Michael Sceptre and the Deathful Chess Games is the first novel in what is shaping up to be an epic new series by author Simba Mudonzvo. The book follows the adventures of Michael, a young boy who reluctantly turns to chess to help him escape from school – a decision with far greater consequences than he could ever have imagined.
One of the things I liked most about this book was the way in which the game of chess operated on three different levels: as a small-scale game; as a tournament between two warring nations with ridiculously high stakes; and as an organising factor in an intricate, severely hierarchical social system, with people being born into factions named after chess pieces. The game of chess runs throughout the novel, uniting different characters and whirling them apart at key moments, and is responsible for much of the book’s beautiful imagery.
This book is definitely an enjoyable read. Although there are a few typos and syntactic issues, Simba’s writing style is nevertheless strikingly flamboyant. His words crackle with a mischievous energy, and some of the jokes in this book really made me chuckle.
The plot line is very imaginative and well-thought out. I love how an entire history has been plotted out with plenty of detail and on epic proportions. Think millions of angels, worlds beyond Orion’s Belt, sages, merchants, an economy that runs on gold and silver pieces and kingdoms who make great use of spies, and you’ve got a pretty good idea about the tone of this fantasy novel. The epic back-story threads through the book as a whole, subtly informing the lives of our protagonist, Michael, his brother Alexis, and some of the other young characters.
Michael himself was a joy to read about. Full of life and vigour, I found myself really beginning to root for him as he navigated his way through various misadventures. One of the central themes of the novel is a preoccupation with death: what it means, who it is applicable to, and how it is intertwined with destiny. It was interesting to see how Michael grew and developed as he learnt more about this key part of his universe.
Simba states at the start of the novel that he wants to entertain the world. I think that, with this book, he definitely makes some progress towards achieving this aim. Michael Sceptre and the Deathful Chess Game is a fun read, and one that will leave you breathless for more.