Endgame – The Calling by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton

January 7, 2015

Endgame by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton is a YA novel in which a group of young people, known as Players, have to fight for the survival of a section of humanity in Endgame.  For generations, certain bloodlines have been privy to a secret; Endgame is coming in which humanity will be judged and culled by a mysterious group of aliens.  Only a subset will survive.  Which groups will survive will be determined by the winner of Endgame.  I understand that this book contains real-life puzzles for readers to solve which will lead to a real world prize.

I will start by saying that this book ended up in my didn’t-finish pile.  I thought the concept was interesting, but I had several issues with the execution.  I read around 50% and then found that I was really struggling to pick up the book to finish.

What I liked

The concept.  This is what drew me to the book.  I found the idea of a group of people battling for the survival of their ethnic group intriguing.  I liked that humanity in general is unaware of its pending destruction and only those who are chosen to represent their groups and their advisers are in the know.  The fact that each of the Players has a different attitude towards Endgame was well done.  Some are horror struck that they must take on this responsibility and kill or be killed, others are excited to put their years of training into practice.  Some of them choose to ally themselves with others, while many are out only for their own survival.

What I didn’t like

The writing style.  The book is written from a multi character viewpoint, with very short chapters switching between the characters.  These are interspersed with what I assume are the real-world puzzle part of the book.  The narrative is written in a very immediate, choppy style which I really didn’t appreciate.  The short paragraphs switching between characters made it very difficult for me to engage with any of the protagonists.  For me it might have been better to have longer sections with each of the protagonists.

Too many protagonists.  There are about 12 or 14 Players and at least up until I gave up they were all being given equal page time.  I found it very difficult to care for any of them because I didn’t feel we spent enough time with any of them to get to know them better.  Also, they are frequently referred to by the ethnic groups they represent.  Although there was a list provided, for me at least I found it difficult to connect the character with the ethnic group, and each time I had to pause to work out which character was being referred to, I had been thrown out of the story. Perhaps that might have got better if I’d stuck with it, but for me personally, the little enjoyment I was getting from the book was not worth the continued effort.  I also didn’t see these aspects improving for me as the book went on.

Obvious themes.  At the point i left it, there was a divide amongst the Players between those who were willing to work with the others and those who would kill their fellow Players on sight.  I think I’m pretty safe in saying that the the series will reveal that the point of Endgame is not to survive but to prove to the mysterious judges that humans are capable or working together in peace.

All in all, I can’t give Endgame more than two stars out of five.  You may find that it appeals to you more than me, however.

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