The Master by Claire North

The Master

Read December 2015
Recommended for fans of global games
 ★    ★    ★    ★   

The third in North’s triptych of novellas about The Gamehouse.

You keep using that word.


The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch

I know, I know, but I’m having a hard time finding another concept that so perfectly encapsulates the idea of what North has done. This is not a trilogy, precisely, although characters in one appear in another. The plot from one does not pick up and carry on to the next, exactly. What this is is three ways of looking at a Game, a game that is quite possibly rigged.

In this final panel, Silver does the unthinkable: he sets himself to playing the Gamesmaster. While they play, the Gameshouse closes up.

Red brick above, a fire escape pushed awkwardly to one side as if the Gameshouse has transplanted itself into the architecture of this place, shuffling pre-established buildings a little to the left, a little to the right, to the confusion of the mortar around. Which, of course, it has.

Pieces come into play, and some of the other Players have a very good idea what Silver and the Gamesmaster are risking:

It’s not your death that troubles me here, though I am certain that you will die–it’s the death of every pawn, rook and queen the pair of you throw at each other as part of your game.”

The Game will range across continents and as predicted, draw endless numbers of pawns into their maneuvers. As before the setting is lovingly described, so despite the variety of places, they are all beautifully evoked.

“Mongolia is one of the most sparsely populated countries on Earth. Her beauty changes with the eye of the beholder. To a man freshly flung from a still-moving train, it is flat, vast, terrifying, a desert of grass where you might roam for ever, still bleeding, still stinging, and see barely another soul. To a tired wanderer, it is a blessed place, rolling hills and dry shrub where you might start a fire, a warning of mountains in the distance, but an infinite space between you and them.

Characters are quickly and strongly created, with passion and enthusiasm in their mayfly lives.

“I smiled at the man, whose mighty beard and grubby cap declared that here was a man who served the oceans first and la belle France second. Poseidon was his god, the water was his lover, and Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité would be welcome on board only if they were willing to row.”

Silver–and the Gamesmaster–are toiling under the weight of years. One gets the sense that they might have embraced cleverness and strategy without feeling the connection to an end goal.

I laughed at that, and wondered when my own company had become so unpleasant to me.”

As a very small aside, I will note that this should have been proof-read at least one more time. While I can be largely indifferent to rules of grammar and punctuation, Claire North is a word-smith, and as such, I read her writing carefully. Imagine my surprise then, at at least three different typos, one confusing heroine with heroin. (!)

This is beautiful and sad, this is aging and tiring, this is change and staying the same. Close to perfect, except for that little homonym problem and some right-sided questions about the ending.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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