Ten writers are selected for a summer-long writing retreat with the most celebrated and reclusive author in the world. Their host is the legendary Roderick Wells. Handsome, enigmatic, and fiendishly talented, Wells promises to teach his pupils about writing, about magic, about the untapped potential that each of them possesses. Most of all, he plans to teach them about the darkness in their hearts. The writers think they are signing up for a chance at riches and literary prestige. But they are really entering the twisted imagination of a deranged genius, a lethal contest pitting them against one another in a struggle for their sanity and their lives. They have entered into Roderick Wells’s most brilliant and horrible creation. The Dark Game.
**** Huge thank you to Flame Tree Press for providing me with a copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review! ****
**** Trigger Warnings: Abuse (Including Domestic), Sexual Assault, Abortion (Mentioned), Suicide, Pedophilia (Mentioned), Death, Violence, & Gore ****
It’s no secret Janz is one of my new favorite authors, it seems everything he writes is amazing and very entertaining and he’s a guaranteed 4-5 star read. “The Dark Game” was no exception but I have to say “The Siren and The Specter” is still the reigning champ in my heart!
I thought the set up for this new novel was incredibly enticing: a writer’s retreat doubling as a competition and they’re pitted against one another in a deadly game. I love settings where the characters are spirited away out in the middle of nowhere and participate in a lethal game or competition of some kind, but I suppose I’m kind of morbid like that! I thought the creepy mansion and forest did a great job of adding atmosphere as well.
The story follows the ten different writers as they arrive and compete and we get POV chapters and moments with all of them. Normally I would say this would be very overwhelming, ten POVs is a lot to keep track of after all! However, Janz did it in such a way that each character had their page time but you never felt confused or lost which I definitely appreciated. I also thought this gave the book a very fast pacing since there was always backstory or things happening with each character.
I also really enjoyed how we got to read bits of the stories the writers were creating, it was just some extra fun but also a way to explore each character’s back story. And holy crap was there back story! So much detail but I’ll get more into that in the ‘character section’. However, Janz can expertly weave through back stories like nobody’s business. Everyone had their past demons and secrets, it made for some serious page-turning because I was dying to know more!
The supernatural bits of the story were very interesting as well but due to spoilers I won’t be discussing it because it’s best if you know nothing. However, there were some parts at the end of the story I wish were a little more fleshed out such as the true origins of the villain. That’s just me being a little picky though because I’m so curious!
“The Dark Game” is also a standalone and everything is wrapped up nicely. I think if you’re new to Janz’s work this is another excellent place to start! (Although I will always push everyone towards “The Siren and The Specter”)
There are a wide range of characters in this book, we’re talking the initial ten writers that are participants in the competition, as well as Roderick Wells, the host, and his slew of servants etc. So quite a few! As I mentioned a bit earlier we get page time and POV moments with each of the writer characters but it was never confusing. We actually got so much back story and depth that each character felt as important to the story as the next, even when they were being picked off one by one at a rapid rate! I actually really enjoyed how complex each character was, not like in your typical horror film where they’re only there to get murdered, but you actually got to know them and even sympathize with some. Not to mention the variety of personalities with each character. Some you loved and some you loved to hate!
What I Loved:
- Plenty of action and fast pacing
- Interesting set up and setting (definitely an eerie atmosphere)
- Unique supernatural elements
- Tons of character development! Tons!
- Multiple POVs never felt confusing or overwhelming
- Fantastic writing!
What I Didn’t Love:
- I would have liked a bit more world building as far as the villain and supernatural elements went
Overall this is another fantastic novel by Jonathan Janz and I really feel that if you are a fan of horror you should be reading his books. He knows how to develop a story and characters and manage to still scare the hell out of you! “The Dark Game” is a great place to jump on the bandwagon too!