The Serpent by Claire North

serpent(reviewed by Leticia Lara)

Recently in a conversation on twitter I asked for recommendations of other readers, and they convinced me to read Claire North, an author who is enthralling me.

A novella is a good way to approach an author, since the length of the work permits to read it fairly quick to get an idea of their writing. When all three installments of The Gamehouse were put on sale, I bought them almost immediately.

The first installment, The Serpent, lays the foundations of what will be the background of the rest of the series. A gamehouse with several levels where apart from chess, checkers, etc. we participate in other, higher games. The stakes are as high as desired, and not only life is played upon.

I must say that as a concept is not very original (we can refer to the Dangerous Games anthology to see something similar), but the concept is not what I liked best of the book. Execution is what has seemed more special to me.

The author uses prose that is deceptively simple and at the same time really attractive. Instead of an omniscient narrator, North makes us part of the story by using an complicit second person plural. The longest chapters alternate with shorter ones, to make the story not miss a beat. The characters are represented just with shallow strokes, but end up being better defined thanks to the actions carried out and thanks to the reflections about them made by the protagonist of the story.

The setting, in the Venice of the early seventeenth century, is perfectly suited to the game of thrones we will be attending. A full-fledged election campaign where they can and should use all the resources to be crowned winner. This is what Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves might have been if not for the defects of that novel.

As an added nod in the course of the game pawns are used, each identified by a tarot card, overlapping, so that for every action there is an opposite reaction. A very clever maneuver by the author, weaving different levels of complexity with each new turn.

In short, a great discovery that I cannot recommend enough. I must also thank @odo and @mertonio for making me read to Claire North.

Buy this book.

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