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Sky Key: An End Game Novel (2015. 483 pages) is a young adult dystopian science fiction puzzle book, written by James Frey. Apparently, the book links up with other media and if solved brings forth a not inconsiderable sum of money. That said, the review will examine the book as a novel rather than anything else.
Being part of a trilogy, and not having been sent the first book, The Calling, this is a daunting book to read. Recently a lot of the books which have been part of a wider series have not done so well as standalone novels. Sky Key is a bit of halfway house in this respect. The opening chapters deluge you with people and situations and the general feelings is of an information overload, but get past the initial chapters and the story starts to come together.
You get to understand that aliens had seeded the planet with twelve lines of people; each tribe appears to have been given some sort of advantage, which they secretly guarded for thousands of years.
The reason for this is that the aliens demand, at a time of their choosing, that each house bring forth a champion to fight in the endgame. The game involves not only locating three keys but also killing all of the opposition. When a player dies his whole blood line dies with him/her. This means that should only one player emerge victorious then only his/her bloodline would live and billions of others would die.
As the first chapters act as a catch-up of where the surviving players are, some having been killed during an incident at Stonehenge - where the first key, the Earth Key, is recovered - it can feel somewhat disjointed. Still, it’s worth ploughing through these as Frey introduces enough of the back-story to bring you up to speed.
With the potential devastation of the majority of the planet in the balance, the knowledge affects the players differently, some have formed alliances, though how that was going to work out in the old Highlander "There can be only one" scenario is hard to imagine. Some, like An, are twisted monsters who are happy to play until the whole world burns.
The cruel twist in this novel is that the Sky Key is in fact a little girl, Alice Chopra, whose mother is a player; it’s not much of a spoiler as this is revealed fairly early on.
The book describes well the effects of both The Event, a giant meteor waiting to smash into the Earth, its arrival sparked by the events at Stonehenge and the world's ever growing awareness that there are nine of the deadliest humans running rampant around the world causing death and mayhem in their wake.
Frey handles his characters well and I thought the sub plot of Hilal Ibn Isa Al-salt’s attempts to find one particularly twisted, Earth resident alien, a nice relief from the almost constant quick paced action.
Apart from its initial problems, for a standalone, the book settled down into quite a compulsive read. Being a puzzle there are all sorts of illustrations and code embedded in the book, presumably as part of the treasure hunt, but none interferers with the story and if needed can be ignored.