Goodreads: Endgame: The Calling
Series: Endgame #1
Twelve thousand years ago, the sky gods descended and created humanity. They warned that one day they would return and that they would wipe out the planet. One chance for survival would be given. Each of the twelve bloodlines must have a player, a trained killer and puzzle solver, ready to play Endgame. The winner and their people would be the only ones left after the apocalypse. Now Endgame has come, but are the players ready?
I picked this book up on a whim, having vaguely skimmed the cover jacket and seen a mention of aliens. Only after I brought it home did I realize that this book is actually more like The Amazing Race than it is a work of science fiction and only later than that did I realize that one of the co-authors is James Frey. Since I borrowed the book from the library, however, and did not pay for a copy, I decided to read it anyway and to judge the book on its own merits. My judgement, unfortunately, is not favorable.
The premise of the book, that twelve contestants are racing around the world to solve a puzzle and thus save the lives of their friends and family, means that the authors have to juggle a fairly large cast of characters. Some writers are quite capable of this–Downtown Abbey, for example, possesses a huge cast but each of the characters tends to appear in each episode and to have some sort of development, even if it’s small (I say this as someone who has seen scattered episodes). Endgame: The Calling, however, never really tries to introduce all the players. Perhaps five of them play a key role in this installment of the series and thus receive the most chapters and the longest. The others are left to fall by the wayside, randomly returning only to remind readers that they have no idea who these people are and thus really don’t care about them. One player is even offed at the very beginning, presumably just so the book doesn’t have to bother with him.
The characters who receive the most extended treatment in this book are possibly some of the most unlikable. Though the end of the world is coming and the players could conceivably choose not to play the game (seriously, without reading the book it’s obvious that the only way to save the world is to band together and not go through this ridiculous charade at the behest of some random entities), the characters essentially all decide that, as tender teenagers, they’re going to act like the trained killers they are and just hunt all their enemies down and create carnage around the globe. This really is a ridiculous plan, since there is no rule that you have to be the last one standing, only that you have to solve the puzzle. Yet the majority of the players want to eliminate people who could help them win–after all, what happens if you’re the last player but you can’t solve the code? Watching all the players go crazy just because someone told them they have to play a game, a game, for the fate of the world is sad and puzzling and even disturbing. After all, if someone thinks human lives are part of a game, would you trust them? Some of the characters start to realize something is wrong with this picture, but this comes toward the end and these particular players were never the focus of this book.
The players the book does focus on have their own disturbing stories. SPOILERS AHEAD. One girl and a guy (I can’t even remember their names) team up together and start, predictably, to have feelings for each other even though the girl has a boyfriend back home she was ready to marry. Cue the infamous love triangle that sees the girl trailing along two guys because “she’s in love with two people at once and it’s just so hard”. Another story follows an emotionally disturbed boy who begins stalking a fellow player because he thinks she can “heal” him and, of course, she falls in love with him after he kidnaps her. The third main story is less prominent than these, but follows a bloodthirsty boy, the youngest of the twelve, who tortures another player for fun.
If the uneven focus of the story, combined with the terrible writing (all present tense, simple sentences), were not enough to make me decide not to pick up the sequel, the contents of the book would. Stories can contain danger and pain and fear and make it somehow worthwhile, but this one simply seems to want to see how far it can push the boundaries of disturbing in a YA world. It’s not a world I want to be in.