4 out of 5 stars
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Amid spectacular ninja fights, who can win when the game is death?
Lured by a prize worth more than money, a group of billionaires pay their dues to partake in the Death Game run by mysterious character Deathlist. They can pick one contestant to survive, who they may not protect, while having any of the others killed. The contestants have something of a sporting chance against hired killers in that they are not regular humans, but "Evolutionites" with superpowers.
One of these "Evos" is Tanaka. We meet him in Tokyo, teleporting into the bathroom because he is acutely nauseated after drinking too much "Liquid Death" at his brother Daniel's wedding. Little does he know how aptly titled that beverage is, for he and Daniel, another Evo, have been put in the Death Game pool. When they first come under attack, they don't know what's hit them. Now they need to figure out how to get the best of whoever's been hired to hit them.
This is the action-packed start to The Game of Death by Timothy P. Callahan. I loved the way the story jumped right into the Evos' world. Fantasy can sometimes get bogged down in exposition, a pitfall Callahan avoids. Providing enough detail to set the scene, he then shows the heroes' powers in action in a way that's integrated with the plot.
These superpowers were fun to read about and imagine. Tanaka can teleport his mother's groceries from the market to the kitchen counter (not what she had in mind when she asked him to help), or he can whiz a threat away from the scene in perilous situations. Suspense builds when he and Daniel find themselves up against foes who also have powers. As these are used to counter their own powers or otherwise trick them, letting their guard down could be fatal.
In that connection, this book featured fight scenes worthy of action films or video games. Daniel and Tanaka were also known by their hero names, Shadow Ninja and Dagger. You'll appreciate this story if you're a fan of Japanese culture, and it includes details about fighting with katanas and other weapons. It features a flavourful mix of magic and advanced technology, so that both psychic powers and computer simulations play important roles. There's some romance and some strong and capable female characters. There is some violence but it is not overly graphic: this is suitable for young adults and up.
Overall, it was a quick and enthralling read, with the action crescendoing towards the end. I particularly liked the ending. Callahan struck an excellent balance between rounding off the main plot of this novel and bringing in intriguing pointers to a sequel. Although part of a series starring Evolutionites, The Game of Death works as a standalone.
The writing was pleasingly concise, packing in a lot of action, and including enough backstory for clarity. Occasionally, there was too much step-by-step detail about characters doing ordinary things like walking across a room then opening a door, and the like. Also - this may just be a matter of personal taste, but I'm not sure why Tanaka's teleporting had to be accompanied by popping noises. This jarred a little somehow because it seemed too similar to Harry Potter, while not adding any real value to this story. Speaking of teleporting, while the pacing was great overall, some plot jumps were a little sudden. (Rather like someone teleporting!)
These shortcomings were very minor. Overall, this book was excellently crafted and went into imaginative detail with a thrilling plot and pace. Taking account of the slight areas for improvement mentioned above, along with the fact that I found more than ten typos, my rating is four out of five stars. This book deserves that very good rating on the basis of its plot, descriptions and characters. You'll love this if you enjoy cinematic fight scenes with a ninja flavour.
The Game of Death
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