Set in a world where everything that could go wrong truly did, a group of bookies known as The Odds have all the power. The Odds take bets on anything from sports, to decisions others make, to even events in their own life. The more unlikely an outcome, the more jenta you're likely to make off of it if your prediction is right.
I'd describe The Odds as one part western, one part Hunger Games, and one part chess. The blend of these genres may seem a little strange, but that's where the charm of The Odds lies. The world is so damn weird, I'm not sure I can do it justice without writing a book on it myself. For a few bare bones examples: the sun cooks the surface at temperatures exceeding 140 degrees during the day; there are mutants known as dreens who can grow to have two heads, be made up entirely of limbs, or inside out; invisible and very dangerous tricycles; and I haven't even touched upon the strangest parts.
The Odds is the story of Eldrige, who is a failure. He failed at being a Narsyan, he failed at saving some friends, and now he's failed at dying. After making Odds on his own death day in order to clear his debts for his family's sake before he died of cancer, he received the worst news of his life: that he's going to live. The plucky redhead sees only one way out of his predicament, to enter a Xiang tournament, the high-stakes chess match where real people fight to the death to determine which piece captures certain squares.
Xiang, as a concept, has been well thought out. Different pieces are allowed access to certain kinds of weapons and modes of transportation, forcing them to rely on certain methods of combat in order to advance in the tournament. Many different match-ups are featured in the book along with different interpretations on the scope of the the available tools, which keeps these fights engaging. There are a couple of spots where I was confused by the flow of the overall tournament, when attacks seemed to occur without prompting, but whatever The Odds loses in following the rules is made up for in the quality of the action. Even though Eldridge is only one piece on the board, the creativity he approaches each encounter with keeps every fight fresh. No repeat tricks here.
I have mixed feelings about The Odds as a comedy. On the one hand, Eldrige is an epic smarta-- and his banter with the other characters falls at least into Harry Dresden levels of, “This is not the time or the place for your jokes, but we love you for them anyway.” The absurdity of some of the things that exist or happen in The Odds' world could possibly qualify as comedy. For me what gave me a chuckle every time was all Boris Hagan's doing. Hagan has a fascination with pre-deadblast culture, and though he gets the old movie quotes and sayings right, Eldrige only half-remembers but that doesn't stop him from using them all the time. The creative leaps Peterson has Eldrige make had me in stitches. The same can be said of just the general evolution of some words or the naming convention for some items in this universe. What seems familiar never is. On the other hand, the story is so drama and action-heavy that even when many of these more comedic moments were occurring, it was in the midst of heavier material and after some of the events the last thing I felt like was laughing.
Eldrige may be a colossal f--k-up, but, as a character, he's incredibly engaging. His many problems and how he handles them, good and bad, are what make him feel real and easy to follow. The dramatic elements are powerful with many moving pieces. At times I felt that the drama overshadowed either the action or the comedy of this book. The Odds never once lets up, and, like life, sometimes you need more time to recover before diving back into the swing of things. The supporting cast is fantastic with many strange and engaging characters among the ranks. Again, there are far too many for me to list, but I have to give a shout-out to Zora Tola, the tall (Go, tall girls!), music-loving, short-haired constable of Dedrick. Tola has the difficult job of trying to keep the peace by herself when everyone kills everyone else at the drop of a jenta piece. I loved just about every scene with her, and her and Eldrige's quirky friendship added a lot to my enjoyment of the book. If I have one gripe about the dramatic elements, it's the same as the action. There are a few spots where I grew confused by the turns of events. As a narrator, Eldridge knows more than he lets on, and, oftentimes, when I thought he was talking about one thing, it turns out he was talking about another.
The Odds is available digitally over at Amazon. This book is set to be the first in a trilogy of books, so we can expect to see more of Peterson's work in the future.