Book Review

The Ends by James Smythe

Join an awe-inspiring journey through a world where death has stopped in the finale of James Smythe’s acclaimed Anomaly Quartet.

Decades ago, a vast object called the Anomaly was discovered moving through space. Missions sent to explore it found that anyone entering the Anomaly was unable to die. It kept moving, across our solar system, until finally the Anomaly enveloped Earth.

Thirty years later, on the West Coast of the US, Theo hears that his missing wife has been sighted – in London. He’s sick, and getting worse, so he sets off to find her.

Theo’s quest will take him across continents, through abandoned cities and new communities, meeting with bandits, artists, and cultists, murderers and heroes and survivors.

Because this is a world of humanity at its absolute worst, and at its very best.

A world where everything has been irrevocably altered, yet somehow still remains the same.

The Ends is the final instalment in the absolutely superb Anomaly Quartet.  I’m a huge fan of the series and have been eagerly awaiting this novel to see the events that began in The Explorer brought to a close.  As it is the last one in the series, I do recommend reading the preceding three novels (The Explorer, The Echo, and The Edge) first, although it’s not essential.  There’s enough information in this novel that the reader will understand the situation without reading the first three books, but I do think that you’d be missing out on some of the backstory.  And fair warning, this is the last in the series so while I always try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, if you don’t want to know about the Anomaly, I suggest you stop reading this review now and catch up with the series first.  Don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you get back.   

Having been discovered and gradually tracked closer to Earth, the Anomaly has arrived and enveloped our planet.  This understandably causes a shift in the world order, and The Ends invites the reader into an apocalyptic America where death is no longer the end that it once was.  Rather, the Anomaly causes a person to return to where they were when the Anomaly arrived, to repeat their life, potentially multiple times over.  I like the way in which Smythe explores how different people might react to such a situation.  Some see the Anomaly as something akin to a god that should be worshipped and they become fanatical in their devotion to it.  Some take advantage of the possibility of eternal youth and choose to live in hedonistic bliss, knowing that they can start over if needed.  Many just try to muddle through as they did before.   

The main protagonist in this novel is Theo.  Theo is an unusually calm individual who seems to take everything in his stride, even as he gets caught up in situations over which he has no control.  Many people have become blasé about death, and so this attitude may be related to that, although it’s clear that Theo has no desire to “loop” back and start again.  Rather, he is determined to keep going, despite the virus that is slowly claiming him.  I think that part of it is also a determination to get some answers from his wife, Birdie, who left several years ago with no explanation.  It’s something that’s troubled him through the years, and after a sighting of her in London, he sets out to find her. 

Theo’s journey from LA to New York and on to Europe and ultimately London provides the reader with ample opportunity to explore and experience this brave new world. As an apocalyptic novel, you’d be forgiven for expecting a bleak and harrowing journey for Theo.  And while he does encounter some of the worst aspects of human nature in those who seek to take advantage of those weaker than themselves, he’s met with far more kindness that you might expect.  Even those who understand that Theo is ill treat him with kindness, albeit from a distance in many cases.  I love this message that most of humanity is good and still willing to help others even as the world goes to shit around them.  It’s a more optimistic outlook than I was expecting and an unusual and refreshing take on an end of the world scenario.  I think that it’s also a testament to human resilience, in that people find ways to keep going (some with more community spirit than others) despite the relatively lawless state in which they find themselves, and there are many who continue to help others with utter selflessness. 

The Ends explores the way in which a person’s memories and experiences shape who they are.  While people may now loop back upon their death, their memories aren’t taken with them, and they lose the person they’ve become in the intervening years.  For some, this is an attractive proposition – I think that most of have at some point considered what it would be like to rewind the clock to undo past mistakes or take the road untravelled.  But that’s only beneficial if you remember what action or decision it is that you want to amend.  Many leave notes and journals to remind themselves of their experiences for this reason, and yet it’s not the same.  I think it adds weight to Theo’s determination to survive – he wants answers, not to go back and live through it all again but still not knowing why his wife left him.

I’ve hugely enjoyed the Anomaly Quartet and I found The Ends to be a fitting finale.  I’ve liked that each novel has a different vibe to it having explored elements of sci fi, thriller, horror, as well as the apocalyptic nature of this most recent novel.  It’s a series that’s deserving of a wider audience – I can’t recommend it enough.

The Ends is published by Harper Voyager and is available now in paperback, digital, and audio formats.

The Anomaly Quartet:

  1. The Explorer
  2. The Echo
  3. The Edge
  4. The Ends


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