November 06, 2017

Game's End

Written by Natasha Deen
Yellow Dog, an imprint of Great Plains Publications
240 pp.
Ages 13+
November 2017

     “He’s not my real brother, we’re soul-bonded.”
     “If he’s not your brother, why do you call him that?” asked Zeke.
     “Because.” Serge wriggled into the spot between us. “It sounds better than ‘hi, meet Serge. We used to go to school together and he bullied me until I wanted to die. Luckily, he was the one who stopped breathing.  I helped him figure out that his so-called suicide was a murder, and then we discovered in this life we were both scripted to become guardians.  We watch over the dead and living, transition souls from this plane to the next, and make sure the bad spirits from hell stay there.’”
     “Yeah,” Zeke nodded. “I can see how that’s a mouthful.”
(pg. 25)

That's essentially the creation story of Maggie Johnson and Serge Popov though there is so much more to their story.  There's Maggie's supernatural boyfriend Craig who is a ferrier of the dead, and her extremely plucky (her word, not mine) and loyal best friend Nell, and her dad Hank and his girlfriend Nancy who is the sheriff.  They all "live"–some more than others–in Dead Falls, Alberta where Maggie has been involved, with some supernatural help, in exposing those responsible for the deaths of several people, sadly raising the ire of some local citizens who consider the teen "a death magnet" (pg. 159) who has ruined the reputations of the town and some people like Serge's father, Reverend Popov.  The vibe in the town is definitely off but there's something worse coming as foretold by The Voice–the disembodied voice that comes through radios and whom Maggie suspects is her mother–and it's coming for Maggie.  Craig believes it's as a power-seeking soul-eater, which appears and swallows up lost and wandering dead just as Maggie is trying to help the newly dead Zeke cross over with his little brother Homer.  If the soul-eater is the only threat is yet to be seen.

As Craig and Serge attempt to get more info from the other side about her mother, Maggie is being pulled into her own investigations.  She tries to learn more about her mother from Hank who reveals that she too had powers that were tearing her apart.  On top of that, Maggie is experiencing unusual out-of-body experiences that take her to different times and places to witness the rescue of children's souls by a serengti, a supernatural called Serena, who compassionately tries to spare them the trauma of their deaths.

Then a murder shatters Maggie's world, and she's on the trail, both of our world and a supernatural one, to find the killer and keep those she loves safe.

Game's End is the conclusion of Natasha Deen's Guardian trilogy that began with Guardian (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2014) and led to Gatekeeper (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2016), all stories that embed the reader in the worlds of the dead.  For the dead in Game's End those worlds includes both the good and the bad, those who attempt to ease the dead to the other side and those, both living and supernatural, who seek to harm for the sake of power.  The evil that kills and aims to destroy is palpable in Game's End and, except for those who attempt to harm the children Serena wishes to rescue, not always easily identifiable.  Like evil everywhere, it is masked with lies and smiles and facades of rational behaviour.  The only reassurance is that, whether they are the self-righteous or domestic abusers or murderers, justice, in this world and the next, will be levelled against them.  That's the reassuring message of Natasha Deen's paranormal mystery: revenge is not necessary because there's karma.

Even so, Natasha Deen makes Game's End a story about a typical teen who is trying to find her niche in the world.  What she has on her plate is a little different than most teens, balancing being a friend and daughter with battling evil on both sides of the death divide.  But it all reads so naturally because of Natasha Deen's characters and a healthy infusion of comic relief.  While Maggie may be playing "demonic whack-a-mole" (pg. 29) with some unfriendly entities, she's rolling her eyes at Serge's wisecracks and Nell's off-hand comments that always alleviate the tension.

“Oh, he’s cute,” said Nell.
“Calm down,” I said. “He’s dead.”
“I could make him feel alive again.”
(pg. 21)

I know it's bizarre to match Natasha Deen's intense plotting with her tongue-in-cheek humour but the two work so artfully together, one escalating the drama and the other cushioning it, that Game's End would be a very different entity without this curious pairing.

Game's End may be Book 3 in this series but it's far from game over for Natasha Deen.  And if you're a new reader to the Guardian series, you've got three books of robust plotting, clever characters and bright banter ahead of you. Enjoy!


Look for my in-depth interview with author Natasha Deen tomorrow.  She graciously answered some tough questions about her writing, her beliefs and plotting for Game's End and her whole Guardian series. 


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