By Katie Stockdale
Endgame. It’s not a particularly nice sounding word. Something about it just builds suspense and unease, maybe even fear. Which is why it makes a perfect title for James Frey’s new science fiction trilogy. Endgame: The Calling hooks you from the first page, effortlessly making the reader feel like they are a part of the story, not only through an immersive style, but with footnotes (hyperlinks in the ebook version) that lead the readers to coordinates on Google maps, explanations of historic monuments or people, and YouTube clue videos that are creepy enough to make one feel like they are actually playing Endgame.
But what is the endgame? Twelve thousand years ago, Earth was visited by aliens, called “Keplers,” from another world. They gave us rules to live by, and used us to mine their gold for them. They gave us technological advances, writing, our great monuments. Then they left.
But before they did they told us, the original twelve civilizations, or “lines”, of humanity, that one day they would come back. Their return would signal the beginning of a game, played for the future of humanity. Because only one line could win and the prize is survival, not just for the player, but for their line. So for thousands of years, the original lines have kept a player ready, trained in this ancient knowledge of fighting, languages, coding, tactics and assassinations. Each player never really thought Endgame, the calling, would happen.
And then it did.
This book is intense from the first page, and it’s not for the squeamish. If you thought Hunger Games or The Maze Runner was too much, you might want to avoid this. But if you’re okay with violence (and a few torture scenes) then this book is a great rush. With the new trend of science-fiction, end of the world, rebel-against-the-dystopian-society books, one might expect that there’s nothing original out there. But this book is like nothing I’ve ever read before, managing to come out of a cluttered genre as unique.
All of the main characters are flawed, which makes the story feel even more real. The tagline from the summary is “They are good and evil. Like you. Like all.” And they are. The characters are hard to like, but easy to relate to. They’ve been trained to be ruthless, to do whatever it takes to reach their goal, with methods that are not always nice.
With this representation, the story is honest. How many times have people done terrible things in the name of “the greater good?” The world of the characters thereby feels more real, as if what happens in the story could happen as you read it. The choice to set the story in the present (as opposed to some undetermined point in the future) forces the readers to apply today’s social morals to the characters, rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt, again making the story feel like it is happening alongside you.
The book is not perfect. The idea that humanity couldn’t create or function until otherworldly beings came and gave us the knowledge or built the monuments is annoying (as it is in the I Am Number Four series) as it implies that we weren’t ingenious to figure things out on our own. But as that’s often a facet of science-fiction books, I can and will overlook it for the sake of the story.
Frey brings the novel in the 21st century with a new form of storytelling, integrating the Internet into the story with the footnotes to hyperlinks that direct the reader toward different clues and information. The clues parallel those that the characters grapple with throughout the novel, also showing where the characters visited or fought across the globe using Google Maps coordinates.
The hyperlinks also take you to articles about the more obscure aspects of the book. There are descriptions of each of the ancient “lines” of humanity – I hadn’t known about the Le Fleche or Koori – and also websites for each of the characters that then lead you to their Twitter or Google+ accounts. They’re not always updated, but it’s still pretty cool. There’s even history lessons, hyperlinks leading you to web pages describing some of the more obscure monuments (or conspiracy theories) of the book, like the white pyramids of China.
Given that I read this on a Kindle, following the footnotes to the hyperlinks was quick and easy. It’s probably more annoying to do it with a paperback copy, since you’ll have to type the hyperlinks into a computer. But most of the footnotes come at the end of the chapters, so you don’t have to stop reading right in the middle of the action. Even if you don’t use them, the story will still make sense and will feel complete.
As far as thrillers go, it’s a new favorite. The novel ended on a cliffhanger I still haven’t been able to stop thinking about three days later. Fast paced and full of twists, it’s the perfect thing to get hooked on, or to distract you from other obsessions that aren’t out yet. Endgame: The Calling is a first novel that proves itself to be a contender to rival the best sellers.