Monday, July 16, 2012

At The End by John Hennessy

My Rating: 1.0 / 5.0

Amazon Rating: 4.10 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 3.89 / 5.00

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book free from the author via a Librarything Member Giveaway, in return for an honest review.

From Goodreads:

Night 1: 12 billion taken.

Day 1: Confusion.

Night 2: 13 billion taken.

Day 2: Panic.

Night 3: 13 billion taken.

Day 3: The fight for survival begins.

In 2048, the human population borders 39 billion after the termination of the birth control industry, and the realities of overcrowding have sunken into the minds of the world, until billions mysteriously go missing. In the wake of civilization’s collapse, a trio of teenage gamers from Washington struggle to endure. Maggy, a strong-willed intellectual, leads Darrel and Félix, two shy geeks, on an expedition down the west coast, as they try to determine the source of humanity’s downfall.

A YA post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller.

As you can see from the description above, this looks like an interesting premise, so I was pleased to receive a free copy from the author. I am partial to good Sci-Fi and I like the way that post-apocalyptic novels can explore society and show character development. However, this book left me confused, frustrated and disappointed.

We begin the book in the point of view of Darrel and we are told almost at once that the cause of the ‘mysterious’ disappearances is not all that mysterious: huge space craft arrived over all the major cities on Earth the day before the first people vanished. Although Darrel has no idea how they were taken, it is obvious that they have been beamed aboard the space ships or vaporized by the aliens. It seems that Darrel was spared from his parents’ fate by some foil that he had wrapped around his bed many years earlier. This seemed a pretty groan-worthy plot device, but was confirmed when both of Darrel’s equally nerdy friends were the sole survivors in their households. They team up, wrap themselves in foil, and set off to find out where everyone has gone. They discover that some humans have been left behind so that they can be hunted by the aliens who look like six-legged lions, which the team nickname ‘alions’. After surviving a massive explosion and several car crashes I could no longer suspend my disbelief and stopped reading, so I do not know if the trio managed to defeat the alien menace, although I imagine that they do.

From the description I was expecting a lot more mystery and tension than the book delivered. This could have been resolved by placing the teens in a more rural setting and disabling the television and radio systems so that they had no idea what was going on. We would then have had a much more gradual and tense discovery of the aliens and their intentions. I also struggled with the teens surviving incidents that would have left them all badly injured and incapable of continuing their journey. These seemed unnecessary, placing them in situations of jeopardy through their own stupidity and requiring unbelievable and overly dramatic escapes. Surviving one such incident can be ascribed to amazingly good luck, but a series of them reduces my capacity to believe in the characters if they are supposed to be normal humans in a normal universe.

The main characters were fairly cliché and two dimensional, with the obligatory love triangle to add to the mix. They made some very odd decisions, such as driving towards the giant alien ship hovering over Seattle, rather than driving away from it or at least going around the city. Although I can understand that teenagers might not make the best decisions in this kind of situation, they did seem to behave in a manner that was inconsistent with their supposed intelligence. Their dialogue was very irritating, with an overuse of the terms ‘bromigo / bramiga’. Also, it was also unfortunate that the author chose to use both the characters’ names and nicknames without any explanation of who was who, so I was often confused about who was being spoken to or about.

I also think that it was a serious misstep to change the point of view from one chapter to the next. This would have worked well if the author was not using a first person narrative. At the beginning of the second chapter it took me several pages to work out whose head I was in. This was very confusing and seemed mostly a way of telling us what Maggy was feeling about Felix, which could have been done far more successfully by showing us through her dialogue and actions.

The book was not without imagination. I was intrigued by some of the technology that the author envisioned for this future Earth, which was mostly powered by solar technology. I loved the idea that the solar-powered cars were too quiet to be safe and so they had to emit fake car noises to stop people being run over. However, the solar power did act as a plot device as well because it allowed electrical appliances to work, making survival a whole lot easier than it would be in the same situation today. We were told that Maggy had metallic eyes and I wanted to know more about that and why she had them. Were they necessary because she was blind or had damaged her normal eyes, or were they some sort of upgrade? Were they a fairly typical thing or extremely rare and unusual?

In short, this book was not really what the description promised, and that is always disappointing to discover. If a story promises a mystery I expect to read a far bit of it before I discover what the mystery actually is, otherwise I lose the sense of suspense. If I am sold a story of teens struggling to endure, I expect them to do just that: I do not expect them to simply walk down to the local megamart and stock up on everything they need and suffer no hardships at all because everything is solar powered. Throw in some not very well developed characters that do highly improbable things and I am not likely to care what happens to them.


  1. Hi Sue,

    I think you confused my character Maggy with another character from another book. She is never described as having metallic eyes. As for the POV shifts, if you would have read to chapter five, you would have known why it was necessary, as the story splits when the group is separated, reuniting in the last chapter. Regarding the names/nicknames, Maggy only calls Darrel and Félix by their real names once, in chapter three when she introduces them to Penelope. Every time before and after she calls them Jelly and Tortilla, respectively. Darrel and Félix only call each other by their real names. An explanation of who is who is in chapter one:

    '“The second,” Félix said, taking a sip from a water bottle.
    I had already engulfed half a container in the few minutes since we had sat.
    The icy liquid helped steady my out-of-control heartbeat.

    “Sorry, Tortilla, must be a little harder.” He didn’t reply,
    just slowly drank his water. “Jelly, can you help me?” She struggled to wind
    the foil around her back.

    “Yeah,” I said. I didn’t mind her nickname for me, even
    though it meant I was bigger, it also implied a sweetness, like Santa Claus and
    his bowl of a stomach. Félix never complained about his either, but he
    subscribed to even fewer cultural stereotypes than she did, plus his mother
    never cared for it, always making sure that Maggy understood that they weren’t
    Mexican but Salvadoran. Why it mattered though, I never understood.'

    I'm sorry the story was disappointing/frustrating to you.


    John Hennessy

  2. Hi John, 

    The reason I thought that Maggy had metal eyes was because it says "My metal eyes stared at nothing, a void of black." This is in Chapter 2, the second page in the Kindle edition. For some reason this stuck in my mind, as I thought it explained why her eyes were an unusual yellow color: I assumed they were brass / golden.

    As I said above, the change of POV would have been fine if the book were not written in the first person. The nicknames were a minor niggle, but I did find them distracting.


  3. Hi again,

    Metal here was being used here to mean leaden. Even though you're the first reviewer to think she has metallic eyes, I'll have to change that so no one else gets confused.

    I'm sorry you thought I didn't explain the nicknames—you must have skipped over that paragraph—as that was a crucial detail in following the first person POV shift. 

    Happy reading,

    John Hennessy


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