I am absolutely loving Claire North’s THE GAMESHOUSE series so far. Loving it. These are short stand-alone novellas set in an alternate version of our world where an enigmatic institution called The Gameshouse works behind the scenes to influence minor and major world events. It does this by collecting and using people as “players” and “cards.” For example, The Gameshouse may offer to help a politician win a race and, in return, that politician must make himself available as a “card” when one of the players of the Gameshouse needs to use him in the future. Nobody knows what the ultimate goals of the Gameshouse are, and most people don’t even know that it exists, but there are many players and cards who have found themselves under its dominion:
There have always been houses where games were played, but this is no common parlour, no place for dice and the snap of a card upon the table. Surely if that is the distraction you desire, you may play in the lower league with the lesser men, who bet only money and pride. But if you are good enough — if you have the will to win — then step through these silver doors and come into the higher place where we ancient souls and scheming players lay our bets down in life and blood, in sight and souls.
The Thief is the second novella in the series. You don’t need to read the first novella, The Serpent, first, but these are so good that you’ll want to read all of them, so it would make most sense to start with the first one since it gives a little more background on both The Gameshouse and one of its major players who we eventually meet in The Thief. I highly recommend the audio versions of these novellas. They are more expensive, but Peter Kenny’s narration is so brilliant that it’s absolutely worth it (you must listen!). Each is just under 4 hours long.
This second story is set in Bangkok in the 1930s. Remy, a Gameshouse member who has been living in Thailand, is challenged by another player to a game of hide and seek. Remy must hide for as long as he can from his opponent, but he can’t leave Thailand. When he is tagged, the players will switch sides and Remy will be the seeker. The winner is the one who stays hidden the longest. However, just like all the Gameshouse competitions, this one has high stakes. If Remy doesn’t win, he loses not only the game, but all of his memories.
The game is exciting and fast-paced as Remy tries to stay hidden in Thailand. We get to see a lot of the country’s beautiful scenery, meet its people, and experience its culture as Remy attempts to flee and/or just fit in. (As a very tall white man, Remy is “the most obvious man in Thailand.”) We visit train stations, river markets, jungles, villages and monasteries. We meet opium smugglers, snake sellers, and a woman who has been ostracized in her village. We ride in a truck with the chattiest man in the country. (You have got to hear Peter Kenny perform this scene!)
So much of the pleasure of reading these stories is Claire North’s striking prose and unusual narrative voice. Her style is gorgeous without being pretentious. Every aspect hits the right notes — plot, characters, setting, style, and just a touch of romance and humor. I also think it was smart for North to write short episodes that stand alone.
I hope THE GAMESHOUSE series goes on for a long time. I’m looking forward to the next one: The Master. Obviously, I will choose the audio version again.