The End Games by T. Michael Martin

Title: The End Games
Author: T. Michael Martin (websitetwitter)
Pub. Date: May 7, 2013
Source: Publisher
Summary: It 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.
Genre: YA, Horror

Twenty-two days since Halloween. Twenty-two days since Michael followed the Game Master’s Instructions and carried Patrick through a door into the night and saw their first Bellow. Twenty-two days since that moment, since the world seemed to end, but then instantaneously resurrected, to a frightening and beautiful life.

Michael’s world changed Halloween night. His original plan had been to take his younger brother and run away from their abusive stepfather. Unfortunately for Michael, life doesn’t always go according to plan. Halloween night brought monsters, monsters unlike anything Michael had ever seen before.

Following the instructions he received from the Game Master, Michael led Patrick into the forests of West Virginia, deeper and deeper into the wilderness and into the world of the Bellows.

Fifty feet away, he could just make out the creature: staggering, hitching wild legs through the woods. Its limbs hung at impossible angles, a dozen times shattered. Its clothes were stripes of rot. What skin still cling to the skeleton was in some spots the color of mushrooms and in others that of wax and mostly it was as pale as the bones that jutted through it.

The boys have one goal in mind: reach the Safe Zone. Not only will they be among the living again, but they’ll be able to be reunited with their mother (assuming, of course, she managed to get to a Safe Zone). Along the way Michael and Patrick meet up with a small group of survivors and it’s with them they they learn not only what caused the outbreak, but that there is also a cure. Everything rests with the Safe Zone.

First things first: I’m not a zombie fan. Sure, The Walking Dead is fun and a few years ago I fell in love with Raising Stony Mayhall, but apart from that, I just don’t care about the undead. Zombies are still riding high at the moment however, and I always like to come out of my comfort zone every so often.

You know what? I liked The End Games. I really liked The End Games. Those Bellows are how I expect zombies to look and act; they shambled along in such a quiet, terrifying way that my breath caught multiple times. That’s the work of a fantastic writing, Mr. Martin: making me so deeply engrossed that I feel as though I’m the one being chased. I loved it.

I’ve mentioned time and time again that I live in Pittsburgh & this story really hit home for me. Literally. I’m less than an hour away from the West Virginia border and could easily picture myself in Michael’s & Patrick’s shoes.

“No, no, I totally get it,” she said. “You worked the whole time to get to the ‘the Safe Zone,’ but it lacks ‘the Safe,’ so if that didn’t work, then what will, right? What we’ve got on our hands is one highly unreliable apocalypse. A hundred years of post-Armaggedon narratives! And the world ends without the courtesy of a sale place to go to.”

The reveal with the Game Master and his true identity broke my heart for Patrick and made me love Michael even more. Everything he has done has been for this little 5-year old boy who he loves more than anything. These two boys felt so real to me: they fight and argue, but would die for each other. Even with the world falling to pieces, Michael is still a teenage boy and gets shy around a pretty girl. Patrick might put up a good front, but he’s still a picky eater and wants his mother when he’s too scared to go on.

There is a romance and, personally, I could have done without it. It felt a bit tacked on as an afterthought, an attempt to draw in romance fans. On the plus side, it wasn’t a love triangle.

As a standalone, I felt The End Games was really well done and enjoyed it quite a bit. I can see both long-time zombie fans and those new to the genre having a good time with this novel. That the author used his own name and his brother’s name for the two main characters feels a bit Mary Sue-ish (or Gary Stu, if you will), but I can easily look past that. As a debut novel, The End Games was great and has me interested in what Martin comes up with next.

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