Sunday, December 28, 2014

REVIEW: Endgame: The Calling - James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton

*COURTESY OF NETGALLEY*

I’ll deal with the controversy first; get it out of the way, and then deal with the actual book. My Twitter feed was inundated with Endgame links (which appeared to be a treasure hunt) and the promotion was crazy. In order to understand what the ballyhoo was all about (as I tend to do when wary of hype surrounding anything), I googled extensively and came across the phenomenon that was James Frey. And his Full Fathom Five. And other book packaging companies. And the faux-memoir A Million Little Pieces. I was also surprised to discover that he was one half of Pittacus Lore of The Loren Legacies fame. But more than that, I guess I was shocked (and I admit, felt a little betrayed) when I realized how much the book industry is considered a business.

I am not that person who thinks that the end justifies the means. But I am also not that person who is incapable of separating the creator from that which (s)he has created. (If I didn’t, I would not have tried The Host by Stephanie Meyer and The Mediator by Meg Cabot; both of which are reasons why I am proud of myself). Once a book has been born, it’s got a life of its own – it lives simply because it has to – needs to. The creator no longer owns it – that’s my stance anyways (that’s what Walt Whitman said too). So I made up my mind to judge this book for itself and not who and how it was written – despite my opinions on either of them.   

So, yes, we’re now getting to the book. Once I finished it and scrolled through the Goodreads reviews, I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt like the concept was a la Hunger Games deja-vu. And for good reason. The blurb sure felt like one, and ultimately that is the whole plot. Twelve tribes send in their Players (who have to satisfy the age eligibility criteria) from among which, one will emerge the winner after the bloodbath. The prize is different though. Instead of nice food and a warm hearth, you get to survive the apocalypse.

I can’t remember the last time it took me this long (a week, to be exact) to finish a book. Hell, I finished the 800-something pages of HP Book 5 within 36 hours. It wasn’t that the pace was slow, there were too many characters who were fighting for page-space. Too many to keep track of. I had over-ambitious plans for this book – I’d even registered for Endgame, because I like meself a good puzzle, but it was a chore reading this one. For each sitting, there was the initial starting trouble; there always seemed to be something better to do than read the book. I thought I was going to have to mark it a DNF. It’s not very professional of me to admit this, but I can’t guess at the reason why – too many characters and the personal drama that ensued – maybe, yes – but that’s not good enough a reason. The narration written in the present tense (especially An’s distinctive POV) had the appropriate dramatic flair to it, which makes me wish for the movie version of it. I also unconsciously worked out some “clues” before the Players did and the victorious feeling that followed the epiphany is pretty nice. But I’m too high on the holiday cake and wine, and I can’t find it in me to figure the rest out, I just wanted to move on as quickly as possible. The book failed in its primary mission as far as I am concerned.
So I did what I do best. I took out my critic eyeglass and looked through it, treating The Calling as a book and not some treasure map. I should now mention that I didn’t like any of the characters, so there was no point in asking who I rooted for. And maybe that was intentional, I mean hello, they had been trained to kill since they were born. So a more valid question would be who I hated the least. The one character that I sympathised with dies in the end, and another one that I thought kicked some butt also kicked the bucket. The mortality rate is worrying, but only predictably so. I also detested the Christopher-Sarah-Jago dramaction going on. It was pretty hard to not judge them.
Then the author inaccuracies turned up. I have lived in Dubai for close to two decades and I didn’t realize that sandstorms were this popular here. I mean, wherever did Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol get that idea too, eh? Dubai also doesn't allow boyfriends and girlfriends to share a hotel room, someone please tell that to Kala and Christopher. Also, the Harappan, Shari Chopra (who is seventeen years old), already has a kid named Alice (which sounds pretty Christian to me) with her husband Jamal (which is a popular Muslim name). The circumstances that could have led to such a family are remote – especially if she was trained in the family – which is obviously upper caste –  who would have married her off only after she was at least 18, and that too, to another Hindu boy. She couldn’t have eloped; not if she was a Player.

But let me put this right. This is a good read. I have a feeling that maybe it was supposed to be as good and un-put-downable as a Dan Brown thriller and for reasons inexpressible, it didn’t make that cut, but comes close enough. There has evidently been a lot of research done and sleep sacrificed and I acknowledge that. And the talent required to handle these many characters simultaneously, giving them individual voices, is laudable.


VERDICT: 3 STARS
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