4 out of 4 stars
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Playing Chess with God by Verne R. Albright is a historical fiction novel and what a great novel. As biased as I might be (because I love this kind of genre so much), I can't praise enough Verne's skills as a writer. I've read some historical fiction novels this year, but Playing Chess with God is a unique book.
First things first, the plot is based on real events that have happened during the period of the California Gold Rush. I mean, the book is a novel and, thus, all characters are not real. The situations that happen in the book, on the contrary, were actual events that used to be commonplace. Anarchy and the total absence of law and order were prevalent. You can find in this book (and in history books as well) not only random killings but also people in terminal conditions trying to get rich before their death. As Eduardo Vásquez said, prospecting is like playing chess with God. But the protagonist, deeply in love with a Chilean woman named Encinas, decides to take chances and go to California before everybody else.
All characters are mainly well developed. Henning Dietzel is an idealistic representation of what a hero could be. He is so perfect that sometimes the reader cannot relate to him. The main character is a puritan in the right way. He neither drinks nor smokes. When he is in love with some woman, he doesn't want to have fun with prostitutes. Throughout the entire book, he is looking for a profitable new business. His obsession with work, however, is motivated by a noble purpose not by greed. On several occasions, he mentions the "rational self-interest" from the book The Wealth of Nations written by Adam Smith. According to his mindset, a wealthy capitalist who exploits workers is a disgusting human being. In many chapters, it's clear that Henning Dietzel is more concerned with worker safety than profit.
I hated the fact that there was no relevant villain to oppose the protagonist. There are some antagonists in the book. Like the Mexicans who robbed Henning's gold, they are all easily defeated and disappear from the story in the blink of an eye. That's what I disliked the most about the book. On the other hand, the book is fascinating, and the description of the environments, customs of the time, and historical events caught my attention from beginning to end. There are many aspects to praise in this book, but the fact that Playing Chess with God is a real page-turner stands out as the most alluring element of the entire book.
In a nutshell, Playing Chess with God deserves 4 out of 4 stars. This book is gripping, funny, and well-written. Some minor flaws aside, there is no reason to give it a lower rating. It's a professionally edited book. I found some missing commas after introductory clauses and two other grammatical errors, but nothing so important in a book with almost 300 pages. I recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction novels. Playing Chess with God is appropriate for people of all religions. I firmly believe that people from different cultures can equally enjoy this book.
Playing Chess with God
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