The Game of Sunken Places has at its core several relatively humdrum concepts: a board game that plays for real, a hidden kingdom, two friends (one timid, one outgoing), a race to save the (or a) world. This isn’t so bad since so much fantasy works with the same basic materials. The question is whether the author transcends the familiar and here the answer tends to be no.
The story follows a pair of thirteen-year-old friends, Gregory and Brian, as they go up to Vermont to visit Uncle Max (not really related) and cousin Prudence. Tension is set from the start by a surprisingly dark intro piece set at Max’s. Once the boys arrive, they become quickly embroiled in playing the game, or, as it’s referred to by everyone, The Game, the board version of which they found in the old nursery. The boys must solve riddles; avoid near-fatal run-ins with their seeming opponent Jack; deal with trolls, ogres, elves; explore hidden cities and sunken rivers and so on.
The game play is somewhat jumbled and all too arbitrary, with little sense of import or menace despite the various pronouncements of impending doom. The boys wander from oddly named place to oddly named place with no real sense of meaning, even at the end when all is explained. The two boys are also a bit muddled, not sharply enough defined. The same can be said of all the characters save one, the troll, who stands out as the only character of any depth in the book.
In the end, neither the story nor the characters offer much of a compelling nature and while Game isn’t a bad book, it doesn’t rise to the level of much that is out there to read. Therefore not recommended.