Title: The End Games
Author: T. Michael Martin
No. of Pages: 384
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Origins: Balzer & Bray
Bottom Line: Fantastic reboot of the dystopian/monster genre
“It happened on Halloween.The world ended.And a dangerous game brought it back to life.Seventeen-year-old Michael and his five-year-old brother, Patrick, have been battling monsters in The Game for weeks.In the rural mountains of West Virginia – armed with only their rifle and their love for each other – the brothers follow Instructions from the mysterious Game Master. They spend their days searching for survivors, their nights fighting endless hordes of ‘Bellows’ – creatures that roam the dark, roaring for flesh. And at this Game, Michael and Patrick are very good.But The Game is changing.The Bellows are evolving.The Game Master is leading Michael and Patrick to other survivors – survivors who don’t play by the rules.And the brothers will never be the same.”
Thoughts: Up until Halloween, Michael Faris thought he had a rough life. For so many years, it was just his mother and him eking out a living. Once his stepfather entered the picture however, their relationship changed, and now Michael worries about his much-younger brother in this now hostile environment. Little does he know that the day he decides to set out to protect Patrick, the world ends. Now, fleeing a new and dangerous enemy, Michael and Patrick set forth on The Game, which pits Michael and Patrick against the Bellows in a fight for their very survival.
The End Games by T. Michael Martin is a twisting, unsettling story in which a reader is left mirroring Michael’s own confusion at the unexpected changes in their plans and in the world. Michael and Patrick are so good at The Game that the line between reality and their own version of reality is indistinguishable, further adding to a reader’s uncertainty. The lack of clarity, however, is perfect for setting the tone of the story, as not all survivors have the same need for rescue as Michael and Patrick, and a human mask hides one’s inner monster. The end of the world should be bewildering and uncomfortable, and Mr. Martin makes sure it is for both his lead character and for the reader.
One of the truly fascinating aspects of the story is all of the characters’ dynamism. No one is immune to character development and growth, including the Bellows. Since even the Bellows are changing and evolving, neither the reader nor Michael knows what to expect at each meeting. This only enhances the considerable tension and sense of unease that permeates the entire story. Michael’s growth is particularly messy but fitting, as he is forced to face some necessary truths about his ability to read situations and the overall goodness of others. The fact that he gets taken down a peg or two along the way only serves as reminder of his youth and inexperience in the wider world. He might be wise in some areas, but as he finds out, he still has a lot of learning to do.
Michael’s situation regarding his brother Patrick is particularly compelling. It may be one of the first times in a YA, dystopian novel where the younger sibling is mentally challenged, and this definitely adds a layer of complication as well as sense of urgency to the proceedings. For Michael, survival in this scary new world is not as simple as finding food and shelter, but he also has to maintain a level of composure and confidence in order to keep his brother calm. It is an intriguing plot twist, and one that helps set The End Games apart from the rest of this overpopulated genre.
The End Games really does rise above the rest of the ever-popular dystopian young adult storylines that exist. While there are indeed familiar elements – teen with no parents on his own and fighting for his survival, facing both evil monsters and humans – there are enough modifications to make all the difference. In particular, the evolution of the monsters, as they adapt to each battle and show surprising intelligence for being zombies, is a surprisingly effective twist. The landscape of Mr. Martin’s envisioned world is not as hopeless as one might initially believe, and this as well is a welcome change. For Michael and Patrick come across scenes of beauty interspersed among the chaos, and this natural beauty is hope. Most importantly, The End Games is a stand-alone novel. There are no cliffhangers, no loose ends, and no unanswered questions to frustrate readers. Mr. Martin remains true to his sense of realism and avoids tying up the story into a neat little package, but there is enough closure for even the most discerning reader. This all combines to create a fresh new story in an overdone genre that does much to help readers remember why the genre became so popular in the first place.