Review by Ian Keogh
A Game Without Rules is the middle portion of a trilogy that began with A Matter of Life & Death. A series of tests was set in motion to determine a kingdom’s new ruler, but among the contestants only Io and Nemas are aware that the adjudicating sorceress is running a fixed game, and her intention is failing contestants don’t just drop out, they die.
That’s pretty well all the background Alexis Deacon supplies for anyone who hasn’t read the opening story. Effort was made there to ensure readers came to know several characters, and the spotlight continues to be on them, but aside from Toras being a villainous bully there’s little clue as to what others are like in the early stages. Those who remember Nemas may be frustrated that it’s a fair way into A Game Without Rules before he appears. However, Deacon builds the background and suspense far better, and four tiers of panels on each page ensure a dense story where imagination is all. It’s clever and it’s thrilling and can constantly wrong-foot readers because that’s the way Deacon, via the sorceress, sets up the rules. There’s also the occasional reminder of the series title, referring to a curse that can’t be broken without dire consequences.
Deacon’s art at first looks sketchy, but there’s considerable definition within that, both of people and locations, making for very busy pages. The colour is also well considered. For much of the book black and white play their parts, yet not as shadow and light, so when there’s a different colour it really stands out.
Because there are games within games, a variety of situations occur, a legal paradox being very interesting, and all the while those with greater knowledge compete against impossible odds. Deacon includes many standbys of the fairy tale, including temptation, transformations and magic, and like fairy tales there’s the occasional lack of sentimentality, an understanding that for a story to be strong an author can’t always be attached to his characters.
What at first seemed to be a young adult fantasy has broadened into something thought-provoking, original and well worth reading. The Will That Shapes the World is noted as concluding Geis, but it never appeared under that title. Instead Geis was rebranded in paperback as Curse of the Chosen, and the conclusion is found under that title.