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This is Not the End

Review

This is Not the End

For most people, turning 16 means getting a driver’s license, going on dates and working tirelessly to keep their skin clear. For James Salley, though, it means coming face to face with the armies of Hell as the newly-anointed Antichrist.

When we first meet James in THIS IS NOT THE END, he is full to bursting with teen angst, standing atop an old water tower and contemplating taking his own life. He’s a social outcast --- partly by choice and partly by circumstance --- with few people to call on for comfort. His parents are consumed by their jobs, he weighs a fair bit more than he’d like to and he’s a struggling comic book artist working through his first big idea. At every turn James must confront his own overwhelming insignificance, which is tearing him apart. His struggle speaks to any teen who’s ever felt worthless and alone at some point.

“THIS IS NOT THE END is an interesting fusion of fantasy, coming of age, and outright sturm und drang supernatural suspense.”

It’s not long after this, though, that his high school’s new librarian, Ezra, takes a special interest in James, hinting that the young man may be more than just another teenage schlub. James isn’t immediately convinced, being well-versed on the subject of stranger-danger, but after demonstrating some unearthly powers, Ezra gains James’ confidence and lays out to him his prominent role in inciting the End of Days. Quickly it becomes clear that James isn’t as insignificant as he once believed and might even possess powers greater than any being on earth or beyond.

Despite these powers, James faces some serious obstacles in cracking open the seven seals: three generations of bullies looking to put him in his place; a Catholic Church splinter group that has killed Antichrists before and isn’t stopping any time soon; and, most importantly, his own doubts about tearing open the gates of Hell to wage bloody war on his fellow man. Is that what he really wants? Is the death of mankind the price James has to pay for happiness?

THIS IS NOT THE END is as much about man’s search for meaning in the universe as it is about the meat grinder of high school life and the struggles of coming into one’s own. Author Jesse Jordan seems to have a keen understanding of teendom, particularly with its darker, lonelier side, and successfully parallels the development of adolescent identity with protagonist James Salley’s own apprehensions about taking on the mantle of Antichrist.

The story is much lighter in tone than the dour premise suggests, with more than a few good gags to lighten the mood and aggressively quippy dialogue throughout. Jesse Jordan also makes interesting use of footnotes throughout the novel, providing further detail on its world without stalling the plot. As someone from the city of Chicago, where the book is set, I felt right at home with Jordan’s descriptions of fictional Stony Grove and its place in the city’s history. An early chapter is presented in graphic novel form, too, showing that THIS IS NOT THE END has more than a few tricks up its sleeve.

My only frustrations with the book are its abrupt conclusion and ill-defined mythology. There’s a distinct feeling that Jesse Jordan is building a world here which readers will explore over the course of several novels, but the story’s narrative climax leaves more than a few important questions unanswered in this first installment. The same goes for the mythology --- as it grows confused and opaque in the novel’s final chapters --- making any form of understanding which came before it equally uncertain.

THIS IS NOT THE END is an interesting fusion of fantasy, coming of age, and outright sturm und drang supernatural suspense. I recommend it particularly to anyone who sees themselves as an outsider, or likes their young adult heroes to be moody and conflicted.

Reviewed by Killian Walsh on June 17, 2016

This is Not the End
by Jesse Jordan