Barnes balances several plot threads pretty well and I enjoyed the puzzle elements, even though I grew a little tired of several of the Hawthorne boys by the end.
Originally published in 2020
The Inheritance Games #1
Followed by The Hawthorne Legacy
Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her luck changes in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves her virtually his entire fortune. The only catch? Avery must move into his sprawling mansion, full of secret passages, riddles, and codes. Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that was just disinherited. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic boys who grew up with every expectation that, one day, they would inherit billions.
Heir apparent Grayson is convinced that Avery is a con woman, and he’s determined to take her down. But his brother Jameson views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.
The first time I heard about The Inheritance Games it was from a very enthusiastic bookseller who described it as the perfect book for teens who loved Knives Out. That, I thought, was me (well, admittedly not the teen bit) and while I didn’t buy it on the spot I remembered the sales pitch and eventually got around to picking it up a month or two ago. What I should have considered though is that there is more than one reason to love Knives Out and the bit the bookseller was referencing, quite correctly, was not so much the mystery element but the family dynamics.
You see, while The Inheritance Games is a mysterious read with some puzzle elements, I am not entirely convinced you should read it as a mystery – at least, not the sort the reader has much opportunity to solve. Instead I view it as a sort of treasure hunt for the truth with some moments of adventure and flirtation. Which is pretty much what the back cover blurb, quoted above, clearly indicates. Shame on me for not reading it carefully. Still, while the book may not be the neatest fit for this blog in terms of its content, I think it is close enough to make it worth writing about.
The question at the heart of the novel concerns an unexpected inheritance received by Avery Grambs from billionaire Tobias Hawthorne, a man she has no recollection of ever having met. What makes this even stranger is that the he has disinherited his own family to do so. The one stipulation is that Avery must live at Hawthorne House, where the disinherited family reside, for a full year to receive the money. A situation that proves every bit as uncomfortable as it sounds.
Hawthorne had four grandsons who Avery soon comes into contact with. While most of the family wonder over questions of paternity or elder abuse, one of the four, Jameson, reads the situation quite differently. He suspects that their grandfather has left his grandchildren one last great puzzle to solve and thinks Avery must be the key to doing that. Together they begin to piece together the clues that have been left for them.
What follows can be divided into several story strands. The first concerns Avery’s efforts to adjust to her new wealth and position with the new demands and pressures that come with it. This includes managing her interactions with the Hawthorne family, the media and her existing friends and family. Barnes handles this material thoughtfully, particularly the questions around those interpersonal relationships, though I felt that the press interactions and her experiences at her new school were not particularly interesting in themselves. What I think they do however is reveal aspects of Avery’s character.
The second concerns the question of why Tobias Hawthorne selected Avery and disinherited the boys. This question runs throughout the novel and will be answered by its end. This strand of the story contains its strongest mystery elements with Avery and the brothers discovering several puzzles they must solve. Some of these are ones the reader can engage with too, though some of the earliest involve physical steps the reader cannot take for themselves. The nearer we get to the end however the more the reader can do and the answer to the ultimate question is one that I think most will work out before the answer is given to them.
The next involves some information about the Hawthorne family’s past. This is introduced midway into the novel – too late to describe in detail – but I felt that it helped flesh out the characters of some of the boys. It also prompts one of the strongest scenes in the novel which seems to consciously nod to a famous work of romantic suspense fiction, echoing one of its most memorable moments.
To describe the last would be to get into solid spoiler territory but it is alluded to in the blurb as “danger around every turn”. This is initially presented as a mystery though as there is only one character who feels like a credible suspect at that point, I think it doesn’t quite work in that way. It does provide the strongest moment of action in the novel however and it is all quite readable.
Barnes balances these different story strands, weaving them together in such a way that I feel that each gets enough time to develop. The only one that feels a little disconnected is the fourth, given its late introduction and comparatively simple resolution, although I understand that it added elements of action and physical danger that the book needed.
Avery’s background and personality make her an appealing protagonist that the reader will likely want to see survive and thrive in the difficult circumstances she finds herself in. Barnes’ depiction of what it would be like to suddenly find yourself wealthy beyond your wildest dreams is emotionally convincing, even if the descriptions and the details of that lifestyle sometimes feel a little ridiculous.
In contrast, I found the four boys sometimes felt quite flat in spite of the efforts of the author to give them each unique characteristics.
The most interesting of the four to me was Xander, the youngest one who has a much more limited role in this story. His personality is however the most distinct and the author does a good job of explaining those differences. I found myself looking forward to each of his appearances and I was happy that the ending of this novel hints that he will become more important in the subsequent volumes.
Nash, the eldest, I found to be more interesting when he was discussed by others than when he was actually present. His interactions with Avery are largely predictable, though I think his personality is interesting.
We spend most of our time with Jameson and Grayson however and while I enjoyed some aspects of their interactions with Avery, I soon tired of both. This is not helped by the way the book presents them as possible romantic interests for Avery – I certainly wasn’t sensing that these boys were as ‘dangerous’ or ‘magnetic’ as the blurb suggests (for good measure I checked with my wife, who loved this book, and she wasn’t feeling the romantic triangle either).
As for the extended members of the household, many feel quite bland and indistinct, having only limited interactions with Avery. I was a little disappointed by this given the promise of conflict that seemed to come with the idea that they would be forced to live together for a year which turned out to be largely indirect. Hopefully Barnes returns to this idea in the sequels and fleshes these characters out a little more. I think we actually get a much stronger sense of who Tobias Hawthorne was than most of his surviving family members in spite of his being dead before the book even begins.
There are two sequels planned for this book, one of which comes out next month, but this novel does resolve its core question by the end. We learn exactly why Avery was picked and what Hawthorne’s objectives were. The solution is pretty well clued and so unlikely to be particularly surprising but I felt it made a sort of sense given the way those characters had been drawn. It also sets up a promising new question that the next book will apparently address.
I am not sure yet whether I will plan on reading the next one. I enjoyed the puzzle aspects in this first installment, particularly those that we could solve (such as the riddle), but found some of the material with the brothers to be a little forced and I had little interest in the romantic tensions. For those who enjoy teen reads though I think there is some enjoyment to be found here, particularly for those who enjoy a more adventurous storytelling style.