The End GamesFeatured
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.
T. Michael Martin’s debut novel is a transcendent thriller filled with electrifying action, searing emotional insight, and unexpected romance.
Bear with me, please, because The End Games is one of those novels with a twist fairly early on that makes reviewing the book without spoilers difficult. Still, I shall endeavor to sum up my basic thoughts while not revealing anything not mentioned in the blurb. T. Michael Martin's debut is a very strange book in pretty much every way: the plot, the characters, and, most significantly, stylistically. All of this add up to distinguish the novel from other post-apocalyptics that take on the concept of an outbreak that turns human into monsters.
The End Games reads most like a zombie novel, though the Bellows are certainly not like the average zombies, except that they too are best taken out with a head shot, and that they were once human. The Bellows manage to be eerier. Rather than moaning like zombies generally do, the Bellows are like echoes, repeating any words they hear in a long shout. Of course, this is nice since you can hear them coming, but also freaking scary when you realize they're surrounding your position, and, since they're so loud, they're probably going to draw more Bellows to your position. In case that's not bad enough, they're evolving into something much worse.
What I think Martin does best here is the horror aspect. The End Games is pretty frightening, offering gore, monsters, battles, and psychological terror. Michael, a teen, and his five year old brother, Patrick, are trying to survive, to find a Safe Zone with other survivors, in this hellish Game. Getting through an apocalypse on your own would be bad enough but with a kid in tow? Yikes! When they do finally encounter other people, it's very hard to know who to trust and who's crazy, including with the brothers. All of this kept me engaged and curious.
There's a strong focus on family in The End Games, which I greatly appreciate. Michael is an amazing brother. He takes such good care of Patrick, not resenting him for making survival more difficult. In fact, Michael needs Patrick just as much, because he has to keep it together for Patrick, keep hope and motivation.
T. Michael Martin uses a very interesting storytelling method. The End Games is written almost like a reality show about a particular character. The narration is third person limited, following Michael. However, the narrator seems at times to interact with Michael, adding to the video game feel of the tale in what is a slightly discomfiting but powerful technique. Here are some examples of that:
"Dang, she's so cool.
Dang, don't think that.
Because of on account of this being the most horrible time to get a crush on a girl.
Oh. Right. Daaaang."
"Keep going. You're scared, that's true, but."
In the first example, a lot of Martin's style is illustrated. Michael's thoughts are included throughout in italics, though whispers are as well and sometimes emphasis as shown here. Michael and a couple other characters speak in some sort of strange dialect and occasionally hold out words, like with that last "dang." You can also see the way the narrator just answered his question, and he in turn responded to that. Even more interesting, the narrator actually emulates Michael's way of speaking/thinking; the bulk of the narration is in standard American dialect. In the second, the narrator eggs Michael on, urging him not to give up in a desperate situation. While I do think this writing style is largely effective, it's very odd and will be disconcerting to some readers, especially the unidentifiable dialect used by the brothers.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Where The End Games left me cold was the characters. I don't care much about anyone. Of them all, Michael is the most likable, due to his sweet affection for his brother. However, Patrick actually creeps me out a lot. I kept expecting him to turn out to be some sort of new monster or something, because I found him that freaky. Spoiler: he's not. I couldn't care about the half-hearted romance or the deaths of any of the characters either. More time is spent on developing the creepiness than on the characters.
The Final Verdict:
The End Games will be a great read for those who love horror tales, and new creepy monsters. Those who take an interest in unique storytelling will also want to check out this quirky debut.
I'd been looking forward to this one for ages, yet I wasn't really expecting much. I've come to realize that I still love a good zombie story no matter how you make them up, but the ones that really get me have a major focus on relationships. I'm pretty sure it was Carrie Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth series that made me fall in love with zombies in the first place, so if you've read her books, you know what I'm talking about. Now I've learned to just go into a zombie story expecting only blood and guts and good zombie fun. The End Games delivered so much more, though.
I wouldn't say that the narration is my favorite, but I think it works really well for the story. Michael's narration is flawed because he is flawed. He makes poor decisions, but I don't think I ever really felt exasperated with him because his intentions were always transparent. He most likely shouldn't have lied to his brother for so long, but he truly believed he was protecting him, and, it's possible that he was. Plus, the way he lied was a little ingenious, if a bit dangerous.
I found the Bellows fascinating. They're zombies, but they really aren't like any zombies you've ever seen. 1) They're made from a virus (sort of?), but they aren't like any that have come before. Sure, they still want to eat humans, but it doesn't seem like their only goal in life, or rather, death. Plus, the mutations are crazy and entirely creepy. 2) The whole Bellowing thing is neat in a weird and creepy way. Not only is it creepy, it's also a bit of a weak spot. I mean, all you have to do is yell something out and if there's any around they'll repeat it in their gross zombie way.
Patrick was surprisingly likable for a 5-year-old without much of a concept for danger. I think it helps that we see him through Michael, who loves him like nothing else.
The other character that really stuck out to me was Captain Jopek. That guy is seriously freaking crazy. In almost the creepiest possible way. His incredible disregard for danger is astounding. I was constantly questioning whether the guy was honestly crazy or just incredibly sadistic. I'm guessing a bit of both.
I love that the story focuses on the relationship between two brother's, especially when the age gap is so large. It's definitely not something I've seen very often, if ever before.
The Nutshell: The End Games is so much more than a zombie book. I mean, if you're into zombies for the guts and gore I'd say there's plenty, but the main focus isn't just on zombie food. It mostly focuses on the relationship between two brothers, one of whom feels the deeply protective and caring for the other. If you're a fan of zombie books in the vein of Carrie Ryan then I'd bet you will enjoy The End Games.
For instance, the writing style was a bit weird. I had to get used to it and I admit it took a little longer than I expected. He seemed to talk to his self and have flashbacks and I had to stay on top of it or else I would lose myself. But in another way, I loved his writing because of the imagery. I could clearly see everything in my head as I read.
As for the characters, I really did like them. Michael was there the entire time to take care of his brother. He was an amazing big brother and I loved him for that fact alone. I have a sister who is autistic and I could definitely relate to the relationship they had.
What I didn't like about the book, was the villain and the "Bellows." They weren't "evil" enough. And towards the beginning the Bellows aren't really there. It seems that they did a lot of running from them, but not very much fighting of them. For this book to be 300 something pages, I was looking for guns firing and zombie slaying all around. I can't lie, I got a little bored after awhile.
The world building wasn't all that great to me either. There were some things that I wish had just a little more detail to them and there wasn't. I wanted to know about the setting as a whole, not just where they were at the time.
In short, this book sort of surprised me. I had super high hopes for it considering I don't really just LOVE zombies, but it just fell short for me. Even still, I would recommend this to others who love zombies because they might enjoy this a little more than I did.