The Master by Claire North is the third and final novella in the Gamehouse trilogy, one that builds on the work of the first two novellas to deliver a thrilling finale. While each of the Gamehouse novellas is self contained, there are some key plot points in The Master that relies on events from The Serpent and The Thief, so you should probably read those novellas before reading The Master.
The Master is set in the present day, the game is chess, the board is the entire globe - a man named Silver has challenged the Gamemaster herself! It is the Great Game, the first time it has been played in centuries, and they are playing for control of the Gamehouse. Previous games such as winning an election or playing a game of hide and seek across an entire country seem so small in comparison to the scale of this game. Instead of people, the pieces for this game are entire armies, factions, organisations, and even nations. The Gamehouse is everywhere, and the results of this game will dramatically change the world as we know it.
Silver and the Gamemaster are two characters that have been introduced in the previous novellas as primary protagonist and antagonist for these novellas. Both have been influencing games between lower players for centuries, helping people out of sticky situations in return for their unconditional support during The Great Game. The sheer scale of this game makes the novella a little unwieldy at times, and there is rarely a chance to examine the results from some of the big plays that occur during the game. But guess that's kind of the point, that these two players are so focused on winning that the lives lost during this game become immaterial. It is fascinating to watch this great game play out, and I loved the way it ended, though I can see why readers might be upset with the ending.
One of the things that is missing from this novella is the narration by the nameless observers. Instead, The Master is told from the point of view of Silver, challenger to the throne, and as a result this novella is missing some much needed levity. I'm not sure why North chose to move away from the watchers as narrators for this story, but I did enjoy the more personal touch that we got from seeing things through Silver's eyes. It would have been very interesting to know what the watchers were making of every move being made by these two players.
The Master concludes what is one of the best trilogies I have read. Just as she has done with The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and with Touch, Claire North continues to demonstrate that there are many original stories left to tell, and that fantasy stories can actually be entertaining and literary at the same time (they are far from being mutually exclusive).
Review by Ryan Lawler
9/10 from 1 reviews
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