The Game of Lives is the conclusion to Dashner's "Mortality Doctrine" series and while it wrapped things up sufficiently, it felt a bit unfulfilling, unbalanced and confused. The concept remained interesting and the plot/pacing was generally good but the experience just didn't finish out as well as I'd hoped. I think there was a combination of me burning out on the idea as well as too many plot twists and turns leaving the overall story progression a bit convoluted and stretched.
For those who haven't read the first two, just know that there will be some general series spoiler information in this review...consider yourself warned. As a quick catch-up, this book is set in a future in which a giant Virtual Reality game system (the VirtNet) has been set up where people strap themselves into bed/coffin like devices and actually "sleep" into the programming. Book One introduced us to an Artificial Intelligence persona (called Tangents) known as Kaine who has figured out a way to allow other Tangents to take the place of humans and to "wake" into the real world with a real "mortal" body. Michael and his friends are approached by VirtNet and government officials and asked to help find and stop Kaine. Once Michael finally reaches Kaine, he finds out that they are both Tangents and that Kaine has chosen Michael to be one of the first Tangents to cross over...which he does at the end of the first book. The second book follows Michael now awake in the real world in a stolen body trying to find his friends and figure out who he can truly trust....Kaine, the VirtNet, the government, or nobody at all. The second book ends with Michael and his friends being busted out of prison after having effectively disabled the VirtNet and declared a type of war against both the VirtNet officials and against Kaine and his plans.
Enter book three. Michael and his friends are rebels on the run but they still haven't really figured out what side they are fighting for and who they are fighting against. The book includes numerous chase and battle scenes both in the real world and inside the crumbling VirtNet. At times, Michael is teamed up with each of the major teams. He alternates between helping other Tangents fighting against Kaine, partnering with Kaine, negotiating with the VirtNet and even hobnobbing with government officials. His trust and suspicions are pulled in every direction possible and as he tries to work out where true loyalties and motivations lie, he muddles through just trying to stay alive and figure out what he thinks should be the morally correct path to follow.
While all of the back-and-forth and psychological introspection and doubt was interesting, I felt like it went on too long (through large portions of all three books) and as a result it left the book floundering for a good target path without a solid protagonist group to root for or a definite antagonist faction to plot against. When our main character frequently flip-flops between all of the groups, it leaves the reader unbalanced and uncertain who to care about. Add to this that even though Michael is a highly advanced piece of programming, I didn't find a lot of depth or growth in his character and I ended up being frustrated at his lack of direction and his constant meandering.
Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy the series. It had a lot of really intriguing ideas both in terms of sci-fi concept/technology and in terms or moral ideas and introspection. While it wasn't as action packed or suspenseful as Dashner's Maze Runner series, it did have some decent adventure scenes that could engage readers. Even though the book and series didn't end up quite as fulfilling as I'd hoped, it was still an enjoyable ride and I've passed it on to my kids to read and see what they think.
3 out of 5 stars
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