BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Hunger Games meets alien invasion story pits twelve teenagers against each other in a fight to the death that will save their own civilizations.
PROS: Globe spanning plot; easy to read; fun and very challenging puzzles are embedded into the text.
CONS: Will require more suspension of disbelief that many readers will be willing to give; I was turned off by the teen-against-teen ultraviolence; very light characterization.
BOTTOM LINE: Preteens and teens will probably find this to be an edgy action story, adults will enjoy decrypting the puzzles.
The premise of Endgame: The Calling is that the end of the world is at hand. Twelve thousand years ago early humans were given the spark of intelligence by aliens. Now, the aliens have returned to see how we turned out. Twelve ancient civilizations passed these secrets down through the generations, always with a young warrior ready to battle should the need arise. Known as The Players, teens in each culture have spent their youth training for this final battle. There are three keys to be found (corresponding to the three planned books in this series) with the final key being the one that saves all the descendants of the winner’s civilization.
The first few chapters of the book introduce the twelve players. Some are seasoned martial arts experts, others are skilled computer hackers, others weapons experts, and some with other specialties. A bunch of teenagers fighting to the death with all the resources they can acquire gives the story a Hunger Games meets James Bond feeling. I suspect this novel will require more suspension of disbelief than many readers will be willing to give it.
With such a large cast of characters, the authors wisely chose to focus the story on a few characters, namely Sarah Alopay of the Cahokians of North America, Jago Tlaloc of the Olmec of Peru, Chiyoko Takeda of the Mu of Japan, Baitsakhan of the Donghu of Mongolia and An Liu of the Shang of China. Although she doesn’t get the most page time, the most interesting character was Chiyoko. First, because she’s mute, and second, because her civilization is based in myth. Many of the other characters seem to have unlimited resources such as transportation or money or safehouses or weapons caches. Chiyoko has some weapons, but her other resources seem very limited. She’s got to depend on her ingenuity and disguises.
Frey and Johnson-Shelton do get points for globe-spanning research. The diverse cast of characters hail from all over the world (North and South America, India, China, Australia, The Middle East and elsewhere), and the plot takes us from Xi’an China, to Gobleki Teke in Turkey, to Stonehenge, and to other archaeological sites. There’s just enough detail given in the book to send any reader to Wikipedia and other sources to learn more abou the cities, archeological sites, languages, and cultural myths. The prose is fairly simple and straightforward, with lots of short sentences with more telling than showing.
I didn’t find the plot all that engaging, and frankly I found the violence to be completely over the top, yet at the same time many of the action scenes were simply boring. The characterization is minimal, and everyone seemed to have a wire team in reserve, with back flips always landing perfectly, arrows always hitting their target, disguises always being successful, and nothing ever going wrong for any of the major characters. That, combined with the fact that I really didn’t sympathize or connect with any of these people, made the plot of Endgame: The Calling rather forgettable. That said, this was an easy book to pick up and read, it was like eating tasty potato chips: empty calories but I couldn’t stop turning the pages.
The plot is window dressing of a sort. The book is filled with codes, puzzles, hints and riddles. It’s like if your favorite action video game was overlayed with a Graeme Base puzzle book. I finished the novel with countless sheets of paper covered in barely decrypted codes and lines of alpha numeric codes in English, Hebrew, and other languages. And half the fun was trying to figure out which terms and numbers were actual hints, and which were junk put in to throw me off. With a massive cash prize designed after Frey’s favorite childhood puzzle book, Masquerade by Kit Williams, the authors had puzzles and an online game designed around the plot and characters of Endgame: The Calling. Read the books, play the game, follow the clues, find the key, unlock the vault. It’s a fun idea.
In conclusion, if your teenager gobbled up The Hunger Games and is looking for more of the same, you might recommend Endgame: The Calling to them. It’s not the best book out there by far, but at least your teenager will learn about codes and encryption.