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The Prize in the Game
Jo Walton
Tor Books, 253 pages

The Prize in the Game
Jo Walton
Jo Walton lives in Swansea, Wales. Her first novel was The King's Peace.

Jo Walton Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

The Prize in the Game is Jo Walton's third novel and although set in the same world as her previous books, Walton claims it can be read without recourse to those books, despite growing out of a brief passage in her debut novel, The King's Peace. While it is certainly true that a person can read The Prize in the Game without previous acquaintance with Walton's world, to do so will leave the reader with the opinion that Walton's world and culture is not as fully detailed as might be indicated by the earlier volumes.

Although Walton clearly knows the ins and outs of the culture she has created in her three novels, she does not provide the reader with this background. Hints are dropped about this strange world in which an elected kingship can go to either men and women, although the exact rules of the eligibility are left out. Because so much of the novel revolves around the jockeying for the kingship of Oriel, this basic premise of the society is something which Walton should have provided.

Background isn't the only information Walton has stinted on. Practically all the action in The Prize in the Game takes place out of sight, related only by characters talking about it after the fact. While in many cases this is fine and helps keep the flow of the novel moving, when the four main claimants to the throne find themselves in an extended contest, showing the activities, rather than just relating them, would give the reader a better sense of the characters' characters. Inclusion of action would also help breaking up the appearance of so many "talking heads" throughout the novel. Walton even glosses over most of the combat sequences, relating the aftermath when she could easily have shown the occurrence.

Perhaps because Walton is juggling four viewpoint characters and several secondary characters, she doesn't have enough time to fully flesh out any of their characters or really show their relationships to each other. The only character who seems to really react with other characters is Maga, who doesn't appear on stage until relatively late in the novel. Although Walton expresses that Conal and Emer are in love, she never really shows any sign of passion between the two. The characters are not helped by the fact that, while not unsympathetic, neither is there anything to allow the reader to grab hold. The characters are simply there, being run through the novel's paces.

Elisions, however, seem to be a major feature of The Prize in the Game. Not only does Walton fail to provide cultural background and action, she jumps around in both location and time. Months pass with barely a comment, and the reader only learns what happened during that time through the device of characters mentioning the events, as well as the passage of time. Given the relatively short length of the novel, the inclusion of action and events would not have amounted to padding, but rather to basic structure of the novel.

Walton includes several interesting ideas in The Prize in the Game, but she fails to fully develop them within the context of the novel. This, combined with the series of skipped detail and the lack of any single character to really grab the reader's attention, leaves The Prize in the Game as a disappointment from a Campbell Award-winning author.

Copyright © 2003 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a four-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings (DAW Books, January, February and March, 2003). In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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