The premise of the End Games by T. Michael Martin seemed promising. Teenager Michael and his five-year old brother have been battling monsters, zombie like creatures, in the Game directed by the Game Master who promises to lead them to safety and other survivors if they win the game. Basically it seemed like it would be a story like the Running Man wrapped inside an apocalyptic novel. It wasn’t. The Game was more a reference to video games, and not being a gamer, maybe that’s why I didn’t appreciate all the references and silly dialogue that related to that.
What the book was about is harder to describe. It seemed like the author took elements (done better in other apocalyptic and dystopian novels and movies) and mixed them all together like a stew in this book. Religious fanatics who see the zombies as some sign and worship them, references to a mystical and higher power, a mysterious military leader straight out of any action film, and a main character with a troubled life, a la Angelfall and This Is Not A Test, who turns that background into a tool to survive. There were even some hints about supernatural and evil an alien or horror movie. I wish the author had just focused on one strong main narrative instead of being all over the map. There was even an awkward teen romance that was hard to swallow, I mean in the middle of the zombie apocalypse would you really be worried about a first kiss? Yes, there have been some romances in other apocalyptic books, but they are more based on closeness built upon helping each other survive, not a shallow teen crush.
I also found the character of the little brother more annoying than cute and heartwarming, certainly five is old enough to know that the zombies are real when you have watched them kill and eat people. Honestly, if I were Michael I would have told the kid to get a clue and shut up.
The only part of the book that I thought was strong was Michael’s inner dialogue when he was begging to be rescued or saved. I think everyone can relate to having at some point being in a bad situation in their life where you loudly ask in your head for help, you plead, you bargain and you hope magically somehow help will arrive. Then other times you accept that no one is riding in on a horse to save you and you just have to will yourself to take the next step and the one after that.