Monday, July 1, 2013

Review: The End Games - T. Michael Martin

The End Games by T. Michael Martin
Genre: YA, post-apocalyptic
Published on May 7, 2013
Published by HarperCollins
Pages: 369
Read From: 6.25.13 - 6.28.13

In 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.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I do like the cover, with the spooky shadows and ominous red coloring. Unfortunately, my love for the cover did not transfer over to the story itself.

Characters: I don't have anything good to say in this department. Michael is too busy lying to everyone and hating himself for doing it to really be a good protagonist. There is also the huge fact that Michael is too much of a guy for me to like him on any level. Patrick, his five-year-old brother, is a major brat, not to mention the most dense child I have ever met. He seriously thought it was all a game? And really - he trusted a total stranger that quickly over his own big brother? A brother, I might add, he completely trusts and would follow to the ends of the earth. Stupid child! Jopek, I'll admit, was kind of a fun jerk to hate, but I cared so little about what happened to Michael and Patrick that it didn't really matter to me what Jopek did to them. I mostly wanted Jopek to die so I wouldn't have to put up with his obnoxious accent and ridiculously stupid G.I. Joe persona. The dude was so clichely military awesome that I wanted to groan out loud (actually, I did). The other characters lined up in the typical zombie-cast fashion: the jerk that everyone wants the zombies to eat, but of course ends up lasting for a long time (Jopek), the girl (Holly), the sweet religious, older lady who everyone likes and is therefore doomed to be eaten by zombies (Bobbie), and the young man who blindly follows the jerk and meets a sad end because of it (Hank). Their personalities are about as complex as your basic zombie characters, too: not very. And of course, besides the zombies, there is the fanatical group of crazy humans that have turned the zombies into God's judgment and sacrifice people to them. Rubon, their leader, was a lousy villain. Sure, he was crazy, but he was exactly like every other religious fanatic in zombie stories.

The Romance: Like a typical guy book, not a whole lot of time is spent with romance (not complaining!). Michael notices that Holly is hot, and of course since Michael is a nerd, he doesn't think he'll have a chance with her. Blasting zombies to kingdom come overshadows the romance, so it boils down to a basic, kinda sweet teen crush, and doesn't go much further. So the romance really didn't bother me all that much.

Plot: Oh dear. Well, first off, the official synopsis lies - big time. The "Game" and the "Game Master" are totally unimportant to the story, and last for only about forty pages of this 368-paged book. [Spoiler] Michael just made up the whole Game and Game Master for his brother so Patrick wouldn't know that the zombies were real. I guessed this by page 10, and it's revealed by page 40; maybe sooner. [End spoiler] What the synopsis also fails to mention is that this is a zombie novel. It conveniently doesn't really tell you what the Bellows are - just that they're creatures who prey on people at night. Nope; they're Class A zombies! Needless to say, when I found this out - which was page 5 - I felt totally cheated. Like Michael does to Patrick, this story tricked and lied to me, so that I would read it. What promised to be an interesting and bizarre story boiled down into nothing more than dodging zombies every other page, strung out emotions, and more zombie dodging. In short, there isn't a plot! Once Michael and Patrick meet up with the survivors in a no-longer Safe Zone, they tag along with Jopek every time he goes outside of the perimeter to blast Bellows (no pun intended), and after lots of moaning and muscle flexing and cheesy one-liners from Jopek (while standing astride a pile of rubble with a machine gun in each hand), they all go back behind the perimeter to explore one another's emotions. This mostly consists of Michael realizing just how much of a jerk Jopek really is, while trying to keep Patrick hoodwinked about what's really going on - and Patrick being a stupid child and not realizing the truth. There are some "tragic" losses to the little group (surprise, right? I mean, zombies never get to anyone in the main group), Michael stages a coup against Jopek, which doesn't go well because his other participants are totally unwilling, and then - gasp! There's a twist! Super zombies! Okay, that's not what they're called; they are eventually dubbed Shrieks, because they can literally shatter glass with their screams. Oh yes, and they climb walls, you can pump them full of lead with no effect, they're blood is black and oozing, and for some inexplicable reason, they're shedding their human skin to expose nothing but bone and sinew - and still they somehow manage to climb around. Did I also mention their cliche unhinging jaws? To top all of this silly zombie zone gore, Michael and Patrick have personal issues that, yes, crop up. Patrick is constantly on the verge of a tremendous mental breakdown - the sort that you don't recover from. If he becomes too rattled, he'll disappear into himself and never return. This, of course, leads to a lot of temper tantrums that are supposed to be emotional breakdowns, but quite honestly, it just made Patrick seem like a brat. Why couldn't a zombie eat him? And then Michael is a compulsive liar, blames himself for everything, and has a sob story to constantly break into the narration as flashbacks. Question: why are zombie stories so fixated on emotional trauma?

Believability: It's a zombie book. I shouldn't be looking for believability at all. But I'm going to, because there were two things that really bothered me. One: even if Patrick doesn't think that everything that's going on is real, the kid would still be super traumatized. He's seeing people getting killed in gristly ways! Two: the supposed cure. If the virus is mutating, the original cure would more than likely no longer work.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. The flashbacks, however, are in present tense, and often interrupt the narration in wholly untimely moments. The writing style was terribly difficult to follow. It is almost like the Author wanted the feel of a first-person narration without actually putting it in first person. As a result, Michael's personal thoughts are constantly being interjected, and these are written like stream-of-consciousness. They leap here and there, the words are often run together (like this: ohmygoshIcan'tbelievethisishappeningrunrunrun), and sometimes Michael will be arguing with himself inside his head, and the Author won't tell the Reader! So we get a series of thought processes that are going back and forth between each other, and the Reader begins to wonder if Michael is losing his mind. The general narration was also just plain convoluted, disjointed, movie-ish, and bad.

Content: 31 s-words, 22 g--damns. The f-word is never actually used, but the derivative "fuggin" is a constant and far too close to the actual word for my liking. The violence is, surprisingly, not nearly as detailed as I thought it might be, but it's still got the classic zombie gore.

Conclusion: Why do I get the awful feeling that this might have a sequel? Because it ended on a "this isn't finished" note. In a series of disjointed events, Michael is forced to face down the Raptures - the fanatic religious group that worships the Bellows. This somehow leads to a totally ridiculous explanation to where the virus that created the Bellows and the Shrieks came from, and that leads to a classic zombie horde - complete with a zombie boss. And then . . . poof! Michael defeats them in a totally spur-of-the-moment, what-a-coincidence manner that left me rolling my eyes and shaking my head. Ah, but are they really defeated? Of course not! Because someone out there is going to urge the Author to write a sequel, and nowadays sequels simply must be written (apparently). I really cannot express the depth of my disappointment with The End Games. When I first read the synopsis, I was so excited to read it, because it sounded awesome and weird and possibly a bit like The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games combined. And then I opened it, eagerly scanning the first two pages, and . . . I realized that I had been tricked. It is only because of my dear Readers that I finished the book at all: because I wanted to let you guys know what I thought of it. And now you know.

Recommended Audience: Guy-read, eighteen-and-up, zombie fans!

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