A routine investigation throws a hapless insurance agent down the rabbit hole, into a world where the rich and powerful place wagers on the greatest game on earth.
They call it the Tournament. It offers competition without limits. It is beholden to no man, and constrained by no law, and it is extremely dangerous.
But where does the true power lie in this World Cup of warfare? With those who placing the bets, or with the deadly players themselves? And can one man tell the world what he knows before he’s snuffed out?
Blue Fall is a fun, fast read. The idea of national warriors, who might even be used to settle political disputes between nations, is fascinating. As mentioned on the publisher’s website, the idea of national champions is an ancient one. We’ve all heard of the King’s or the Queen’s Champion and trial by combat is a well-documented medieval phenomenon. It died out halfway through the Seventeenth Century; but what if it didn’t? What if, instead of long, drawn-out wars, international disputes could still be settled in what is essentially a duel to the death? That is the question Griffith poses in his novel. Even if the Tournament started as a secret entertainment for the mega-rich, it’s turning more and more political and it’s hard to guess the consequences.
The book is an easy read and I really enjoyed it. However, I did have some quibbles with it. First of all, this is a long book. Normally I’m fine with door stoppers, but this book felt long at times. It felt as if the narrative could have been tightened. Griffith spends a lot of time introducing his characters, not just the ones that play large parts during the entire narrative, but also the minor characters, such as some of the teams. On the one hand, this makes the reader feel for those she reads about, whether sympathy or dislike as is appropriate, on the other hand, it makes the narrative drag in places and only once the Tournament truly starts does the pace go into overdrive. There are also some storylines that feel either slim or redundant. The main character we start with, that of insurance agent Frank Youngsmith, at one point disappears from the story until quite near the end of the novel, which surprised me since, from reading the blurb, I thought his was the story we’d be following. Another storyline that really seemed redundant, especially once we reach the end of the novel and the events that conclude it, is that of Sarah, daughter to one of the physicians connected to the Tournament. Perhaps her role will make more sense come the second book, but in this book it just took up extra space and just didn’t make sense.
On the positive side, once the Tournament starts the book picks up pace and the scenes between the teams are super suspenseful. In addition, the conspiracy side of this thriller comes out and becomes more and more important. I liked that Griffith incorporated old grudges between the teams into the story, which not only makes for extra character motivation, but also lends an air of credibility to the escalation of violence and the disregard for civilian casualties and the possibility of exposure of the secret of the Tournament. While the introduction of all the characters made the book drag for me, Griffith has a talent for making you care about a character in a short amount of time. He doesn’t just do this for the important characters, but also for the minor ones. For example, I’m still wondering how Diego’s family and especially his nephew dealt with the fallout of the events at their house. Even if there are many, many characters and it’s a bit unclear who exactly are the main characters – I’d even posit there aren’t any main characters, apart from the Tournament itself – it’s never unclear who to root for; all of the characters have dark sides, especially the team members, but it’s clear which of them are the ‘good guys’ and which are the ‘bad guys’.
Since the Tournament is a worldwide event, the book takes us across the globe into many different locations. Due to this being a contemporary novel, the actual world building is kept to a minimum, with more time spent on building up the specifics of the Tournament organisation and the technology that allows the game to be played, than the backdrop against which it is played. I had no problem with this as it was our world in our time and deep-level world building for the locale isn’t necessary in that case, but the background on the Tournament organisation and mechanics was. However, if you do prefer intricate description of the places a book visits, be aware you might be disappointed.
In the end, despite all its flaws, I have to say that Blue Fall is a gripping read, especially towards the end. The idea behind the novel is a very interesting one and I’m looking forward to seeing where the author will take his ideas and the development of the Tournament. I know I’ll be back for the second instalment, if only because I have to know who ends up winning this round of the Tournament! If you’re into conspiracy thrillers and like both mystery and action, I recommend giving Blue Fall a try. Hang in there through the first third and you’ll be racing along to ending and wanting to know what happens next.
This book was sent to me for review by the publisher.