THE GAMESHOUSE by Claire North.
Orbit Books. p/b. £8.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Thene had a good dowry but it did not lead her to a good husband in Jacamo de Orcelo. There are whispers behind them, all around them, now he has brought her to the Gameshouse. She sees through all of its exotic wonder to the heart of this hidden world, its greed and its cost.
Like Thene, the umpires are always watching as they guard the higher league. Those games are for the true players, the stakes higher as well as the rewards, and those games require an invitation. She watches her husband and their fortune slip away until she meets another man. This one lets her play.
She plays many games. Some she wins. Then, eventually, as her husband further succumbs to drinks and losses, her invitation to meet the Gamesmaster arrives. Thene now has a greater game – a puzzle on a vast scale, a king to crown, a game to conquer.
The Gameshouse is a collection of three previously self-published instalments which begin with Thene’s entry to the mysterious Gameshouse in seemingly ancient Venice. The first tells us her story, then we move to 1930’s Thailand to witness the long game of another player before finally, in the third part, handing the narrative over to one we have seen before. We find him more fully invested in the Gameshouse than those we walked with at the beginning as he plays on a truly global scale.
Told through an omniscient narrative voice that for the most part appears to be standing just behind our key players, this is a deliciously enticing read with an almost-stream-of-consciousness running through it. The three sections move at a brilliant pace as the stories unfold to reveal the greater games and carry us through this uniquely conceived concept until the true scale and purposes of the Gameshouse are revealed.
North has made some unusual choices about dialogue and there are occasional jarring moments where the narrative voice trips over itself, but essentially this is an intelligent and unique story which captivates and satisfies from the first to the last and should definitely be a ‘to read’.