pushing the reader to ask questions, to seek answers, to be moved by friendship and love
And, to be honest, to fear how far the technology, any AI, could go and do.
An excellent read. A 5 solid star. Danny Tobey’s writing style is enthralling and his characters are alive and pulsing with life and choices.
“I’m a guinea pig in a fucking morality play that stops when I’m dead?”
His mind was a house of pain, all exits locked.